The Decline of a Library Journal — The Decline of ITAL

Information Technology and Libraries (ITAL)

Going. Downhill. Fast.

Information Technology and Libraries (ITAL) is the official organ of the Library Information Technology Association (LITA), a division of the American Library Association. The journal switched from a subscription model (it iwas included with LITA membership) to open access in 2012 and has decreased in quality, impact, prestige, and metrics ever since.

Here is some evidence of the decline of ITAL:

1. It is a money loser: The 2013 LITA annual report (the latest one available on its website) admits, “[T]he publication is still not revenue neutral,” which means that the journal is a money loser for the organization. Moreover, the annual report notes a 4.05% decrease in membership, a decrease that may have occurred because one no longer needs to be a member to access the journal. The journal currently uses the platinum OA model (free to authors, free to readers). If it were to implement author fees, I am certain that submissions would plummet. The print edition generated some advertising revenue, but no one wants to advertise in the open-access version, apparently.

2. ITAL lost its impact factor. For many years, the journal had earned an impact factor but no longer has one, probably because of fewer and fewer citations to its articles. This figure shows the citation calculations for ITAL’s last impact factor, the 2012 data:

ITAL impact factor

Data from 2012, when it still had an impact factor.

As you can see, Journal Citation Reports reported that the journal only had a measly 22 citations to its 37 citable items over a two year period. I assume a further decrease in citations to ITAL articles led to the loss of its impact factor. I realize that for many hipster librarians it is trendy to discount the impact factor, despite the fact that it measures researcher behavior, so let’s look at other metrics. According to Google Scholar, ITAL’s current h5 index is 15. For comparison, the current h5 value for Emerald’s Library Hi Tech is 21 (and this subscription journal has an impact factor of 0.394). ITAL ranks poorly with this competing journal in its field, any way you measure it.

Open-access activists claim that OA leads to increased citations, but the case of ITAL shows exactly the opposite. The switch to open access has ruined ITAL — both in terms of revenue for the publisher and in scholarly metrics.

3. The journal does not meet all of the “Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing” established by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). For example, principle number 2 says, “Journals shall have editorial boards or other governing bodies whose members are recognized experts in the subject areas included within the journal’s scope.” According to Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts, there are several members of the journal’s editorial board who have never published a peer-reviewed article, yet they are performing “peer” review for others.

4. COPE guideline number 5 says, “Copyright and licensing information shall be clearly described on the journal’s Web site, and licensing terms shall be indicated on all published articles, both HTML and PDFs.” None of the articles I examined bore any licensing information. ITAL is not following Committee on Publication Ethics guidelines.

5. The journal’s editorial standards have slipped, and the website, which uses the barely-functional open source journal management software called Open Journal Systems, is a UX disaster. It’s easy to find evidence of this sloppiness:


Poor attention to detail

The top box is copied from the table of contents of a recent issue; note the order of the authors. The bottom box is a screenshot from the article’s PDF, showing a different author order. Author order is an important consideration for references, access, and scholarly assessment, yet the journal uses two different author orders. Inattention to important details such as this mark the difference between a professional scholarly journal and a shabby one.

6. The journal appears to have abandoned copyediting. In a recent article (the pictured one above) I encountered these two copyediting blunders:

“… no PMC staff were available to provide the technical help needed because to budget reductions.”

“One of the initial obstacles was that a filter for the delivery mechanism didn’t exit.”

Not providing copyediting (or doing a poor job of it) is a disservice to readers and authors.

The world’s top library technology association should not have such a poorly-managed journal. The switch to open-access has only lowered the quality and the prestige of Information Technology and Libraries, and it was better all-around as a subscription journal.

14 Responses to The Decline of a Library Journal — The Decline of ITAL

  1. Maytham says:

    Can you evaluate this journal (Current Bioinformatics)( I would like publish my research work on it.
    Thank you

  2. Frank Lu says:

    Sorry to see the decline of a journal for librarians. During this watershed time in how we use reference material, I believe that there are still important functions of librarians. A journal to share exciting ideas in library science will be a useful resource indeed.

  3. Riaan Stals says:

    Correlation ≠ Causation::

    OK, ITAL started to slip more or less at the same time that it went OA. (Which has not been a time long enough to detect a real trend, I would like to ponderously add.) But it is and remains untestable whether there is any causal relation between going OA and becoming shoddy. This is at best a correlation, and I expect that everybody following this addictive blog have long since stopped confusing correlation and causality.

    Besides OA, there are so many factors that could be involved in the (temporary?) slipping-down of ITAL that I do not care to select some as examples.

  4. wkdawson says:

    It may also be a sign that humanities (and more obscure majors like library science) are taking the bullet in the current economy (that is supposedly improving so wonderfully with a purported 3% growth and 5.8% unemployment). I’d hate to be looking for a job with a fresh degree in library science these days: part time or volunteer work, few places that are employing even part time, others where librarians were laid off.

    It seems that less and less people actually read the papers (or even the abstracts) they cite, sometimes even copying mistakes in the citations they copied. Does anyone know the librarians anymore?

    I’m not saying that there could not be any correlation between the issues raised and going open access (OA), but there are surely many other reasons that could be far more serious than their choice to go OA.

  5. awd says:

    ITAL went OA almost 3 years ago, see the link below:

    If we are looking for causation, let me sum up:
    ITAL in print did not generate enough revenue to offset printing and mailing costs. This revenue challenge originated ~2008 as the economy tanked. Therefore, we (LITA) moved ITAL online.
    The philosophical discussions (libraries are about sharing and providing access to information and an online-only journal that is not open access makes exactly zero sense for the reader) only supported our decision. Plus, several other ALA divisions have made the same choice with their journals.

    Google Scholar relates the current ITAL h5-index at 15 and h5-median at 27.
    Not stellar, perhaps, but not quite unused yet.

    Regarding points 4 through 6, it’s always nice to have a critical eye point out shortcomings. I’ll pass along the UX and the COPE branding irregularities for future consideration and highlight the editing comment as feedback for the copyeditor.

  6. […] “journal switched from a subscription model…to open access in 2012 and has decreased in quality, impact, prestige, and metrics ever since,” reports Jeffrey […]

  7. Joe says:

    While by no means a fan of predatory publishers, I wish Mr. Beall would do a better job of distinguishing the varieties of open-access publishing. How would he categorize, for example, on-line journals for which reviews and authors’ responses are posted for anyone to examine? Where initial and final versions of a paper both appear? Where any reader can leave a comment? There are on-line publications of this sort published by scholarly societies.

    I also want to play the devil’s advocate apropos citation indices and “impact factors”. We all know that in writing the introduction to a paper, by way of providing background/literature review, authors commonly just cite a few recent papers rather than finding original sources or the most important relevant paper. Sometimes it is even obvious to the reader that the authors have never actually read the cited papers but (presumably) just scooped up the citations by running a keyword search. I’ve certainly encountered that sort of sloppiness. I hope I haven’t committed this transgression myself.

    • I think you are mixing publishing models and peer reviewing models in the first paragraph. They’re not necessarily dependent on each other.
      I’m sorry, but I am not sure what point you are trying to make in the second paragraph, but your observations there seem mostly reasonable.

  8. Ken Lanfear says:

    I think your analysis needs to go back a few years before 2012. Was ITAL already losing money, so the switch to OA was an attempt to save a failing journal? Without looking back, there are too many confounding elements for you to draw the conclusions you did. Good reviewers would go hard on you!

  9. Aachenac says:

    A completely untrue statement was included here: “ITAL ranks poorly with this competing journal in its field, any way you measure it.”
    Scopus thinks otherwise:

  10. Gogo says:

    Are you making the point that open-access journals should switch to subscription based model as this will increase their credibility?

  11. The move to OA is positive. A locked-up journal is an inferior thing. If the editors screw that up by not soliciting good manuscripts, that is a wholly different issue. Also, OJS is what there is and what we use. How is it ‘barely functional’ ?

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