Comparative Analysis of Professional Journals

For this exercise, I decided to explore two tracks in the library and information science profession that I will most likely not be following during my career: medical and law libraries. Though my goal is to work at an academic library and law libraries are a part of that world (at least, law school libraries are), these are two very specialized branches of the profession – both of which I am unfortunately not passionate enough about, nor am I academically equipped to be an expert in either field. However, I wanted to explore these very specialized branches of the profession and in particular, look at how their respective journals address various issues. What kind of language do they use? Do they take the same broad approach to topics as, say, a journal published by the American Library Association would? What are the pressing issues currently facing medical and law librarians?

For this exercise, I chose the Journal of the Medical Library Association and the Law Library Journal. Here’s what I found:

Journal of the Medical Library Association

  • Publisher: Medical Library Association
  • Mission: “The Journal of the Medical Library Association is an international, peer-reviewed journal published quarterly that aims to advance the practice and research knowledge base of health sciences librarianship.”
  • Intended Audience: Health and health sciences librarians and other information professionals working with medical research institutions, hospitals, medical schools, etc.
  • Price: $190 a year for second-class mail; $220 a year for first-class mail; $250 a year for those outside the US, Canada and Mexico. Limited number of back issues available for $80 each.
  • Materials Published: “The JMLA welcomes the submission of any original manuscript that seeks to improve the practice of health sciences librarianship or information provision in health or biological sciences or articulates developments and history of the profession and related fields. The JMLA also welcomes manuscripts that extend the knowledge base through research on the organization, delivery, use and impact of information on health care, biomedical research, and health professionals’ education.”The journal publishes full-length papers, systematic reviews, research reports, case studies, comments and opinions, and letters to the editor. Recently, the journal changed its submission categories, eliminating a “Brief Communcations” category while adding “Research Reports” and “Systematic Reviews.”
  • Peer Reviewed? Members of the JMLA editorial board evaluate all manuscripts with the exception of the “Janet Doe Lecture on the history and philosophy of medical librarianship”, proceedings on MLA meetings, columns and other opinion pieces, obituaries and book reviews. The board reviews pieces for scope and whether they meet minimum submission requirements.Otherwise, the journal uses a double-blind peer review process, in which reviewers don’t know the identity of the author, and authors don’t know who reviewed their manuscript.
  • Instructions to Authors: Authors are instructed to follow a “Key Information Checklist” before submitting their manuscripts to ensure papers have everything from a proper introduction to correct method citations.  Various manuscript types have specific instructions as well. For example, all full-length papers must have an abstract of not more than 250 words, with the total paper not exceeding 5,000 words with up to six illustrations.The journal asks that manuscripts conform to the “Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals,” otherwise known as Vancouver Style.
  • Characteristics of Interest: I found this journal interesting because, on first glance, it reminded me of a medical journal rather than journal for library and information science professions. Many of the articles seemed like they would fit in well among the pages of an ordinary medical journal, such as “Mapping the literature of addiction treatment” and “Mapping the literature of radiation therapy.”Still, after reading the abstracts for a few more articles, I realized that perhaps the research and reports found in JMLA aren’t so different than what one may find in an ALA journal. Two of the most requested JMLA articles from the past year, in fact, were ones that I believe any librarian would be interested in: “Breaking the barriers of time and space: the dawning of the great age of librarians” and “Applications of information and communication technologies in libraries in Pakistan.” While health libraries may be their focus, these topics illustrate how interconnected the library science industry really is.

Law Library Journal

  • Publisher: American Association of Law Libraries
  • Mission: Law Library Journal has been the ‘official’ publication of the Association since 1908. It is published quarterly and distributed to members directly. … Scholarly articles on law, legal materials, and librarianship are the mainstay of the journal.”
  • Intended Audience: Librarians working in law offices, in the legal profession or at law school libraries.
  • Price: $110 per year
  • Materials Published: The journal publishes practice-orientated articles, proceedings of the business sessions of the AALL’s annual meeting and historical records of the profession and association. Submissions aimed at all types of law libraries and at all areas of library operations are encouraged. Various approaches to topics are welcomed, from case studies to commentaries.
  • Peer Reviewed? Articles submitted to the LLJ are not peer-reviewed, but edited by a specific editor in order to “remove any ambiguities in the presentation.” The editor also assists authors to more effectively communicate their ideas.
  • Instruction to Authors: Authors are instructed to follow The Bluebook for all style issues, including textual references and footnotes. Otherwise, for all matters not covered in The Bluebook, authors should follow the Chicago Manual of Style. the AALL also outlines what manuscripts should include, including a title and author page, an abstract and footnotes.
  • Characteristics of Interest: I was surprised by what I saw as the relatively relaxed editorial standards of the LLJ, particularly their lack of using the peer-review process to evaluate prospective manuscripts. This seems like a valuable process to me, though perhaps it is omitted due to the relatively un-“scientific” nature of the articles (at least compared to the JMLA). Because of this, one can assume the number of articles submitted every year is relatively reasonable, considering one editor (at the moment Janet Sinder from the Brooklyn Law School Library) must review and edit all manuscripts. The lack of peer review may also be indicative that this journal is strongly tied to the AALL and its mission, leaving more research-heavy studies to other similar journals.

Compare/Contrast

I found that the biggest difference between the two journals, as I noted above, is the lack of the peer-review process at the LLJ, compared to the JMLA’s intense, double-blind peer review process. This is critical and, I believe, indicative of the steps the library and information science profession need to take to gain more academic credibility. Many, if not most, major academic journals function using a peer-review process. It ensures reports and papers are appropriate for that publication, are editorially sound and feature arguments that are both original and advance important research. Publications using this method are, in many ways, more credible and seem much more likely to be used by professionals besides librarians. As I mentioned, I was particularly impressed with the breadth of subjects addressed in JMLA. I can see hospital administrators or medical researchers using the journal and thus, validating the work of health librarians.

On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than law librarians using LLJ, which is perhaps their goal. However, it’s easy to forget the importance of special libraries at places like law firms and hospitals, and if these libraries want to survive, librarians must find a way to appeal to everyone working in the sector – not just the librarians.

I was also surprised at the varied style requirements for both journals. Upon beginning my MLIS degree, I had to learn APA style, which seemed an appropriate style guide for research papers and case studies. “This is what librarians use,” I told myself. However, librarians clearly must become acquainted with many, many more styles during their career, if the style requirements for these two journals alone are any indication.

Still, I thought it was considerate how much help each journal offers to aspiring manuscript writers, reminding them how to outline their reports and what to include in each section, from the abstract to the conclusion. I would think journal submission would be second nature to librarians (or, at least something they learned during library school) – apparently not!

“Journal of the Medical Library Association.” (2013) Medical Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.mlanet.org/publications/jmla/.

“Law Library Journal.” (2013). American Association of Law Libraries. Retrieved from http://www.aallnet.org/main-menu/Publications/llj.

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