Looking Backwards Before Moving Forward
Welcome to 2021, and the first of this year’s blog posts. As is somewhat traditional to be in a reflective mood at the beginning of a new year, I thought it would be useful to take a look back at preceding 12 months as they relate to the Exchanges journal and highlight some of the developments and occurrences we experienced and enjoyed.
The year began with a glorious triumph! In what was arguably our biggest innovation since we launched, we saw the publication of our very first special issue, entitled Cannibalism. Packed full of intriguing, challenging and thought-provoking articles, it also represented the culmination of over 12 months of effort behind the scenes by the Board and our associate editors. We produced a few promotional copies in print too, just to appreciate quite how ‘meaty’ an issue it was. These were intended to be used to publicise the journal at lectures, meetings and conferences during the year, although sadly global events would transpire against us.
The next month began on a continued high note, as associate editors gathered at the IAS’ offices to celebrate and reflect on the lessons drawn from preparing the special issue. It was clear from the discussions here there was more to unpick here than a casual conversation would reveal. So, ever the ethnographer at heart, I engaged in some semi-structed ‘exit’ interviews with the team. The hope was these interviews would help us better understand what the associate editors had learned, but also help clarify any of the unanticipated challenges they met along the way. In this way, we could reshape the training and support offered for future cohorts, while also allowing me to pass along my personal thanks to each member of the team. The outcomes from these interviews would also inform a planned conference paper in April, although as the next month arrived, it became clearer that our plans for 2020 were going to need to be significantly restructured.
As we moved into the third month of the year, it had rapidly become clear to me and the journal team, as it had to people around the world, that ‘business as usual’ was about to take a back seat to more pressing concerns. However, there was some positive news at the start of March, for while we were bidding farewell to some of our associate editors, we also welcomed two new Board members from CY Cergy Paris Université in the persons of Dr Guilherme Sampaio and Dr Salvatore Monteleone. Nevertheless, with the onset of lockdown in the UK, things drastically changed for Exchanges as I bid a regretful farewell to my campus office and relocated to my home one for the duration. Sadly, my planned Article in an Afternoon workshop scheduled for the end of the month was a casualty of the enforced shift to remote-working. While I hope to revisit, rework or represent this workshop eventually, finding time to reconfigure it for online delivery was less of a priority than supporting our editors and contributors as their working environments shifted drastically.
As the unprecedented, distanced summer term began, there was a least one piece of normality among the uncertainty. The IAS welcomed its latest batch of early career fellows in an online event, within which Exchanges took its regular slot, albeit slightly hampered by technical issues. Thankfully, your editor-in-chief had planned ahead and prepared a pre-recorded video to introduce the journal in place of a live broadcast! Nevertheless, it was a happy event, among an unseasonably gloomy month. Normally, April sees the publication of the regular issue of the journal, but it became readily apparent that we were lacking in sufficient publication-ready content for the issue, and so the decision was taken to push to the issue back to later in the year. Not a choice taken lightly, but an understandable one as we heard about the impacts from Covid and the varied global responses were impacting on scholars’ life experiences and working habits. However, for the journal there was a positive note to end the month on as a new associate editor, Melissa Pawelski joined the editorial team.
Behind the scenes fevered preparations continued towards the new issue of the journal. Reviewers and authors alike were encouraged by the editorial team, although ever sympathetic to the diverse and challenging environments each contributor now found themselves operating within. However, the space provided by the delayed publication and the diminished physical interaction with scholars finally saw me drive forward on a long considered but as yet unrealised project of creating a companion podcast series for the journal. The Exchanges Discourse therefore launched in early May with two inaugural episodes. As might be expected, these were themed around an introduction to the journal and our mission, and then an overview of the types of material the journal would normally consider for publication. I was delighted how the podcast and initial episodes were very warmly received by the IAS and our contributor community. As a result, awe pressed forward with developing the format and content for planned future episodes, something which continues to this day. Although, the efforts on The Exchanges Discourse may serve to explain why there were slightly fewer blog posts produced here last year!
As summer arrived, we finally rolled out the delayed but much anticipated latest issue of Exchanges (Vol.7 No.3). While the Covid-related delay to its production had been frustrating for the editorial team, and some of the authors too, we were naturally delighted by how enthusiastically the issue was received across the readership. After the extra effort of for the first time of coordinating an issue’s production entirely at a distance, the whole team took a moment to celebrate a job well done. Trying to avoid falling into the trap of so many ‘pandemic themed calls’, the issue also incorporated a new call for manuscript submissions on the broader and hopefully more uplifting theme of challenge and opportunity. Alongside the new issue, we also rolled out our third podcast episode, on the timely theme of Having your Manuscript Declined, & How to Avoid It: a topic evergreen in my mind and editorial labours.
The early summer continued to be a rich time for new episodes of The Exchanges Discourse, as we published two more this month. The first out of the gate was our premier guest interview episode, which saw Pierre Botcherby in discussion about the development of the Then & Now: Art Student Experiences journal special issue. As a new style, and one which increased the diversity of voices on the podcast by 50%, we were thrilled by the successful creation and release of the episode. This release was followed up by the first of our reflective podcast episodes, where we took a look back at the most recently published issue of the journal, highlighting the articles within it. July was also a month where the first of a series of regular video conference calls with the Editorial Board took place, to offer support and advice, as well as discuss forthcoming developments with the journal. Alongside providing some peer-to-peer support with the difficult working conditions within which we all found ourselves.
Normally a quiet month for the journal, with many of the team and contributors taking a well-earned break. As a result, perhaps the most significant event in August took place almost unnoticed by our contributing and reader communities, but for the editorial team was a most welcome occurrence. A long-planned update to the underlying OJS platform on which Exchanges runs was introduced, which added some much-desired new functionalities alongside squishing the odd glitch here and there. That the introduction of the new version of the platform passed by quietly in the background is a testimony to the hard work and professionalism of the Library Scholarly Communications team in preparing for and executing the upgrade.
Another editorial team meeting was held during September, to pick up the various threads of development and support needed across the Board. Chief among these were reviewing our progress against plan on each of our various special issues under development. Originally, September was to see the publication of our Cli-Fi special issue, but the Covid curse meant the Board and issue leads mutually agreed to push this back by four months to early 2021. Nevertheless, editors, reviewers and authors alike continued to work on this, and other contributions, behind the scenes, as we moved towards the start of the new academic session.
After a pause the previous month for myself to catch up on regular editorial work, the new academic year brought with it two new episodes of the podcast. The first provided a potted guide on the considerations and best approach to initiating a special issue of the journal, inspired by conversations with our various issue leads. The second was another of our increasingly popular guest episodes, with Ioana Vrabiescu in conversation with myself about her publishing experiences and providing some advice to first time authors. Meanwhile, October saw us welcome another new cohort of early career fellows to the IAS, with this time Exchanges much more successfully being able to engage with them during their induction event. This induction event was followed the next week by an ‘Ask me anything’ session (AMA) hosted by myself for the fellows, giving them the opportunity to enquire about Exchanges and how we relate to their researcher development experience. It was a highly successful new format and a highly energised session, and hence will be one we’ll be repeating in future Accolade slots for Exchanges related content, even once we’re all back together physically once again.
What was a busy, busy month for myself and the journal was capped by the publication of Vol. 8 No.1 of Exchanges, to much relief on the part of the editorial team, and much delight on behalf of the readership and contributors. The issue included our new thematic call for papers A.I. Panic or Panacea? It was to be a theme which generated a flurry of discussions and emails from potential authors, so I’m hopeful we’ll be seeing some excellent papers relating to it.
There was though, no time to rest on our laurels as we headed into the final months of the year. For November, the undoubtable headline event saw me speaking about the journal and the outcomes from our associate editors programme at the prestigious international Munin Conference on Scholarly Communication in Norway. Sadly, the pandemic meant that rather than a trip to the most northerly university in the world, I spoke from my home office. Conversely though, the conference experience generated more than a little new interest in Exchanges and our work, which was a very exciting outcome. You can watch my entire talk online, if you missed the opportunity of attending the conference.
During November we also took the time to produce two further episodes of The Exchanges Discourse. The first, was a reflective look back at the recently published issue. The second by contrast introduced another new format for the podcast, with our first foray into having authors present an oral version of their article’s abstract. If this wasn’t enough activity for one month, we also hosted the final Editorial Board online meeting of the year, bringing together my team together from across at least 4 different time-zones and several thousand miles. A tip of my hat especially for my Australian colleagues for joining us at what was a late hour of the day for them.
Publicly the year ended what was probably a relatively quietly note. Although behind the scenes there was a lot of work going on towards the volumes of the journal planned for 2021. Training was held for two incoming associate editors, Josh Patel and Pierre Botcherby for one. It was also a month where I seemed to be very busy interviewing academics about their publishing experiences for the Exchanges Discourse podcast, with two new episodes coming out just before the Christmas break featuring Dr Julia Gauly and another with Isabelle Heyerick. Clearly, looking at the healthy listener figures for these episodes, they were either highly engaging, or scholars found themselves with more time to listen as the year ended. It was notable the statistics for all episodes of podcast went up during December, so perhaps a little of both reasons. A further episode was also recorded, but with the encroaching Christmas shut-down period, it was held back from release until early 2021. For me though, the last event of the year was a discussion with some scholars in the Netherlands about an open access project of potential interest to the journal. A fine way to cap off a strange and unexpectedly eventful working year on a note of authentic positivity.
So, that was Exchanges’ 2020 – and what’s ahead for 2021? More special issues being published, more regular issues too that’s for certain, as are more podcast episodes. I’m hopeful we’ll be opening the books to recruit some new editors and associate editors in the coming months, alongside contributing to a few conferences, workshops and forums in a professional capacity. We’ll also be quietly celebrating three years of the title under my stewardship, albeit at in a respectably socially-distanced manner, around Easter time. I do hope you’ll be at least joining us as a reader or may even be moved to contribute to a future issue. We are certainly looking forward to many, many new interactions with scholars old and new throughout the next year: via the blog, podcast, twitter, email or video-call. However, you approach us, know there’ll be a warm welcome!