18 September 2018

Who decides “Peer reviewed" in library records?

I noticed something new in my library’s search results while searching the catalog.

Journals showed up with “Peer reviewed” and “Open access” icons. This got me wondering where that information came from. I didn’t think the library staff had the time to assess all the catalog entries, so I tried to track down where that came from. Particularly “peer reviewed.”

A librarian confirmed it that “peer reviewed” was not a status designated by the university, but could not tell me exactly where the determination came from.

The icon shows up because there is a note in the item’s MARC record. MARC is a format for bibliographic data. (It’s MARC field 500, in case you’re curious). If I understand right, MARC records get created by many different entities. Those MARC shared to help standardize records across institutions. The entities who are populating those fields could include other universities, a network like OCLC (the nonprofit organization behind WorldCat), or the publishers themselves.

I’m disturbed that information might be added by the publishers themselves, which have a conflict of interest. Of course publishers will want to say all their journals are peer reviewed. It’s the practically the bare minimum to be considered an academic journal. But many journals claim to be peer reviewed that are not.

But what worries me most that that what is presented as a simple and authoritative “Yes / no” icon to university library patrons (mostly students) is added by a complex and unverifiable process.

I­’m always trying to push students to think about how peer review related to credibility and trustworthiness. I often ask them, “How do you know a journal is peer reviewed?”, which often flummoxes them. As it should. Determining whether a journal is “real” (i.e., credible) to a research community is complex.

If an institution librarian can’t say who is making a decision that a journal is peer reviewed or not, what hope do students have of critically assessing that information in the library catalog?
 The “Peer reviewed” icons in a university library record gives people a false sense of security.

Additional: I learned that the particular example I used here, Brazilian Journal of Biology, is not given as peer-reviewed in Ulrich’s, used by University of Toronto.

This was apparently part of a February 2018 update to Ex Libris.

More additional: The “Open access” icon ignores that hybrid journals exist.

1 comment:

Kiki said...

Hi. A scientist friend pointed me to your post. I'm an e-resources librarian at a university that uses the same back-end system that UT-RGV is using.

Short answer: It depends on where the record is coming from.

Long answer: The front-end system draws records from several sources. These include the library's back-end system, a link resolver, and a central index. Records in the library's back-end system might be created by someone in-house, imported from OCLC (in which case they were likely created by library staff from somewhere), or imported from a publisher (in which case most libraries will at least spot-review the records for reliability).

Records in the link resolver and the central index are provided by vendors, but not always by the publisher of the journal. Depending on the systems involved, catalogers can either edit these bibliographic records or submit tickets to the vendor to have them corrected.

So the information can originally come from a journal's publisher, but that doesn't mean it stays as the publisher submitted it. Information coming from the link resolver and the central index is touched by library staff worldwide--most of us are going to fix or report, as we're able, any incorrect information we find.

Does this mean that all information is 100% correct all the time? Unfortunately, no. We do our best, but students still need information literacy skills. Having students think about peer review and what it means is important, no matter what systems the library is using.