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Retrospective on the Symposium québécois des revues savantes

The Symposium québécois des revues savantes, which was held in Montréal on November 20, 2023, was the highlight of Érudit’s 25th anniversary celebrations. Organized in collaboration with Acfas, this event brought together forty journal editors and several Scholarly Communications librarians to delve into the challenges shaping today’s academic publishing landscape.

Journals Took the Floor

Scholarly journals in Québec find themselves at a turning point. With the emergence of digital technologies and the accelerated globalization of research, journals have been operating in an environment undergoing profound changes. More recently, that context has been impacted by the promotion of open access and the adoption of open science practices. The Symposium aimed to create a space where journal editors could openly discuss the issues that impact their editorial practices and their operations.

A number of librarians specializing in scholarly communications also took part in these exchanges, as they represent the privileged point of contact between the journals and their home institutions, providing support and advice. Thanks to the facilitating role played by Érudit and Acfas, the afternoon event brought together key stakeholders from the scientific publishing ecosystem in Québec, highlighting once again the importance of communication and consultation in ensuring the vitality of the field.

Collaborative Workshops

The afternoon was organized in the form of workshops based on the principles of the Worldcafé method and adapted for the occasion, because they encourage both in-depth exploration of a subject and the formulation of solutions to the challenges identified.

The themes covered during the Symposium were elaborated by a steering committee including five scholarly journals: Études littéraires, Le Naturaliste canadien, Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française, Drogues, santé et société and Revue québécoise de droit international. These themes touched on the 3 cross-cutting issues that stand out in current circumstances: publication in French, the recognition of the role of journals and the expertise of editorial teams.

Three Areas of Work

1. Publication in French

In a context where the domination of English on scientific communication is becoming more and more entrenched, we are witnessing a generalized linguistic impoverishment in scholarly communication. Publishing in French is thus a major issue for scholarly journals in Québec and Canada. Discussions held during the Symposium touched on the systemic nature of the rapid decline in the number of articles published in French, which is directly linked to current practices in research evaluation and the promotion of professors, adopted by universities and granting agencies. The metrics most commonly used to calculate prestige, such as the Impact Factor, were created for English-language publications, which are still assigned disproportionate value.

The workshop groups raised the question of how to strengthen the legitimacy of French-language publications and to promote them further. An important recommendation that arose from those discussions was to avoid believing that technology, particularly automatic translation, would provide a miracle solution. Putting measures in place to promote publications in languages other than English will require real political will and a concerted action plan that brings together all academic instances.

2. Recognizing the Role of Journals

The second area stemmed from the shared observation that the role and scope of scholarly journals are often misunderstood, notably by their home institutions, and reduced to manuscript evaluation. However, even at the article level, journals do much more as they play a key role in producing and disseminating knowledge, providing field-specific results to researchers and students, which become in turn the starting point for further research. 

More generally, journals are living spaces that organize and activate their research communities, whether within editorial teams, among the authors being published, or through the evaluators that guarantee the quality of the articles selected for publication. They play a key role in training young researchers by working closely with them on their manuscripts. Editorial teams invest a lot of time in this task which is often done unseen in the background, while remaining essential to training the next generation. Discussions at the Symposium stressed the importance of better recognition of the full range of roles that journals play within the research cycle.

3. The Expertise of Editorial Teams

The third area focused on the skills held by editorial teams, a facet that is all the more important as they have been operating in an environment undergoing profound changes in the last thirty years. Beyond their discipline-specific expertise, scholars who run publications need to acquire several skill sets, built and constantly updated over the years. This work not only requires effort, but also time, a very rare resource in the contemporary academic world.

While modes of dissemination change rapidly and the transition to open access is accelerating, the development and transfer of the skills held by editorial teams require continuous support from the whole of the Canadian scholarly publishing ecosystem. The key role played by academic libraries in this should be amplified and coordinated, as a complement to the services offered by Érudit’s team.

The discussions at the Symposium also brought attention to the challenges created by the immense and essential task of decolonizing scientific publishing, which is ever more urgent. The hypothesis of a collaborative and mutual aid network grouping together Québec-based scholarly journals also emerged from these exchanges, which insisted on a structure as horizontal as possible.

A Plenary Session to Listen to Journals

The Symposium ended with a plenary session aimed at sharing the main points covered in the afternoon workshops for each of the three areas discussed. Representatives from granting agencies, universities and library leadership teams were invited to this session, ensuring that every key stakeholder from the scholarly publishing ecosystem was present to listen to the journals’ reflections as well as their recommendations.

What Comes Next?

The Symposium was a promising glimpse into a more systematic form of collaboration for journals as they face several common issues, and in that spirit, we would like to thank everyone who participated on that day, as well as Acfas and the Fonds de recherche du Québec for their help in organizing the event. There were many calls to repeat this kind of meeting, underlining that solutions to these challenges cannot be found without the contribution and support of all stakeholders in the scholarly publishing ecosystem, including libraries, universities and granting agencies. 

The notes taken during the workshops were compiled and will be transformed over the coming months into a comprehensive report of these exchanges, including both findings common to most journals and significant exceptions. We are also hoping for a Canadian version of this first event during the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, which will be held in June 2024 at McGill University (Montréal, Canada).