Chicago Studies journal flips to open access


“The Church is not monolithic and immobile but dynamic, continuously assimilating into itself new elements of a changing world.” So wrote Albert Cardinal Meyer, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago (1958-1965) against the anticipatory backdrop of the Second Vatican Council, as he introduced a new journal called Chicago Studies in early 1962. Bishop Meyer continued:

This continuing confrontation of the Church and the world in which it lives … should also find expression in the life of a priest in the microcosm of parochial life. A ‘healthily modern’ priest must be aware of the areas of growth and activity in the Church. … Inspired by the injunctions of the popes, Chicago Studies is dedicated to extending the knowledge given a priest in his seminary training; hence it will make every effort to bring its readers abreast of major developments in the sacred sciences and in allied fields of knowledge (pp. 3-4).

Chicago Studies (ISSN: 0009-3718) was founded to help parish priests stay meaningfully and relevantly engaged in theological study and reflection even in the midst of their busy day-to-day ministry. The peer reviewed journal, supported and published twice (recently three times) a year by the Civitas Dei Foundation in collaboration with the Faculty of Saint Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, has continued this mission for 55 years.

Beginning with Volume 56, Number 1, the Spring 2017 issue of Chicago Studies (to be released in May) is starting something new. The journal is moving from print and subscription to online and open access! Departing Managing Editor, Rev. Michael JK Fuller announced the transition in his final “Editor’s Corner” piece for the Winter 2016 issue:

Due to the changing nature of media, and especially print media, the decision was made by the Board of the Civitas Dei Foundation, the publisher of Chicago Studies, that the time was right to become independent of subscriptions. We are extremely grateful for the fifty-five years our subscribers have given us; your faithfulness and dedication to Chicago Studies has been, and is, incredible. But, with the changes to publishing, the expenses involved, and the ever increasing use of the internet as a source for information, it was decided that Chicago Studies should become a free, open access journal published exclusively on the internet.

This decision did not come easily. For many of us, myself included, there is great pleasure in having a book or a substantial magazine in our hands. But with more and more publications and information being made available to the world via the web, and with the possibilities of reaching an even wider audience, the decision to go digital and free was the obvious choice for this publication.

I recently followed-up with Fr. Fuller, and the new Managing Editor, Fr. Martin Zielinski by email for a bit more information about this transition. The catalyst for change was declining subscriptions to the print journal. Already a number of years ago they realized that the future lay in the direction of online publishing, but the editorial board wanted to give one final try to increase subscribers with their print publisher, FAITH Catholic Publishing. This did not materialize in a sustainable way. By adopting an open access model, the board anticipates cost savings over print publication and distribution and greater audience reach via the online environment. They will be tapping into the University of Saint Mary of the Lake’s online infrastructure and local web expertise to publish the journal in-house.

I asked if their decision to move to open access was at all motivated by philosophical considerations, or conversely, had they ever considered entering into a partnership with a commercial publisher? Fr. Fuller responded:

Yes, we did reflect philosophically, in a small way. We noticed the trend of corporate purchasing of journals, and knew 1) that was not what we wanted, and 2) practically, no one would buy us. We did not try, but we knew we were too small for a corporate interest. More importantly, we did not like that model at all. Practically speaking, we realized that going digital would save on costs, but that a paid content model, that is, a paid digital subscription would be too complicated for us.

I asked about the journal’s website. Fr. Zielinski indicated that open content would begin to populate the site with the first online issue, due out around May 1st. They have digitized back issues, and these will also be posted to the journal Archives page after the first issue comes out.

Apart from leveraging the University’s infrastructure to reduce publication costs, I asked how they plan to sustainably fund this new endeavor. Fr. Fuller indicated that the Civitas Dei Foundation invested profits from when subscriptions were high. He estimates this investment will fund the online version for at least the next twenty years.

I asked for any final thoughts. Fr. Zielinski replied:

I have had some emails from librarians indicating that their libraries have subscribed to the journal since its beginning. I believe that the online version and digitized uploads will continue to make the journal accessible to an interested audience. The editorial board is excited about bringing Chicago Studies to an online version. We know from previous comments that the articles in the journal are of interest to people in pastoral ministry. We know that professors at various colleges and theological schools recommend articles from Chicago Studies on their reading lists for courses. We hope that by publishing the journal online that a new readership cohort will find the journal to be of interest and help to them.

Fr. Fuller concluded his last “Editor’s Corner” with these words:

Chicago Studies has always had one motivation—to bring the best of theology to those in the field, to those who minister to the people of God. To us, theology and pastoral ministry are not two separate pursuits, but the best pastoral ministry is the one that is informed by theology, and the best theology is the one that always has in mind the parish. With the change to digital publication, we are hoping to continue that vision into the future.

That seems like a fitting reprise on Bishop Meyer’s original affirmation.

Posted in Economics & Business Models, Interviews (Journals), Open Access, Open Access Journals
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