Running an OA Social Work Journal: Interview with Margaret Adamek

When I was working on my article about paywalls and practitioner access to research, Advances in Social Work (AISW) was always where I planned to submit it. Social work unfortunately does not have a wealth of open access journals, AISW is one of the few. As this project, Open Social Work, is a space for promoting and supporting open access publishing, it seemed like a good opportunity to discuss journal publishing with the Editor of AISW, Margaret Adamek. 

Advances in Social Work published its first issue in 2000, with founding editor Dr. Paul Sachdev, Professor of Social Work at the Indiana University School of Social Work. Since 2015, Margaret Adamek has served as editor, while also serving as the School of Social Work’s PhD Program Director. Initially a print publication, the journal moved online in 2008, and also became open access that time. 

My interview with Professor Adamek took place in early 2020 via email. Her responses include input from Assistant Editor Valerie Decker and the AISW Editorial Board. 

KP: Can you share a little of the journal’s history? What motivated the editors to make Advances in Social Work open access in 2008?  

MA: ​The first issue of Advances in Social Work was published in April 2000. The journal published 2 issues per year up until 2019 when it moved to a 3-issue per year format. Based on the low number of subscriptions and the commitment to share social work knowledge widely, the Editorial Board decided in 2007 to transform the journal from a paper format to an online open access format. Essentially, we gave up on the idea of making a profit from the journal (which was not a major motivation in the first place). Being an open access journal, which means AISW is accessible to practitioners, reflects our commitment to the values and ethics of social work. 

Since 2008, we have published 26 issues that are open access. In addition, we retrospectively converted our first 16 issues into our online format so that every issue is available globally. As a courtesy to our readers, we have also retrospectively added DOIs to the reference lists of all issues, including the ones that started out as paper journals.

KP: You have served as the journal’s editor since 2015. What inspired you to step into this position? 

MA: I had been serving on the Editorial Board since its inception in 1999, so I was committed to the success of the journal. I served as a guest editor for one semester when one of the early editors, Dr. Barry Cournoyer, took a sabbatical, so I had a bit of experience as the editor.  When the Editor who came before me, Dr. Bill Barton, retired from the faculty he suggested that I take up the position as editor. He endorsed me as someone who he thought would do a good job. At first I resisted and Dr. Barton continued to serve as the Editor even after he retired from the university. Frankly, I was a bit concerned with adding the editor duties to my responsibilities as PhD Program Director. Eventually, I conceded and took on the post. I have always enjoyed editing papers and mentoring writers to improve their work so it turned out to be a good fit.

There are different ways that open access journals support themselves, not just article processing charges–a common misperception. Can you describe how the journal is supported?  

We do not charge authors any fees. And AISW authors also retain the copyright to their work. AISW is supported by the Indiana University School of Social Work. Costs are minimized by using a journal management portal system (OJS) available to us for free through the IUPUI University Library. The library staff are also available to us for free and provide technical support and training on the journal management system. The journal expenses are primarily a modest stipend for the Editor and hourly wages for the Assistant Editor.

KP: What are the challenges and rewards of running the journal? Do you think being open access changes any of these versus a non-open access journal? 

MA: Some of the challenges of running the journal include getting reviewers to respond in a timely manner and authors not following the Author’s Instructions during the submission process. On occasion we have reviewers who just do not do a good job of reviewing papers and in that case we may have to resort to the timely process of recruiting n​​ew reviewers. It also requires time and resources to handle article submissions that are outside of the journal’s scope, as well as an increasing amount of spurious submissions.  

The rewards of running the journal include mentoring authors to revise their initial submissions that have been favorably reviewed into publishable papers that make a contribution to the knowledge base. It is rewarding to learn about and promote best practices and emerging models–whether theoretical or practical–that are moving the profession forward. It is rewarding to have a hand in promoting translational research that delivers new research findings to the world of practice. Scholars in academia who read the journal can also become informed about emerging trends in the practice world.

​Being an open access journal means that the rewards of running a journal (contributing to the knowledge base, mentoring authors, promoting best practices in teaching and practice, and revealing emerging research) can readily be accomplished on a global basis. It is also gratifying to know that our published papers are available to practitioners and students as readily as they are to university faculty. For example, when we published a special issue on social work with refugees and migrants, we were able to freely share the special issue with all of our field placement agencies that worked with refugees and migrants. Having an open access journal means that you can truly “get the word out.”

One challenge I assume that open access journal editors do not have to face is consternation from potential readers whose access is blocked by paywalls. I love the fact that AISW articles can reach a global audience (at least those with access to the internet) including those who do not have the means to pay article fees.

KP: What are your thoughts on the research to practice gap in social work? Do you think journal publishing is relevant to this conversation? 

MA: Advances in Social Work came about with the goal of integrating social work research, practice, policy and teaching. Becoming an open access journal elevated our ability to do so. We currently do not have a profile of our readers so it is difficult to know to what extent AISW is reaching a practice audience. If practitioners are expected to use evidence-based interventions, we have to give them access to the evidence. I am concerned that many practitioners may assume that they do not have access to new social work literature due to paywalls. Our editorial board has had a few discussions about how to market AISW to practitioners. One board member asserts that expanding our audience to include practitioners is not a step below, but a step up to enhancing access to knowledge about evidence-based interventions.

KP: Have you heard anything from article authors about why they chose to publish in AISW? Is AISW being an open access journal part of the equation? 

MA: We are not sure why authors picked AISW. I expect that AISW being open access is at least one of the reasons but can’t confirm that with data as yet.

KP: Where do you see open access going in the field of social work? 

​MA: As open access is a social justice issue and social work is a field committed to enhancing social justice, I see open access continuing to grow with even more platforms than are currently available. With the exponential growth in technology innovations, I would not be surpised to see social work journal apps available on smartphones (are they already here?!). A few online social work journals offer CEUs for practitioners and that seems to be a technology-supported innovation with potential to expand.

KP: Do you have any advice for others on editing an open access journal? 

​MA: Good technical support is invaluable, as well as a user-friendly interface. Be wary of solicitations from predatory publishing outfits who ask to partner with your journal. Value the advice and direction of your editorial board. Acknowledge your reviewers after each review and by publishing an annual list of reviewers. Invite published authors to become reviewers. 

Published by kpendell

Social Work and Social Sciences Librarian at Portland State University

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