Stories of Open: Opening Peer Review through Narrative Inquiry

ACRL announces the publication of Stories of Open: Opening Peer Review through Narrative Inquiry by Emily Ford, book number 76 in ACRL’s Publications in Librarianship series, which examines the methods and processes of peer review as well as the stories of those who have been through it. Stories of Open is the first book to go through the Publications in Librarianship open peer review process.

Learn more about Stories of Open in this excerpt from Chapter One, licensed under CC BY-NC.

The Story of Stories of Open


“It’s just a process that hasn’t been questioned in forever, and it needs to be,” said Cheryl as we were sitting in a small study room at a branch of our local public library. The faint smell of cigarettes lingered in the study room from its previous occupant, and muffled giggles and cries of children filtered in as we spoke. I was fooling with my laptop, trying to get pertinent documents in Word to function, despite the corrupted install job that had been completed on my new grant funded laptop. It didn’t work, and I felt flustered. Despite this setback, I was ready to learn from her. What did she have to share of her experience, and what kind of meaning would we create together in this hour and a half?

We were talking about peer review. I had asked Cheryl why she wanted to participate in this project as an interviewee. When she said it, I didn’t know that it would be the title of her interpretive narrative, the document culminating from our conversation, nor did I know that it would be how I opened this book.

For years, since my time as a cofounder and editor at In the Library with the Lead Pipe, a peer-reviewed blog turned journal, I have been fascinated by open peer review. Our open peer-review process was something we invented as we began the journal and something that I discovered to be invaluable during that time. Yet over the years I have learned that it’s not widely accepted or understood. Perhaps people fear it because it’s unknown, or we simply have naivete—we don’t know anything different. We, academic librarians, don’t collectively know it. Few of us have experienced it, and most of us don’t understand it.

Recently I was catching up on my podcast listening and was delighted to hear Radiolab’s Latif Nasser talking about how he finds stories. “I tell myself that there are 7.5 billion people on planet earth… and if you presume that one percent of those 7.5 billion people have those stories… There’s no way all those stories are getting told.… There’s… an infinity of stories all around us.”[i] I truly believe that when we open ourselves to others’ experiences, we in turn reflect on our own. We have much to learn about ourselves by listening to others. That is why I’ve approached my work in stories, and that is why stories matter. This book is as much about discovering method and process as it is about sharing the stories I gathered. I hope that this book will incite our academic library community to reflect on our own experiences and imagine the possibilities of creating new and improved ones. Readers who wish to discover answers to tightly scoped research questions backed by deep dives into academic literature and evidence will be highly disappointed. This book does not do that. Rather, its intent is to share collective discoveries and explorations on a theme. It is here to share our colleagues’ stories so that we may reflect on our own and potentially reimagine future stories.


While chapter 10, “The Next Layer of Publishing Transparency: Open Peer Review,” provides a closer look at open peer review, it remains pertinent to discuss it broadly in this introduction. Just what do we mean by open peer review? Although I and others have attempted to unpack this seemingly simple question, there still is no simple definition or application. Essentially, open peer review is an opening up of the peer-review process. It could mean that referees sign their reviews for authors to see, as may occur at BioMed Central journals. “Open peer review as practised by BMC, specifically refers to open identities and open content, i.e. authors know who the reviewers are and if the manuscript is accepted for publication the named reviewer reports accompany the published article.”[ii] I particularly love this framing of open peer review because it positions the process as a practice, and each person, each community, may practice something in a different way. And this is how it shakes out. Each implementation of open peer review, as I have observed, is different and nuanced. Some implementations allow for the publication of reviewer reports alongside publications, whereas others keep these reviewer reports opaque.

Just as some view open access as a way to democratize scholarly publishing, many see open peer review as affording similar opportunities. With open peer review we can shorten timelines between manuscript submission and publication, hold reviewers accountable for their work, make more apparent the hidden labor of reviewing and editing, allow for collaborative discourse between authors and reviewers, and more. Some of these arguments are deterministic, just as arguments regarding open access being the great democratizer of journal publishing are. In fact, anything open is highly nuanced and contextual. Ultimately, when we discuss “open,” we must discuss the stories around it. To what aim? What are the pitfalls? What are the gains? And are we trying to simply replicate a broken system instead of reinventing it?

Open peer review may also mean that authors have the opportunity to more deeply and meaningfully engage with referees. During the process, identities may be open, and the process itself may allow for discourse to occur on collaborative platforms such as Google Docs or using the WordPress Comments Press plug-in. In fact, several books in the digital humanities have utilized an open peer-review process—such as Debates in the Digital Humanities 2019 and Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s recent volume, Generous Thinking—allowing members of the public to register and provide their own annotations and comments on manuscripts.[iii]

One of the nuances in open peer review, as it’s discussed in regard to scholarly communication, is that of the differences between the STEM disciplines and the social sciences, arts, and humanities. Peer review in STEM disciplines is frequently used as a rigor checker. Is the method sound? Do the data support the conclusions? Is the study reproducible? Arguably, social sciences, arts, and humanities research is more nuanced, and peer review in these disciplines takes on a slightly different role. As such, it is difficult to define what open peer review could and might do in these different arenas. With peer review being more straightforward in STEM, it makes sense that there are more implementations of and experimentation with it in those disciplines.

In LIS, conversations regarding open peer review are nascent. While In the Library with the Lead Pipe has used an open peer review process since its formation in 2008, there remain few LIS journals implementing an open process.[iv] Journal of Radical Librarianship offers authors the opportunity to opt in to open peer review.[v] An initial proposal I wrote with my friend and Lead Pipe colleague Kim Leeder, asking the editorial board of College and Research Libraries (C&RL) to consider open peer review, was rejected at the journal’s editorial board meeting during ALA Annual 2013. Only recently did C&RL pursue an experiment with open peer review.[vi]

With so few opportunities for folks in LIS to experience open peer review, it remains mysterious to us, and we have few stories to share. What we do have in our field, as I discovered during my research process, is a curiosity and a desire to better understand open peer review. LIS folks are thoughtful and passionate. We care deeply about our work, our patrons, and our own community. Many of the stories I share with you include a rumination on openness, a collaborative exploration of what it might mean for peer review. It is in this larger context and frame that I present my work, and in which I hope readers will engage.

[i] Latif Nassar and Rachel Cusick, “BONUS: Radiolab Scavenger Hunt,” Transcript, WCNY Studios, December 28, 2018,

[ii] BioMed Central, “Advancing Peer Review at BMC,” accessed November 26, 2019,

[iii] Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein, Debates in the Digital Humanities 2019 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019),; Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “About the Project,” Generous Thinking, draft manuscript, February 6, 2018,

[iv] Editorial Board, Brett Bonfield, and Ellie Collier, “Editorial: Introduction,” In the Library with the Lead Pipe (blog), October 7, 2008,

[v] Journal of Radical Librarianship, “About the Journal,” accessed November 26, 2019,

[vi] Sarah Hare et al., “Considering Developmental Peer Review,” College and Research Libraries 79, no. 6 (2018): 718–25,