On the Code4Lib Journal’s Two Proposed Metrics article

Posted on 3 minute read

Code4Lib Journal (C4LJ) editor here. Becky Yoose’s Twitter thread has stirred up a great deal of attention to an article published yesterday. This post has my own thoughts on the issue…published on Twitter to match Becky’s medium and here on my blog for posterity.

This first part is going to come across as defensive. “The Code4Lib Journal exists to foster community and share information among those interested in the intersection of libraries, technology, and the future.” (mission) Its editorial committee are volunteers. (I’m not paid by my employer to be on the editorial committee; the time I’m using during the middle of the work day to write these thoughts will have to be made up later. I don’t think any of the committee members have it in their job description to be on the committee.)

First: assume best intentions. The editorial committee (EC) selected an article for publication called “On Two Proposed Metrics of Electronic Resource Use”; it presented a unique approach to a hard problem: characterizing the value of subscribed resources. The EC is aware that measuring value in this way does involve recording and processing patron identifying information, and the EC discussed the privacy implications in the article. As @yo_bj pointed out in her thread, the EC sought out her expertise because of previous comments. The EC reflected on Becky’s feedback on the article—it is good feedback and I hope she does repurpose it for publication in a more public and tangible form—and discussed it with the article author. We also discussed our process of shepherding articles to publication. (If you haven’t published with the C4LJ before, it is helpful to know that the editors take a more collaborative approach to working with article authors. It is not blind peer review, nor is it co-authorship; it is somewhere in between. Good for first-article authors.)

Best intentions: The EC had an insightful potentially useful article…with ideas worthy of publication and debate. We know we asked for @yo_bj’s thoughts late in the editorial process. While the points she raised have merit, the concerns are not high enough to block publication. C4LJ does not have a point-counterpoint mode of publication. It may have been useful to invent one for this article, but we didn’t do that. It may have been useful for the EC to invite Becky to firm up her analysis and publish it along side the article; we didn’t do that. The EC did have a self-imposed deadline and nine other articles awaiting publication. We could have held publication of this article, but we elected not to do that. There may be ideas that others have—let’s hear ‘em. Instead, the coordinating editor wrote an editorial and added a paragraph to the start of the article. The EC signed onto this approach; I am among those that thought it was the best path forward.

This second part is my opinion and may or may not be the opinion of the other C4LJ editors. The “On Two Proposed Metrics of Electronic Resource Use” is a good article describing an interesting approach to a hard problem: evaluating the value of subscribed resources. The users-per-thousand and the interest-factor charted on a 2D graph looks like a useful starting point for discussing where libraries should put fiscal resources. It isn’t a complete tool…it misses cost as a factor for instance (maybe make the box sizes proportional to cost?). It seems to me that if this tool is valuable that the privacy concerns can be addressed: distill the EZproxy logs daily, transfer the distilled logs to an encrypted virtual machine, keep the distilled logs for only a month to produce each month’s graph, IRB approval, etc. There are privacy implications, but the answer is not to never do anything like this. For me, the answer is to take this idea, make it better, test it out, and talk with others about whether and when it works or not.

I don’t understand the knee-jerk reaction to @yo_bj’s Twitter thread to abhor the publication of this article and to go after the C4LJ and its editors. Could and should the EC have treated @yo_bj’s input with more respect? Yes, as an EC member, I’ll own up to that. Will I reflect on this discussion and try to make better discussions and decisions in the EC? You bet I will. Do you think the EC could do better? Make civil, constructive criticism and/or offer yourself as a volunteer the next time C4LJ opens a call for new editors.

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