Best Practices for Peer Review
Peer Reviews as Documents of Record
- Besides the AE, author, and press staff, who is permitted to see anonymous peer reviews?
- Do members of a press faculty editorial board know the identity of all peer reviewers? If there are exceptions, what are they?
- If peer reviews include endorsements that could be used as blurbs in marketing materials, what is the best way to request this kind of use from peer reviewers?
- Can reports be shared with other presses if an AE decides not to pursue a project?
- What about long-term storage of reports and the identity of reviewers?
- What if lawyers or other parties external to the university ask to see the reviews?
The review process for proposals and manuscripts is intended to be entirely distinct from any professional review authors may be undergoing. For this reason AEs are strongly discouraged from sharing materials with authors’ hiring, tenure, and promotion committees. Peer reviewers are not being asked to comment on an author’s professional experiences beyond what is conveyed in the proposal or manuscript itself, so repurposing reader reports for any professional situation beyond the publishing world constitutes misuse. Of course, the outcome of a university press’s peer review and publication process will often have considerable impact on the author’s professional evaluations, but it is critical that the intentions of the manuscript review process be maintained separate from any other evaluative process.
If members of a hiring or tenure and promotion committee request copies of the reviews, the AE should refuse to provide them and should contact the author to tell him or her to communicate with the committee about the issue directly. However, an AE may choose to inform hiring or tenure and promotion committees about the project’s current status: out for review, under contract, or in press.
As the charge of university press faculty boards is to assess the integrity of the review process, it is essential that the identity of the peer reviewers be shared with board members. However, even at this stage, it is important that the promise of reviewer anonymity be incorporated into the preparation of board materials. All of these materials are confidential, and everyone involved in compiling and reviewing them should be aware of this. Many presses circulate separate reviewer identities with their board materials so as to avoid including peer reviewer identities in the dockets themselves. (See Confidentiality and anonymity in the peer review process above.)
Many presses harvest blurbs from reviewers’ reports. Because peer reviewers have been promised anonymity, this process cannot be automated. If a press wishes to extract comments from a report, it is essential that press staff request the reviewer’s permission and offer him or her the opportunity to refine or edit the quoted material. Some reviewers may wish to see the revised manuscript before authorizing use of their words in marketing materials.
Every AE will experience a situation in which the peer review process does not lead to a contract, faculty board approval, or even board presentation. In some cases, in order to help an author find a viable publishing alternative, AEs may want to share reports with AEs at other houses to help expedite the decision-making process. The reviews should only be requested by and given to another AE; this exchange should not occur through the author. In any such situation, the AE at the original press should contact the reviewers, explain the circumstances, and ask for their permission. If a reviewer does not wish his review to be shared, the AE should not pass it along to the other press.
Reader reports, both digital and print forms, become part of any press’s archival holdings. The utility of reader reports following book publication usually decreases, though the comments may come to have historical value. For practical purposes, it may not be possible to protect reviewers’ anonymity in perpetuity. Many presses have opted to adhere to their parent institution’s embargo protocols on tenure and promotion review files. These often set the duration of reader protection for periods of fifty years post review, or this time period may be benchmarked by the timing of the decision on whether or not to publish. Those presses that archive their book files with their institutional libraries or repositories should actively consult with collections managers to be certain that, as materials are digitized, issues of anonymity are discussed and protocols agreed upon.
As noted above (see Besides the AE, author, and press staff, who is permitted to see anonymous peer reviews?), presses should refuse outside requests to see reviews. In some cases, however, public records laws may trump press policy, in cases, for example, where an author is a civil servant or a press is part of a state university. When legal issues arise, presses should consult with university counsel before responding to such requests.
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