Image Credit: U Penn campus by Famartin, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Image Credit: U Penn campus by Famartin, CC BY-SA 4.0,

So far, 2023 has been a year of new beginnings for the University of Pennsylvania Press, with the launch of various titles and a new mission statement, galvanizing organization-wide efforts to further the Press’s long-standing commitments to advance scholarly inquiry and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in academic publishing.

The Penn Press team has also been working to modernize their journal peer review processes, including migrating titles to Scholastica’s peer review system to improve the submission experience for authors and streamline editorial workflows.

We caught up with Penn Press’s Director of Journals, Jocelyn Dawson, and Operations Manager, Paul Chase, to learn more about how they’re working to develop their journal portfolio and support DEI initiatives at Penn Press and across the broader scholarly publishing landscape. Check out the full interview below.

Q&A with Penn Press

To start, can you both share a bit about how you came to be at Penn Press and what that journey has been like for you?

PC: I started here in 2007 when we had six journals (in 2024, we’ll be up to twenty-seven). It’s been challenging but also a lot of fun to help the program adapt to and grow with the changing academic publishing environment.

JD: I joined the Penn Press journals program in October 2022. I’ve found the staff here, especially the folks in journals, to be warm and welcoming and very adaptable. Over the last few years, the Press has launched a new title management system, a new website, several new journal and distribution arrangements, and a new partnership with Scholastica, all while transitioning to remote work during the pandemic. The staff seem to have risen to the occasion with aplomb and it’s exciting to work somewhere with an ongoing commitment to making our work better and more efficient.

Penn Press has a wonderfully diverse journal portfolio. How have you approached launching and developing titles in partnership with the editors, and what have been the driving forces behind those decisions?

PC: The former director of the Press wanted journals that fit well with our book lists but was willing to take on a new journal if he thought it worthy and he had high standards for determining that. In the past there were two driving forces: 1) was it academically rigorous and 2) is it financially feasible. The editors put their effort into the quality of the articles and issues while we tried to make sure the journal was sustainable.

JD: Fit with mission is our most important criterion — does the journal further our goal to “advance intellectual inquiry” and share diverse and thought-provoking work? What I love about university press publishing is the general acceptance that a range of journals (differing in terms of readership, field size, usage) can contribute to that goal. University presses publish large, field-defining, highly cited titles as well as smaller titles that are important to niche or emerging fields. At Penn Press, we try to balance our portfolio with titles in each of these categories. And with the rise of interest in open-access publishing in the humanities and social sciences, we also seek to position ourselves as a strong partner to journals interested in pursuing OA; in 2024, we will have a total of four OA titles on our list.

In what ways have you been leveraging new publishing tools and services to streamline journal operations in recent years? And how has migrating some journals to Scholastica’s peer review system impacted editorial workflows and your overall journal operations?

PC: We joined the rest of the academic publishing industry in online peer review systems rather late, but it’s been wonderful for the editors and MEs that have previously relied on spreadsheets and email. All of them love using Scholastica.

JD: I agree with Paul — moving journal submissions from cumbersome email processes to an online system has been a game changer.

What has your experience been like helping editors onboard to Scholastica’s peer review system? Do you have any migration advice for others looking to adopt new software?

PC: The onboarding process has been fairly simple. Your staff really has the process down with the demos and signing up. Very smooth with hardly a glitch. I’m usually the initial “journal admin” and when they’re ready with starting to accept submissions I quickly and easily transfer that position over to the editor.

The new Penn Press mission statement emphasizes Penn Press’ ongoing commitment to furthering Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. What initiatives in these areas excite you most at the Press and within the broader research landscape?

JD: At Penn Press, we consider principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the context of our staff, our readers, and our authors. We have a wonderful Employee Resource Group that has brought in DEIA programming for our staff. Our accessibility efforts are currently focused on working with our journals to collect ALT-text for images and developing a plan to enrich our PDFs in anticipation of new EU and US accessibility requirements coming in 2025.

As a member of AUPresses, we are part of the Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion in Scholarly Communications (C4DISC). This coalition of publishing and library associations was founded to address historic inequity in scholarly communications and is responsible for a lot of exciting DEIA initiatives in our field. I was a co-lead for C4DISC’s Toolkits for Equity project, which produced antiracism guides for allies, organizations, and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). This project has expanded to include Guidelines on Inclusive Language and Images in Scholarly Communication and the Toolkit for Disability Equity. There are a lot of passionate people working to make scholarly communications an inclusive and welcoming occupation.

Many thanks to Jocelyn and Paul for taking the time for this interview! To learn more about Penn Press’s new mission statement and latest news, be sure to check out the Press blog!

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