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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2015

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Short Communications

Science Outreach through Art: A Journal Article Cover Gallery

Ian McCullough
Assistant Professor of Bibliography
University of Akron
Akron, Ohio


Research faculty journal covers were used to create a gallery in the Science & Technology branch library at the University of Akron. The selection, presentation, and promotion process is shared along with copyright considerations and a review of galleries used for library outreach. The event and display was a great success attracting faculty and administration that had rarely if ever entered the library.

The Idea

The University of Akron (UA) Science and Technology Library supports academic programs in physical, life, health, and earth sciences as well as engineering, computer science, and mathematics. The shift from print to electronic journal articles has not only had effects on serials prices and accessibility but also caused a cultural change in science libraries. Scientists come to libraries much less frequently today because they can access their literature via the Internet. Although emancipating scientists from trips to the library is arguably the single greatest achievement in science librarianship, the physical library space remains important (Weise 2004). Reminding our faculty of our collections, professional assistance, and both contemplative and collaborative workspaces updates scientists on how the modern library is used. To reconnect faculty with the branch library, we created a permanent faculty journal cover gallery to honor our faculty, educate the students, and beautify the space. The act of transforming electronic journals articles into art objects also gives a tangible artifact to an otherwise completely virtual achievement.

Literature Review

Exhibitions are a common outreach tactic in libraries. Dutka, Hayes, and Parnell (2002) note how exhibits can be teaching tools and draw in patrons who might not visit due to electronic full text. Soehner and Wei (2001) also note less frequent contact with users as a reason to engage in outreach events. University of Kansas used a gallery to engage faculty by highlighting local research (Thiel 2011). Galleries have been used for outreach in STEM libraries to encourage women in STEM fields through drumming at University of Arizona (Pfander & Williams 2006), through an art contest at the University of Florida's Marston Science Library (Buhler & Davis 2010), with National Library of Medicine travelling exhibits at University of Florida's Health Science Center Library (Auten et al. 2013), and to foster community/campus interaction at the University or Colorado Health Science Library (Shipman et al. 2013). A science library has also been used to house an art gallery at Cornell (Raskin 2009).

The idea of an electronic journal cover gallery is not new, some examples being the Division of Physical Chemistry and Microscopic Systems at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (2015), the Department of Biology at Indiana University at Bloomington (2015), and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (2015). But a physical journal cover gallery seems novel.

There is very little in the peer-reviewed literature about scientific journal covers themselves, especially relating to faculty perception of being on a cover. Articles have appeared on the history of journal covers for Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine (Day 2014) and on political journal covers (Marquardt 1993). Outside formal literature, there are posts regarding faculty appreciation about being on the cover (University of Texas-Austin 2010), how to get on the cover (Eisenstadt 2011), and even categories of cover art to help your image submission (Liang 2013). The selection of cover images is by author submission or editor invitation after favorable review, with the choice being left to the editor (American Chemical Society 2015; Chemical Engineering Journal 2015). When criteria are stated they are "primarily aesthetic" (Journal of Neuroscience 2015), "scientifically interesting and visually arresting" (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2015), or similarly neutral about the quality of the article itself. So while cover images are not chosen because of perceived article impact, researchers still take pride and expend effort to be on the cover of scientific journals, often displaying them prominently in their office or lab.

Getting the Covers

Searching for journal covers in traditional databases proved ineffective. Some publishers do not reproduce journal covers, even with full-text subscription access. When covers were online, author identity was not indexed. So to locate journal covers, subject librarians in the Science and Technology Library contacted faculty either directly or through departmental liaisons. Initially, we hoped to get enough covers to frame at least six, but within hours of the initial e-mails there were a dozen submissions and in the end there were 47 covers submitted by 22 different faculty members in seven departments representing three colleges.

Facing a success problem, selection criteria were necessary. Covers were chosen based on number of faculty represented, diversity of research topic, subjective visual appeal, and accessibility of a high quality reproduction. The highly collaborative nature of modern science was readily apparent as we were able to represent 21 faculty with 17 final cover selections. Publishers are extremely uneven in their presentation and storage of journal covers. The American Chemical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry both allow access to high quality PDF files without charge or subscription. Other publishers, such as Science publisher AAAS, only have medium or low-quality digital image files. In those cases, physical originals were scanned and then Adobe Photoshop was used to correct blemishes from the originals. There were also a few covers that were not available digitally that were also scanned from originals.

Copyright Considerations

In general, copyright permissions were not obtained for this event. We asked one journal for a high quality image file and they sent one cheerfully within a few hours. Another received the same request that was forwarded to their permissions department who then never responded.

This may seem overly risky, but after considering the four-factor test for fair use, we were comfortable this use fell within accepted parameters. Both Butler (2014) and the "Thinking Through Fair Use" online tool from University of Minnesota Libraries (2015) were used to frame our copyright deliberations.

Purpose and character of the use

Although the installation is unquestionably decorative, it mainly serves the purpose of educating library users about the research lifecycle and faculty research output and UA is a non-profit institution. Taking magazine covers and recontextualizing the "artist" as a scientific author also has a minor transformative quality. By keeping this a physical gallery, we are conscientiously limiting the extent and nature of our use. Overall, this factor leaned towards fair use.

Nature of the copyrighted work

The works used were published, which leans towards fair use, and is somewhat factual in that the images are usually photos or depictions of molecular structure. But nanoscale depictions are inherently interpretive, even if based on rigorous processing of scientific data (de Ridder-Vignone and Lynch 2012) So overall the cover images are artistic in nature and this factor leans away from a fair use claim.

Amount and substantiality of the portion used

This is an interesting conundrum because if you consider the cover the way it is sold -- as part of the journal -- it is a small percentage of the work, much less than 1% of an issue. However, we used all of the cover. This is something of a toss up in our analysis.

Effect on the potential market for or value of the work

All covers were legally obtained, either by download or as a physical original. The digital files were printed on high quality card stock at a resolution suitable for display and only one of each was framed. It is a one-time use (pro-fair use), but we intend the covers to hang for a long time (against fair use). No publisher offers 8.5 x 11 inch cover reproductions, so there is no direct sales substitute for this project although one publisher did offer an inappropriately large, poster-sized reproduction. Most of the covers were obtained at no cost even without subscription. Publishers very clearly either think the cover has little or no economic value by providing access to the high quality image file for free or that covers are not important because they are not reproduced or archived at all. Due to this seeming market indifference, with the covers either given away or unarchived, fair-use seems strongly in our favor.

The Exhibit and Funding

The journal covers were double-matted with identical black gallery frames and hung with foam-backed object labels underneath listing the faculty members, other UA researchers, article title, and journal title, volume, page. There was also a poster with an exhibit description and three-dimensional wall signage. The former wall art was removed and overall the exhibit took the majority of a 35-foot wall.

Professional framing and installation is expensive but UA benefits from the Harriet Phillips Fund, created in 1930 for the "care and maintenance of gifts and paintings, etchings, and other art treasures" (University of Akron 1939). Costs for this project were paid for from this generous gift.

The Event

The Science & Technology Library hosted a catered reception for the first Science Faculty Research Gallery highlighting the framed journal covers from faculty authors. The event was very successful, drawing the provost, president, head of research, two department chairs, and a dozen faculty from the hard sciences. The date was specifically chosen around the Provost's schedule, safely after the beginning of semester, and in the late afternoon. Publicity included physical invitations to all faculty in the gallery, their department chairs, president, and provost. Also, handbills were posted around the library as well as the connected science and engineering building and the event was listed in the campus e-mail digest.

Faculty were very pleased with seeing their work honored in this way, with one faculty member saying it was "the nicest thing anyone had done" for her at Akron. The director of research noted how much wall space was available for future honorees and the Interim Dean of Libraries said it was one of the most successful library events she had seen. The event also served as an introduction for some faculty to their subject liaison and allowed for low-key outreach, especially to senior faculty who rarely leave their research buildings. Finally, several group photos were taken of graduate students with mentors in front of their cover. In terms of redefining a space and drawing in research scientists the event was a remarkable success.

Future Directions

This event led to several introductions and faculty collaboration opportunities including new information literacy sessions, contact about donating research papers to our archives, help on patent prior art searches, and a research collaboration leading to an article acknowledgement. Although not a yearly event, we plan on reaching out and expanding the gallery as budget and faculty journal covers allow to build on our initial success.


I would like to acknowledge Stephanie Dawson Everett for developing a media strategy to publicize the event, for logistical support organizing the opening, and for taking the photos in this article.


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