Platform Models for Scholarly Journal Publishing: A Survey and Case Study

  1. 1. Sarah Toton

    Emory University

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The past six years have seen a proliferation of online
scholarly journals. The number of new publications
added to the Directory of Open Access Journals
(DOAJ), for example, has gone from a trickle of twenty-
six new journals in 2002 to a torrent of five hundred
ninety-eight new titles indexed in the first nine months of
2008. 1 This proliferation has led to publications focusing
on more specialized topics, and publishing in nations
and languages traditionally underserved by Western-focused
academic publishers. Despite the wide variety of
emerging content, however, the technical infrastructures
behind these publications remains relatively uniform.
Constrained by current platform options and multimedia
literacy on the part of publishers, many journals still operate
akin to their print-based predecessors. By offering
electronic text-driven arguments, online journals may
challenge conventional models of delivering scholarly
content, but do little to augment the emerging shape of
digital scholarship. In short, a downloadable PDF is not
that different than a scanned photocopy.
This paper examines technologies behind current openaccess
journals, and it evaluates how journal content,
preservation, information architecture, and the review
process influence and are influenced by available publishing
frameworks. To do this, I survey platforms used
currently in open-access scholarly publishing. I then focus
on a particular journal, Southern Spaces, and its transition
from hardcoded HTML to a publishing/content
management system. Through this discussion, I intend
to address several questions, including: Can journals impact/
build scholarly communities? Can they shape and
enhance a participatory culture on the scholarly level?
Are existing models of peer-review unnecessarily limited
by restrictive platforms? Is the text-based model
of scholarly communication good enough for today’s
The paper’s survey portion examines existing models
used in electronic publishing from XML schemas (like
NCBI’s Journal Publishing Tag Set) to the many opensource
platforms developed at digital scholarship centers
and research libraries, including Open Journal Systems
(OJS) and Digital Publishing System (DPubS). The
Public Knowledge Project’s OJS platform facilitates the
development of open-access scholarship by not only offering
an infrastructure for the online presentation of articles,
but also providing a management system for peerreview
and general editorial workflow. A local install,
ease of configuration, and submission management tools
allow users to develop a technical infrastructure relatively
quickly and with little need for system administrator
support in the maintenance phase. The relatively uniform
look of OJS journals, however, suggests little capability
for extensive customization. Cornell and Penn State’s
DPubS software offers more opportunities for customization
through its modular architecture, as well as the
potential for interoperability with Fedora and DSpace
repositories. In addition, like OJS, DPubS 2.1 offers
a service for peer-review management.2 While DPubS
robust design allows for more unique journal instances,
however, it also requires significantly more back-end
management and support than OJS. This makes DPubS
useful on an institutional level in a library, but the steep
learning curve and technical requirements may hinder
adoption among university faculty. Other systems developed
in Europe—Hyperjournal, SOPS, the ePublishing
Toolkit—seek to provide personal archives, workflow
support, publishing networks, and cross-referencing
tools, but have not yet been adopted by more than a
handful of scholarly publishers.
In addition to offering a survey of platform-based publishing
options, this paper examines open-source blog
publishing tools and content management systems developed
for commercial purposes that are also used by
electronic scholarly publishers. Flow, a media studies
journal, and the CodeForLib Journal, for example, uses
the popular blogging platform, WordPress.3 Museum
Anthropology Review used WordPress in 2007 before
switching to OJS in 2008. The journal’s editors still
maintain the WordPress site as supplementary weblog to
MAR.4 While implemented less commonly, the content
management system, Joomla, provides the platform for
Boston College Law School’s Intellectual Property and
Technology Forum.5 These cases address why publishers
chose and sometimes abandoned non-academic platforms,
and they offer insight into the possibilities and
drawbacks in modifying commercial-based open-source
This comparative survey illustrates the varied strengths
and weaknesses of particular publishing platforms, as
well as examines their influence on the final product: the
published scholarship. I then turn to Southern Spaces
(, an open-access, interdisciplinary
journal housed in Emory University’s Woodruff
Library. My experience as an editor, media coordinator and the Managing Editor has shown me how technological
decisions influence the daily operations of journal
publishing, as well as the final shape of scholarly content.
This year, in particular, marks a major transition
for the journal. Southern Spaces will undergo a substantial
redesign in the coming months, transitioning from
HTML pages created in Dreamweaver to a Drupal 6
platform integrated with a Fedora repository.
To determine the new information architecture for
Southern Spaces, I conducted two surveys: one to board
members and peer reviewers, the other to junior and independent
scholars new to Southern Spaces. Based on
user feedback as well as an internal we conceived a new
workflow process, navigation structures, pedagogical
tools, as well as several opportunities for community development
within the site. The redesign, I anticipate, will
allow Southern Spaces authors and staff to develop multimedia
publications that incorporate links, video, audio,
and Flash features. In addition, the process will develop
interactive features that not only allow for reader feedback,
but also provide a better infrastructure for citing
and collecting Southern Spaces articles. These directions
extend from Southern Spaces’s goals, which are likely
similar to many open-access journals: offer a research
tool, expand the visitor community, sustain and preserve
digital content, streamline the pre-publication process,
develop a learning environment for interdisciplinary
scholars as well as scholars new to digital scholarship.
Choosing a publishing platform not only dramatically
influences published content, but also has the potential
to change the landscape of online scholarly communication.
Who edits, reviews, publishes and hosts a journal
influences technological decisions, but these decisions
also dramatically impact what can and cannot be
displayed as vetted scholarship, as well as the limits of
scholarly participation in a journal’s (or a discipline’s)
wider community. In this rapidly expanding landscape
of online scholarship, technological change and the decisions
behind this change aren’t always apparent. Yet, in
order to understand how digital publishing is changing,
it is key to look beyond the number of online journals to
the variety of online publishing options and their impact
beyond the computer screen.
Borgman, C. (2007). Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information,
Infrastructure, and the Internet. Cambridge,
MA: The MIT Press.
Brown, A. (2002). XSD Schemas in Book and Journal
Publishing. XML Europe.
html (accessed 11 November 2008).
Sparc Europe (2008). Open Access Journals: Overview.
open-journals (accessed 11 November 2008).
Solomon D. (2008). Developing Open Access Journals:
A Practical Guide. Oxford: Chandos Press.
Willinsky, J. (2005). Open Journal Systems: An Example
of Open Source Software for Journal Management
and Publishing. Library Hi-Tech 23: 504-519.
1Gavin Baker (2008). Growth of DOAJ: Steady 2003-
2007, Major Spike in 2008. A Journal of Insignificant Inquiry.
October 17, 2008. This study is somewhat limited
as the DOAJ offers only two pieces of chonodata: date
journal was started and date journal was added to the
DOAJ. This study indicates when journals were added
to the DOAJ, but not necessarily when became open access.
2This build was launched in June 2007, and it remains
the most recent version as of November 2008. Documentation
for 2.1 was last update in March 2008.
3The CodeforLib Journal (
currently uses WordPress 2.6.3. Flow uses 2.5 (for their
second redesign, Flow used a WordPress skin called The
Morning After, which gave the publication a magazine
style; they currently use the MimboPro template, also
designed for magazine style sites.) In late 2008, a DOAJ
Export Plugin was developed for WordPress, allowing
publishers of OA journals to provide article-level data
to the DOAJ, thereby opening articles up to discovery
through DOAJ’s interface.
4The Museum Anthropology Weblog’s “About” page
explains: “While, during its first year (2007) the journal
itself was published on this site, the journal is now
published using Open Journal Systems by the Indiana
University Bloomington Libraries.” http://museumanthropology.
net/about/ (accessed 10 November 2008).
5Paul Ham (2006). Using Joomla for an Online Law
Journal. Intellectual Property and Technology Forum.
Boston College Law School. Boston, MA. July 9, 2006.
online-law-journal/. (accessed 9 November 2008).
Several comments discuss other publishing platforms,
including citing OJS.

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2009

Hosted at University of Maryland, College Park

College Park, Maryland, United States

June 20, 2009 - June 25, 2009

176 works by 303 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (4)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None