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Penn Libraries News

Promoting sustainability through open journals publishing at the Penn Libraries

The International Journal for Water, Equity and Justice (IJWEJ), an open access, digital publication of The Water Center at Penn and the Global Water Alliance (GWA), recently relaunched with a new scope, name, and digital platform, with the support of the Penn Libraries. With sustainability as a core concern the journal has just navigated an initial cycle of publication on a new digital platform.

The cover image for Volume 10 of the International Journal for Water Equity and Justice shows abstract images, some of which resemble water.

In summer 2023, the Penn Libraries undertook a migration to a new management system for Scholarly Commons, the open access institutional repository for gathering, indexing, storing, and making widely available the scholarly output of the Penn community. The new platform provides more options for publishing research, such as data sets, but does not provide the editorial systems or support necessary for publishing journals. The need for a new publishing plan—including new workflows for managing submissions and peer reviews, formats for essays for publication, and setting up a new platform—resulted in a multi-year collaboration between the Penn Libraries and the editorial teams of several journals. One of those journals was the International Journal for Water, Equity, and Justice, a publication of The Water Center at Penn.  

A Closer Look: The International Journal for Water Equity and Justice (IJWEJ)

Over the past 10 years, the wH2O Journal (Journal of Gender and Water), now known as the International Journal for Water Equity and Justice (IJWEJ), has made significant strides in the field of clean water and sanitation. Last year, The Water Center at Penn developed a future roadmap for the journal, which not only outlined a comprehensive rebranding effort of the wH2O, but also reflected a broader mission to advance scholarship and work related to equitable access to water resources and environmental justice. IJWEJ’s new vision was “to create conditions for innovation, catalyze theoretical and applied research, and serve as a platform for exchange of information to solve critical water problems.”

Co-created by The Water Center and the Global Water Alliance, IJWEJ addresses topics such as climate change, water policy, sustainable water management, and the intersection of water and social justice. With the support of the Penn Libraries, the newly rebranded journal was able to migrate to Manifold, a multimodal publication platform. This offered the journal opportunities to address the growing demand for a more creative platform. Through Manifold, IJWEJ opened up opportunities to engage a broader audience and diverse authors. For example, the journal recently launched its featured blog, IJWEJ Dialog. This blog provides an exciting avenue for authors and artists to share their work and engage in multimodal publications. It aims to expand the discourse, reach, and impact beyond the traditional scholarly journal format. IJWEJ Dialog aims to bring in a wide range of content, including photo essays, interviews, creative and artistic explorations, experimental engagements, work in languages beyond English, and much more.

Moreover, IJWEJ has recently launched Volume 10, incorporating systems and frameworks based on a long-term, sustainable model across various aspects of outreach, production, and publication. Some of our key suggestions for managing a transition like this or launching a born-digital journal with sustainability in mind include:

  • Leverage digital advantages: Emphasize the benefits of a digital-born journal, such as the ability to publish content in multimedia formats (e.g. videos, interactive graphics). Moreover, the journal can reach a broader audience, transcending geographical boundaries. It can also attract a diverse author base;
  • Build a digital community: Foster a vibrant online community around the journal by encouraging reader engagement through comments, discussions, and feedback. Through the IJWEJ blog, the journal invites all readers to participate in the conversation and contribute to the future of the journal;  
  • Embrace sustainability: Develop a sustainable model for the digital journal by exploring alternative revenue streams beyond traditional subscriptions, such as sponsorships, advertising, or crowdfunding;
  • Cultivate partnerships: Seek out strategic partnerships that can enhance the journal's reach and impact. IJWEJ collaborated with academic institutions, societies, or research organizations such as the Global Water Alliance (GWA) and the Penn Libraries to maximize reach and bring in relevant expertise;
  • Prioritize user experience: Ensure the journal's digital platform provides an intuitive and engaging user experience by optimizing the website's design, navigation, and accessibility.

Authors seeking to publish in IJWEJ can find submission guidelines here.  

Sustainability in Library Digital Publishing: Open Publishing Challenges

Sustainability affects multiple aspects of the scholarly publishing ecosystem; this is particularly evident in digital publishing programs supported by both university presses and academic libraries, which have navigated sustainability in terms of institutional funding, technical support, and expertise. One of the largest barriers to ensuring that open access publishing is sustainable for any institution is cost, which can go up to several thousands of dollars in subvention fees. Journals too, depending on the field, may charge authors APCs (author processing charges) to offset the subscription fees that libraries typically pay in order to access articles. Some schools or academic organizations may be able to provide scholars with grants to help cover these subvention fees, but the amount or availability changes from institution to institution, creating an equity issue in terms of who is able to afford to publish their scholarship open access and make it widely available.

To address the issue of inequity in open access publishing, some university presses, academic organizations, and libraries have formed partnerships to create new open access subscription models. For example, University of Michigan Press has partnered with Lyrasis on a program called “Fund to Mission.” In this model, already in its third year, academic libraries subscribe to open access collections. Rather than this providing access behind a paywall to those library’s subscribers, however, the subscription helps pay for those titles to be accessible to any reader globally. It also funds the continued digitization and open access publication of titles from the Press’ back list. Importantly, the Press also receives institutional funding and support from the University of Michigan to sustain and further develop the initiative.

Institutional support for open digital publishing is a critical piece of ensuring that publishers, both at university presses and academic libraries, can continue to develop open access publishing paths. However, the significant costs and long-term commitment required to sustain an open access publishing program remain major obstacles to the field.  

Universities like Stanford have wrestled with this problem recently. From about 2015-2020, Stanford University Press developed a Mellon-funded, born-digital publishing program focusing on monographs, many of which were awarded top prizes in their respective disciplines. The program ended in 2020, partly due to the end of the grant funding, but also partly due to decreased institutional support from Stanford University that endangered the existence of the Press itself. On the other hand, some emerging digital publishing programs that also began as Mellon-funding initiatives, like Brown University Digital Publications, have received long term institutional support that helped lead to their recognition within the Association of University Presses, forging a path for future born-digital scholarly publishers, including those based in libraries. As the landscape of open digital publishing continues to grow, more models will certainly continue to emerge and contribute to forging more sustainable partnerships and publishing pathways, in particular including partnerships with academic libraries.  

Open Journals in Manifold at the Penn Libraries

At the Penn Libraries, support for open digital publishing has taken several approaches grounded in sustainability. In addition to establishing digital publishing partnerships with research centers across campus, the Libraries has been working with open access journals to create strategies and resources for developing open access publications. This work was completed in two main steps: first, we formed an inter-institutional partnership that includes University of Pennsylvania Press to pilot a digital scholarly publishing platform called Manifold, an open source, digital publishing platform; second, we worked closely with the editorial teams of journals previously published on the former version of the institutional repository to develop sustainable paths for transitioning to Manifold.

Manifold is an open source digital publishing platform used by over 30 university libraries and academic presses to create and publish digital publications. It is a collaboration among the CUNY Graduate Center, Cast Iron Coding, and University of Minnesota Press. Manifold is modular, facilitating different kinds of layouts for publications, and can also host embedded and linked media, including images, video, and audio files. It additionally has annotation and commenting tools that can be enabled or disabled, which are of interest to projects developing publications oriented towards student engagement. Importantly, Manifold was designed with clear and transparent accessibility features in mind, in alignment with WCAG 2AA accessibility standards. You can read more about Manifold’s commitment to accessibility for readers and users of the platform here.

In the first two years of this pilot, the Libraries has supported the transition of two journals from Scholarly Commons to Manifold, helping to develop sustainable editorial workflows to support every phase of production, from submissions to publication. In addition to IJWEJ, another recently launched journal on the Penn Manifold platform is Bibliotheca Dantesca: Journal of Dante Studies, a publication of The Graduate Program in Italian Studies in the Department of Francophone, Italian, and Germanic Studies at Penn.  

One of the biggest sustainability questions both journals faced was strategizing production support without the kinds of resources that would be provided through a university press, such as designated copyeditors, typesetters, and staff managing print and digital distribution, as well as indexing. Transitioning these first two volumes to the Manifold platform highlighted some of these challenges, but also resulted in establishing models for other Penn journals to follow.  

Here are some of the key lessons we learned while managing the transition of these two journals:  

  • Embrace the platform: Take time to explore other journals publishing in Manifold and consider how to leverage the platform for your journal. For example, make use of the interactive and multimodal tools for annotating or publishing media, and explore formatting options for digital reading experience. Although you can attach downloadable PDFs to any journal article, consider designing the journal as digital-first to make more use of the platform features;  
  • Establish an editorial board with a plan for succession and rotation of editorial board members, especially those who may be students or in contingent positions;
  • Research and identify funding opportunities, including research centers or digital humanities centers that may be able to provide a stipend for student positions;
  • Make use of library resources! Penn Libraries staff have expertise in copyright, data management, digital publishing, public humanities, project management, discoverability and other areas relevant to supporting your journal;
  • Investigate project management tools provided through the institution or that are free to use, such as Google Docs or Google Sheets, for managing submissions and peer review. These platforms can also be set up to be accessed by external editorial board members not at Penn, who may have a harder time accessing PennBox.  

Faculty and students seeking to launch or transition a Penn journal to the Manifold platform should reach out to the Research Data and Digital Scholarship team for more information about proposing a journal and for available resources:  

Publications in Penn’s Manifold Site:  



Between the Bridge and the Barricade: Jewish Translation in Early Modern Europe, Iris Idelson-Shein (University of Pennsylvania Press)


About IJWEJ:

The International Journal for Water Equity and Justice (IJWEJ), previously known as The Journal of Gender and Water (wH2O), is an open-access journal promoting scholarly and creative discourse related to global progress and challenges around water equity and justice.

Featured image: The cover of Volume 10 of IJWEJ.



July 1, 2024