Open Access Student Publishing

Sometimes, the stars of open access (OA) and student publishing align. Alignment generates academic journals of student works that are made freely accessible to all. Many institutions already support student journals, as this vast survey of the undergraduate publishing landscape shows. How can LIS students contribute our unique skills and perspectives to student publishing? And how would everyone involved benefit from such involvement?

Adding Value

In my experience, LIS students add value in spades. Many of us are trained in web design and usability, social media marketing, copyright and access, research, and citation styles (I had to memorize APA after years of MLA and Chicago). We tend to be effective writers and learn to think from our users’ perspectives rather than from our own. All these skills are vital to conceptualizing, building, editing, and marketing a student journal. Above all, our mission is to manage, preserve, and deliver access to information while empowering our users and cultivating the production and dissemination of knowledge. This mirrors the mission of student publishing. And by involving ourselves in student publishing as editors or designers, we add value to ourselves in the eyes of future employers.

Open Access logo

Open access logo from the Public Library of Science. © CC-0

Open Access

So what is open access? There is an entire subcategory of HLS posts devoted to OA, but essentially, open access is how Peter Suber defines it: “digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and access restrictions.” No paywalls to limit access, no painful subscription costs to libraries, and little or no loss of author rights. Check out this recent article by HLS alumni Micah Vandegrift and Chealsye Bowley about measuring the “openness” of a journal. For more information or to find promotional materials, check out Open Access Week (Oct. 20-26).


To me, Hack Library School is an exemplar of OA student publishing. Its founders were students, most of its posts are by current MLIS students, and its content is fully open access, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0. What’s more, there are many other LIS  blogs and student blogs “out there.” Former HLS editor Topher Lawton contributed to Information Space, run out of Syracuse University, while INALJ and Letters to a Young Librarian accept guest posts from students and newbrarians. Launching an exciting new collaborative blog, or participating in existing blogs, is a fantastic way to edit, publish, and build your rep. All you need is a pool of contributors, a groovy title, and a free website. Blogging is student publishing at its openest.

Scholarly Journals

Many scholarly journals will publish student work. For example, I have published twice in the FCH Annalsan OA regional history journal. LIS journals tend to be particularly open to grad student submissions. For LIS publishing, check out Vandegrift and Bowley’s spreadsheet of LIS journals, annotated to indicate level of access, copyright, and reuse options.* For OA journals generally, consider exploring the Directory of Open Access Journals.

Student Journals

By “student publishing,” however, I’m really thinking of “traditional” journals that are affiliated with an institution and that publish student work exclusively. Most such journals are edited by students, who get to do all the honors, from designing to marketing to reviewing to copy editing. For example, San José State University publishes the SLIS Student Research Journal (not OA), which is edited by SJSU students. Consider planning a similar project for your own program! Perhaps you can even persuade your academic library to host the journal!

What about campus-wide journals? My alma mater, Florida State University, publishes undergraduate research in The Owl. My other alma mater, Florida Gulf Coast University, is launching a new student journal called Aquila. The Owl and Aquila are both student-edited and open access—and I am Aquila‘s Digital Media Editor.

My Experience

As Digital Media Editor, I built the journal’s website from a WordPress template and got it hosted on FGCU servers. I met with faculty and administrators to persuade them to support and help sustain the project. I created flyers. I copyedited manuscripts. I developed Aquila’s copyright policy and wrote the author agreement, implementing a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND policy (not a Free Culture License but one that ensures access, shareability, and author rights). Currently I’m formatting and organizing submissions for SEO and easy access. All this was made possible through close collaboration with our project leader, managing editor, graphic designer, and copy editors–all of them students. To help shepherd a journal from concept to completion is an amazing experience.

What can you do?

Consider putting a team together to start an LIS blog. Offer to help edit an LIS publication (state associations and roundtables often publish newsletters or even peer-reviewed journals). Discover if your institution has a student journal, whether LIS-specific or interdisciplinary. If it does, make your case to join the editorial board. If it does not, propose to create a journal and recruit a merry band to guide it toward success. Lobby for open access policies, consulting resources like Starting an Open Access Journalthis step-by-step guide, and this helpful material.

* Thanks to Micah Vandegrift for pointing me to this and other resources linked here.

Have you edited student publishing platforms or worked on open access projects as a student? Are there any OA student journals or blogs you recommend? Please let us know in the comments below!

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