Drops Match, Runs Off Bridge
So today I let go of a project that has been a huge part of my professional life since 2006. At that time, I had just started my job at the University of Colorado Denver's Auraria Library. As a new hire, I was a librarian and a member of the tenure-track faculty and thus looking for venues in which to cultivate research and service commitments, which accounted for 40% of my performance plan. An opportunity arose to guest edit an issue of Colorado Libraries, our state association's quarterly journal. I jumped at the chance, and the end result was an issue themed "Technologies & Colorado Libraries." I had really enjoyed the role of guest editor--developing the issue's theme, soliciting authors, reviewing/editing drafts, and pulling the whole thing together--so I did it again in 2008, producing an issue themed "Disability Services," another area of interest in my growing research agenda.
At our annual conference that fall, the then-content editor of the journal was looking for a successor, and asked if I'd be interested. The notion of taking over that role was appealing, so I applied, and began the job of content editor shortly thereafter with the new association "year." At the first meeting of that year in January, however, there was grim news regarding the budget, and one of the line items the board was eyeing was the cost of printing and mailing the journal: about $26,000 annually. I left the meeting with the tiniest germ of an idea in my head: we could publish it online. The production costs of domain registration and hosting would be a fraction of the cost, and the reach of the journal (as well as all of its content, which details what the fabulous librarians of Colorado have been up to) would be global. We could make it online and open access. I was a web librarian, so the scope of this fit my research agenda as well. The board was unsure of how to proceed--other than cutting the print budget--so things were up in the air until the next annual conference. Meanwhile, authors who had already submitted content-many of them also on the tenure track-were left in limbo, assured that their articles had been accepted for publication, but with no evidence to use in a CV or annual review. I felt awful for them, but I had no way forward until after the conference.
At the 2010 January board meeting, I presented a proposal to move Colorado Libraries to an online, open access format to the board. I pointed out multiple benefits: it saved us a LOT of money; it was a greener way to publish; it made the reach of our statewide library projects global; it was more accessible to readers with disabilities; color pictures would be possible/free. I was truly surprised at how upset, even angry, people were. One person insisted that she didn't have the budget to print copies of the journal for her board members--who were, um, apparently not capable of using the internet? Others were concerned that members would drop their memberships because a benefit was being taken away--like with many associations, one of the advertised benefits of membership was the print subscription. I pointed out that nothing was being taken away from anyone; we were making the journal available to anyone. And what about the ad revenue we got from vendors for the print version? Well, it didn't come anywhere near the $26K we needed each year, so...so what? None of them were pounding down our doors to reach our readership of around 1300 people.
By the March meeting, however, I had satisfied enough of these concerns to get a successful vote to move forward. During the next couple of months, I built the publishing platform in Drupal-if you're a fellow web nerd and interested in the gory details, I wrote a code4lib article about how I did it. After a really unfortunately long delay, I was able to write to the authors who had submitted content more than a year earlier--many of them had to significantly revise what they'd submitted--and let them know that issue 36.1 was available at coloradolibrariesjournal.org. I was insanely proud of my creation. We published eight issues, volumes 35 and 36. Google Analytics shows that our reach is definitely global, with visitors arriving at the site from 144 countries. Colleagues delighted in showing off their articles by sharing the links to them on Facebook, and one author was even contacted for permission to translate his article into Danish.
Again this January, the topic of the association's budget situation was high on the agenda for the year. Historically, the two journal editors (content and layout) each received $375 per issue. These stipend funds were cut from the budget, with the rationale that all other board positions were all volunteer, shouldn't the editors be, too? I take issue with that. In the beginning, I was more interested in adding editorial accomplishments to my CV, but after I realized how much work went in to it, I was glad to have my time and editorial-and later, web development-skills recognized in that way. And as a former member of the board-I was a division head-I can say with absolute certainty that I spent considerably more time developing, maintaining, and curating and adding content to the web platform. Even before the move, I took on additional work when the recently hired peer review editor didn't produce, and I was left to pull together a peer review board, guidelines, and process. We did publish our first peer reviewed article in our last print issue, another accomplishment I'm proud of.
Today I wrote to the board president to resign. I won't lie and say that there are NO hard feelings, but it's also time to turn the journal over to someone else who can breathe some fresh air into it. I'm no longer a tenure-track faculty member, or even in a librarian position; I'm a web developer for my public library district. Home life has gotten more complicated as we've been caring for an aging parent in addition to our own three young kids, and I can't do non-work "work" for free. I also let my membership lapse in February; beyond my involvement with the journal, I've honestly never felt truly engaged with it. I'm not looking to burn a bridge here--these are fantastic people doing fantastic things--I just need to realistically downsize my professional involvement outside of my immediate job duties. I changed positions almost 18 months ago, and I've tried to honor the commitments I made prior to the job switch while gracefully backing out, handing off, and learning to say "no." It hasn't been easy, but I feel my sanity returning. Still, it's hard to see off something that you poured so much of yourself into for so long without feeling a little regret.