Opening up scholarly information at the University of Illinois at Chicago
First Monday

Opening up scholarly information at the University of Illinois at Chicago by Mary M. Case and Nancy R. John

This paper describes and reflects on the University of Illinois at Chicago’s infrastructure for journal publishing ( using OJS. It describes why the Library took on this role. Two specific journal examples, First Monday and Behavior and Social Issues, are analyzed. The paper addresses the implementation and the strategies; it also considers the impact of the software on the journals. In particular, the key role played by the Library is explored, along with the importance of a supportive, collaborative partnership with the campus’ Computing Center. Finally, the place of the OJS implementation in the Library’s total information management strategy is described, along with plans for the future.


The mandate of scholarly communication
Articulating a role for the UIC Library in addressing scholarly communication




Between 1993 and 1996 the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) University Library undertook experiments to shape how information is presented on the Internet and to contribute to the quality and quantity of Internet–based information (John, 1996). Four projects were initiated under UIC’s Great Cities Initiative: a partnership with the Chicago Public Library (CPL) to make its first Web site; a pilot project with the United States Department of State to develop its Web site; a project with Pemberton Press to provide selected articles from four print journals, plus tables of content, author’s guidelines and other information; and, a collaboration with the Illinois State Archives to provide access to specialized databases of interest to genealogists and historians, such as the Federal Land Sales in Illinois.

John (1996) wrote “the power of technology has not only allowed libraries to share resources more easily and less expensively, it has also allowed the library to bring more information and more up–to–date information to its users.” As librarians become more involved in becoming information providers, a new role for the library is emerging. This new function of the library — the library as electronic publisher — has evolved thanks to the comparatively lower start–up costs of electronic publication/distribution over publication/distribution of paper information and by the library’s strong desire to provide off–site access to information. In the case of universities, the network infrastructure needed to publish information electronically is often already in place to support the research and teaching roles of the university. The electronic distribution of information is a natural evolution of the use of this infrastructure, and from there, the activity of creating or promulgating electronic information follows quickly. As the library moves beyond being the gateway to information online, a role primarily for the library’s own local clients, it has taken on a national, and even international, one serving many information seekers beyond its local community.

John concludes:

The University of Illinois at Chicago Library has been pleased to participate in the development of these projects. The story doesn’t stop here. Since these activities first started, the Library has become publisher of an original electronic journal, the AIDS Book Review Journal, edited by one of the Library staff ... . The Library now knows that academic libraries have an important catalytic role to play in making more useful, high–quality information available on the Internet. We learned that we can have an impact on the electronic availability of the information our users need for their teaching and their research. Through partnerships with organizations inside and outside the university, we’ve demonstrated that the academic library can leverage its expertise to help realize a goal of abundant, useful, and easily accessible information for all. (John, 1996)

From these modest beginnings grew an interest and commitment to the idea of the library as publisher. From 1996–2003, the Library refined its program with the U.S. Department of State, took on several other partners in its Web development program (e.g. Cook County Hospital’s Library, Printers Row Book Fair, Bowen Country Club, Chicago Botanic Garden’s vPlants [] effort), and added another journal to its publishing program when First Monday’s Web site moved to UIC in 1999.

This is the local start for the story we are telling. At the same time, the developments surrounding what is now commonly referred to by the library profession as ‘scholarly communication’ gave the Library a new and urgent focus for its work.



The mandate of scholarly communication

As is fairly well known at this point, during the 1980s and 1990s, the price of journal subscriptions for libraries increased at annual rates far exceeding inflation. Libraries were forced to cancel subscriptions and limit book spending in order to support those disciplines, particularly science, technology, and medicine, that relied on the journal literature for the advancement of their fields. Numerous reasons were given by publishers for these cost increases: an increase in manuscript submissions, particularly from authors in foreign counties, resulting in both pressure from editors to publish more articles and the need for more extensive copy–editing; the burgeoning of new fields resulting in the “twigging” of current journals into new sections; and, the increasing costs of personnel, paper and postal rates. While all of these may have been legitimate contributors to price increases, a number of studies conducted in the late 1980s and on (such as, Association of Research Libraries, 1989; Wyly, 1998; University of Wisconsin–Madison Libraries, 1999), began to reveal that journal publishing was for many commercial and professional society publishers a very lucrative undertaking. Publishers had come to realize that they could take advantage of the monopoly they had on the content provided for free by authors by selling primarily (or pricing differentially) to libraries. Libraries are relatively price–insensitive compared to individual subscribers and are committed to providing as much content for their faculty as their budgets allow. As digital technologies and the Web began to emerge in the 1990s, librarians, in retrospect perhaps naively, hoped that efficiencies in production and distribution would result in lower costs that would be passed along to subscribers. Instead, early electronic versions were licensed as add–on products requiring additional payments and commitments to maintain print subscriptions. Costs continued to climb.

At the same time, as the Internet grew, scientists began to envision a system that would provide broad access to scientific findings with sophisticated navigation, deep linking, integration, and text–mining tools. Such a system could transform the work of scholars, accelerate discovery, and contribute to societal improvement. Publishers, however, as suggested above, had a different view and set about creating proprietary electronic systems coupled with licenses restricting access and use that have in essence prohibited the realization of this vision. The greatest irony of this situation is that the content the publishers have so fiercely protected and from which they reap significant profits is content created by the researchers themselves and given to the publishers for free as a part of the overall system of scholarly communication and publication.

Over the last decade, librarians and researchers have undertaken a number of initiatives to try to change the system of scholarly communication to control costs and make the system more responsive to the needs of scientists and scholars. In 1997–98, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) launched the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition — SPARC ( — to encourage direct competition with some of the most egregiously expensive journals. While several successful titles were developed, it became clear that many existing not–for–profit publishers, particularly university presses and small scholarly societies, did not have the capital or vision to see themselves as active players in helping to change the scholarly publishing system. Libraries began to realize that with the investments already made by them and their campus computing operations in technology infrastructure, they might be able to develop electronic distribution systems in partnership with presses, societies, and independent editorial boards. An early example of a library as publisher is the Highwire Press created by the Stanford University Libraries ( Highwire was created to help small prestigious societies distribute their content electronically. Other efforts have included the collaboration between the Johns Hopkins Library and University Press with Project Muse (, the development of Project Euclid at Cornell (, and the Scholarly Publishing Office at the University of Michigan (, among many others.

In the meantime, a small group of biomedical scientists, dismayed by publishers’ refusal to deposit articles in PubMed Central (PMC at, a repository for life sciences literature developed by the National Institutes of Health, began an international effort to persuade scientists not to publish in, review or edit for journals that would not deposit their work in PMC within six months of publication. As the 1 September 2001 deadline for signing the Public Library of Science (PloS) ( open letter neared with no movement from publishers, it became clear that without alternative publishing venues, there was no pressure on existing publishers to change. The 30,000+ authors who had signed the open letter had nowhere else to go in an academic and funding system that required publication, and the publishers knew this. The leaders of the PloS decided that they would start their own open access journals and by fall 2003 launched the first of what has become today a suite of eight titles in the life sciences. While the PLoS is significant for being a scholar–generated effort and for the publicity it has generated, it is still a modest effort toward change. It is, however, another clear indication of the need to create alternatives to the traditional publishing outlets — alternatives that are not focused on profits but on the open distribution and use of scholarly content. Again, this is an important role for libraries.

But journal prices and the unresponsiveness of publishers to scholars’ needs are not the only reasons that libraries should engage in publishing partnerships. The technology that is changing the publishing and distribution system may also be changing something far more fundamental — the conduct and product of research itself. Such fundamental change could result in entirely new systems of scholarly communication — systems that could marginalize both publishers and libraries. Engaging with faculty now as partners in publishing programs and digital repositories can help us better understand disciplinary differences and monitor new developments. More importantly, it may position us to have the important conversations about openness, findability, accessibility, and long–term preservation as new systems evolve.



Articulating a role for the UIC Library in addressing scholarly communication

In 2004, with the arrival of a new University Librarian (UL), the informal program of publishing became formalized. The new UL had been Director of the Office of Scholarly Communication at ARL and came to UIC with a commitment to build on and expand its publishing efforts. The UL believed that libraries have a critical role to play in creating a new, distributed scholarly publishing system. Libraries could leverage their investments in technology, their understanding of the issues, and their relationships with faculty to begin to build infrastructure that would be responsive to scholars’ needs and ultimately replace the current dysfunctional system.

A number of objectives for the scholarly communication and publishing program were articulated:

  1. Showcase the work of the UIC faculty;
  2. Encourage development of open journals;
  3. Inform and educate about intellectual property; and,
  4. Affirm the role of the Library as the leader in these areas.

In addition, several activities were initiated to help the library keep a momentum in this area: the appointment of a Scholarly Communications Task Force ( and the assignment of a retired librarian to the post of Digital Publishing Librarian. The completion of a key report on the future digital repository of the Library, and the Library’s strategic planning process also provided added incentives to pursue a robust program of publishing. It was time to move from hosted Web sites into a publishing infrastructure.

Given the UIC Library’s long history, it was natural to begin a formal program of publishing. But the question was, how and where to begin? Where would we find journals to join First Monday? The answer came as an outgrowth of a spring 2005 program on Scholarly Communication [1], sponsored by the Library and the UIC Faculty Senate Library Sub–Committee. At the program, UIC Provost R. Michael Tanner outlined the issues and concerns with the current model of scholarly publishing where a smaller and smaller number of publishers held a larger and larger number of specialized, expensive scholarly journals. As he saw it, a key factor in the success of this strategy had been the university’s willingness to give away its scholarly output and then buy it back at a huge cost. He argued quite strongly that something had to happen to break this cycle, and quickly.

Joining him on the panel were a number of UIC faculty who were respected authors and editors of scholarly journals. These faculty represented an array of viewpoints about scholarly publishing, ranging from support of the status quo (based on its quality) to acceptance of the status quo (based upon time and interest) to competition with the status quo (from someone editing an open journal) to outright boycotting of all journals (from someone who was tenured and who only posted his work on his own Web site). The wide–ranging discussion brought up lots of issues: journal/article quality, publication quantity pressures, promotion & tenure concerns, academic freedom, and from a practical standpoint, the need for campus support to do the work of editing, archiving etc. if a faculty member would start or move a journal s/he edited into open access. Several of these issues are discussed below.

  1. Quality of journals and articles
    The quality of open access journals is an issue of concern for some critics of open access. As with electronic–only journals when they first appeared, there is the false assumption that such journals are not peer–reviewed. And even if they are peer–reviewed, could such a new journal actually rival the quality of an established journal? Well–established editorial boards have made key journals essential in many fields. Disciplines have often reached consensus about which journals are the most important in their fields and it would be difficult for a new journal to break into these notions of established quality. Thus, publishing in a start–up journal may be risky for a new researcher. But open access journals can establish quality rapidly. With highly regarded editorial board members from around the globe, invited papers from established authors in the early issues, and openly accessible articles for easy searching and citing, new open access journals can establish respectable impact factors quickly. For example, after only two years, PloS Biology became one of the top–ranked journals in the life sciences with an ISI impact factor of 13.9 (Public Library of Science, 2005).

  2. Quantity of articles
    While the quantity of published journal articles expected of a junior researcher for achieving tenure has increased, contributing to the increased number of journals being published, quality remains key. So while increasing quantity of publications may support the idea of alternative journals, the quality factor tends to support the status quo because more senior scholars are familiar with older, more traditional journals. A journal without a track record of publishing quality articles will be less attractive to a researcher, especially a new researcher, and less familiar to older, more senior researchers. On the other hand, many traditional journals are slow to publish articles, and newer electronic journals may be able to turn around articles for publication more quickly. In addition, evidence is growing that publishing in open access journals results in greater numbers of citations (Harnad and Brody, 2004), an attraction to both junior and senior authors. Thus, researchers pressured to publish many articles may consider newer journals for some of their output.

  3. Promotion & tenure and academic freedom
    Directly related to the quality and quantity of articles are the promotion and tenure process and the concept of academic freedom. Promotion and tenure requirements are seen as one of the key driving forces for the expansion of scholarly journal publishing, along with the knowledge explosion, and an increase in the number of researchers and the number of disciplines. At the same time, a fundamental tenet of the academy is the right of researchers to choose where they will publish the output of their scholarly work. This choice is a very personal one, since it may ultimately effect the long–term employment of the researcher (i.e., tenure). Thus, university administrators have been reluctant to require authors to publish in specific journals or to deposit pre– or post–prints in local repositories.

    The final discussion at the spring forum centered on this conundrum: senior researchers are the most free to take advantage of newer, start–up, open access journals, because they have been granted tenure; but, in many cases, they are the most conservative and unwilling to leave the comfort of the well–established (expensive and closed) journals in which they and their colleagues have published for many years. Senior researchers are also likely to recommend the journals with which they are familiar to their more junior colleagues.

Despite these significant obstacles, there are individuals who want to help change the cycle described by Tanner. The final concern raised by the faculty participants at the Spring 2005 session dealt with a practical matter, the need for campus support to do the work of managing the journal (e.g. peer review process, publication scheduling, making the Web site), if a faculty member would start or move a journal s/he edited into open access. This issue was the one that piqued the Library’s interest, as it was the one issue about which the Library itself could possibly do something. Besides several library faculty who were themselves journal editors immediately saw value in a program supporting their professional efforts as well.




In the summer of 2005, the Library began its search for software that would go beyond the ‘PDFs on a Web page’ journal. Such software would help manage submissions, the refereeing process, and keep track of the stage of each article. What an editor was doing via e–mail, e–mail attachments, and possibly a spreadsheet would be managed by a software system based on a database. Packages (e.g. bepress, ScholarOne) are fairly numerous, and many are expensive [2].

The Library’s interests led it to the Open Journal Systems (OJS) software of the Public Knowledge Project. Two groups within the library — one working on hosting a new, single open access journal and the other on developing an infrastructure for hosting open access journals that would also assist faculty editors of journals in managing their editorial work — were both simultaneously interested in OJS. Interest sprang from both the low cost of entry for using the software and the technical platform on which OJS had been developed, which matched UIC staff expertise. A test version of the software was installed and several librarians began to familiarize themselves with the inner workings of the OJS, and to understand how much it could and could not do so that the Library would be able to market OJS to UIC faculty effectively.

Professor Mark Mattaini, editor of Behavior and Social Issues (BSI), was the speaker at the 2005 program who most strongly articulated the need for campus assistance with the management of the journal he edits. The issues he raised included: tracking of submissions and correspondence with the potential authors; help managing the peer review process; preservation of the electronic version of the journal; better searching of the online issues; metadata for the issues and articles; publication/issue planning; improved communication with editors, peer reviewers, and authors; and, automation of labor–intensive manual routines, including checking of references and article formatting.

Mattaini agreed to preview the test installation of the OJS software. A sample BSI was created in the testbed and Mattaini played with it for several months before he convinced himself and then his editorial board that the move to OJS was a good thing. That process is examined in greater detail in Mattaini’s paper “Liberation and Struggle: An Editor/Publisher’s Experience with Open Access” [3].

The actual process of getting Mattaini started was relatively easy. Using OJS documentation (i.e., OJS in an Hour), the Digital Publishing Librarian and Mattaini worked together to set up the journal using the OJS set–up process. At that time, he then began to use OJS for future issue planning and publication, while the Library team worked on moving the 28 back issues into the software. Half of these issues were in PDF and could be rather easily moved from the existing Web location, using the OJS import tool. The other half existed only in paper format and as tables of contents on the Web. The OJS import tool was used to create the tables of contents, and library staff keyed in the abstracts and keywords from the older articles, leaving the scanning of the full texts into PDF for a future project.

The older issues project was a learning experience as issues were converted from most recent backward, resulting in an OJS display in chronological order, oldest to newest, that was the exact opposite of what was wanted. Helpful colleagues at the OJS support forum explained how to use SQL queries to adjust the publication dates and times in the MySQL database to re–order the issues successfully. This technique [4] turns out to be one of the most useful to know in conversion of older issues, because it seems that nearly always some issue gets transferred out of order.

Ongoing support of Mattaini’s use of the system has been occasional when the system works contrary to expectations or some bug has crept into it. For the most part, aberrant system behavior has been introduced as the direct result of the production installation of OJS at UIC. The production OJS has been encapsulated in the campus security environment. This has allowed UIC’s OJS users to use their campus netid and common password to access OJS (i.e. a single signon), but it requires the use of cgiwrap scripts which occasionally interfere with the file permissions OJS expects. In addition, running OJS in an environment with other applications sharing MySQL and PHP can mean that upgrades can be slower as many applications must be tested before a newer version of OJS and its building blocks can be installed. However, the single signon, campus archiving of the system files and articles, backup facilities, and 24–hour operators to manage the system are powerful pluses that outweigh these disadvantages.

The second journal is First Monday which UIC has published as a Web site since 1999. Since its start in May 1996, First Monday has published 860 papers in 137 issues, written by 1,040 different authors. In addition, eight special issues have appeared. Editor Ed Valauskas identified the following issues needing support if First Monday (FM) were to move to a newer environment: management of submissions and the peer review process; making FM content available through the Open Archives protocol and using LOCKSS to promote future access; changing from html to xml for preservation of articles; improved reader tools; better searching that used FM’s article–level metadata; added formats for articles (PDF); publication and issue planning; improved communication with editors and authors; automation of labor intensive manual routines; and, software to help with the editing of articles.

The primary differences between migrating FM and BSI were the scale of the conversion and the fact that FM makes use of some features not used in BSI. First Monday is published monthly so the conversion effort was much greater. In addition, each article’s html file needed to be reviewed to have local links to the current Web site and its features removed or changed. Also a PDF version was generated, as a PDF version of articles was on FM’s list of desired new features. This migration has taken nearly eight months so far and it is not yet complete, but the results are clearly worth the effort.

As the first journals were going live, word of UIC’s OJS program, Journals@UIC (, spread. The University of Idaho’s Electronic Green Journal briefly considered joining UIC’s OJS but decided in the end to install its own version of the software. One of the FM editorial board members told a colleague at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee about the program and the new International Journal of Internet Research Ethics has joined Journals@UIC. The UIC staff steered others, such as the Consumer Project on Technology A2K–Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) project, to the OJS software instead of developing a standalone Web site for its new publication. Several campus journal editors are using Journals@UIC to manage the editorial process for their journals, although the journals are published elsewhere, including on commercial sites. Two new journals are waiting in the wings, and several journals are investigating joining Journals@UIC.




It’s clear that Journals@UIC is a viable and growing concern. The 2007 PKP Scholarly Publishing Conference presented an opportunity to reflect on what we have accomplished, and to speculate on what the future may bring. Among the lessons we have learned is that timing is everything. If we can reach a journal editor at the exact moment when s/he has realized that the management of the journal needs some improvement, we can attract them to Journals@UIC easily. The effort required for the editor is substantial, but short–term, while the effort for the Library in conversion and stewardship is long–term as well as very substantial. Critically, the collaboration between the Library and the editors offers the Library a chance to talk strategically about issues such as long–term access, use of standards, improving access to the journals and alternative approaches to copyright.

The editors have high expectations, and the OJS software can only do so much. We have learned that OJS is only part of the solution. While it frees the editors to concentrate on editing of articles, in today’s e–journal environment, much of the editing could be handled by intelligent software. Our next step is to provide our editors with editing tools to check references and standardize formatting, so they can concentrate on the content of the articles and not their format. We are currently engaged in acquiring the software to help them. We now have enough experience to realize that we won’t be finished there and look forward to the next improvements we can provide to them.

We’ve also learned a lot. The conversion from paper to PDF of back issues looms as a significant project. It is unclear whether this is a service the Library can afford to offer to campus editors, yet it is important that the full body of a journal be available through Journals@UIC. One strategy may be to fold this conversion into the Library’s other digital conversion efforts. Another campus editor is currently using OJS and wants to migrate his system into ours; that migration calls for very careful planning to merge two already functioning systems with no data loss. Each editor brings his own interests, and UIC’s chosen OJS model, a single system supporting many journals, can require some compromise although, for the most part, individual features can be localized to a single journal. Because our system lives inside of a complex installation, upgrades of the software or its underpinnings (i.e. MySQL or php) can require significant planning and testing.

The Library is committed to a permanent locus of responsibility for digital publishing, and looks forward to expanding Journals@UIC. Taking an active role in scholarly publishing is one of our strategic priorities. We currently have .25 FTE devoted to this effort with additional support from the academic computing center. In addition, the Library has implemented other strategies supporting change in the scholarly communication cycle. These include: its charter membership in SPARC, society memberships to support lower cost alternative journals, memberships in PloS and BioMed Central to provide faculty with reduced authors’ fees for open access articles, supporting low–cost subscription journals that compete with higher priced journals, publicizing open access journals on its Library Web pages, plans for an educational campaign to encourage faculty to use a newly endorsed CIC author’s copyright addendum, and using the PKP’s Open Conference System software to capture and publish conference proceedings, such as the Second First Monday Conference, Openness: Code, Science, and Content, held at UIC in May 2006 [5].

The Library knows that this is only a beginning. We are convinced that as more libraries join us in taking a proactive role, the library profession, in partnership with faculty, will change the way scholarly information is vetted and distributed, making it more widely available and cost–effective. End of article


About the authors

Mary M. Case is University Library at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Nancy R. John is retired, formerly the Digital Publishing Librarian at the University of Illinois at Chicago.



1. “Universities and the Ecology of Scholarly Publication: 25th Annual Nakata Lecture,” 26 April 2005, at

2. A list of such systems is available on the SPARC Web site at

3. See

4. From the OJS support forum:

Currently, the only way to re–order published issues (aside from deleting and re–publishing them) is via the database. In mysql, can get a list of issues:

SELECT issue_id, year, volume, number, date_published, SUBSTR(title, 1, 20) FROM issues WHERE published = 1 ORDER BY year, volume, number;

The leftmost column is the issue ID; for each issue, use the following code to set the published dates to the proper values by hand: (The example sets the published date for issue ID 5 to January 25, 2004)

UPDATE issues SET date_published = ‘2004-01-25’ WHERE issue_id = 5;

This will correct the sorting order.

5. Selected papers from the Second First Monday Conference were published in the June and July 2006 issues of First Monday at and



Association of Research Libraries, 1989. Report of the ARL Serials Prices Project: A Compilation of Reports Examining the Serials Prices Problem. Washington, D.C.: Association of Research Libraries.

Stevan Harnad and Tim Brody, 2004. “Comparing the Impact of Open Access (OA) vs. Non–OA Articles in the Same Journals,” D–Lib Magazine, volume 10, number 6 (June), at, accessed 4 September 2007.

Nancy R. John, 1996. “Putting Content onto the Internet,” First Monday, volume 1, number 2 (August), at, accessed 23 August 2007.

Public Library of Science, 2005. “The first impact factor for PLoS Biology — 13.9,” press release, at, accessed 3 September 2007.

University of Wisconsin–Madison Libraries, 1999. “Measuring the Cost–Effectiveness of Journals: Ten Years After Barschall,” Madison: University of Wisconsin–Madison Libraries, at, accessed 4 September 2007.

Brendan J. Wyly, 1998. “Competition in Scholarly Publishing? What Publisher Profits Reveal,” ARL: A Bimonthly Newsletter of Research Libraries Issues and Actions, issue 200, pp. 7–13, and at, accessed 4 September 2007.



Contents Index

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Opening up scholarly information at the University of Illinois at Chicago by Mary M. Case and Nancy R. John
First Monday, Volume 12 Number 10 - 1 October 2007

A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

© First Monday, 1995-2019. ISSN 1396-0466.