Open Shelf: Towards a New Digital Magazine for OLA

OLAOne of my current projects is to move the Ontario Library Association (OLA) magazine from print to online. I’m the Editor-in-Chief.

I’m tweeting about it @OpenShelfOLA as it evolves but I thought a longer reflection might be of interest.

As we move the magazine online we are also rebranding it as Open Shelf (the print version was called Access). I like the new title for a number of reasons. It suggest accessibility, an invitation, a platform or opportunity, a place, and also a philosophy (we are an open access magazine). It also alludes back to our past while intimating our future. It is evocative, and a bit of a challenge.

I’ve been editor of Access since 2011. Once upon a time (in a professional galaxy far far away) I co-edited one of the first online journals in the library field: Public-Access Computer Systems Review (Charles Bailey was the founder and the other co-editor). We used listserv as the foundational technology. Why? Simple, available, known to our readers, and easy to maintain. The obvious limitations of listserv didn’t outweigh the advantages.

So when I started to think about Open Shelf, the same thoughts occurred to me. We need the foundational technology to be: simple, available, known to our readers, and easy to maintain. As a result we are using WordPress. And we are going to be as vanilla as possible. That doesn’t mean it won’t be an engaging product (fingers crossed) but it does mean we are willing to accept the limitations for the other benefits.

A big change is frequency. Access was a quarterly. It was easy to forget about it between issues. Writers could wait 6 months before their articles appeared. But, of course, they appeared in print … on actual paper …. that arrived in their mailbox. I remain surprised (how naïve of me) that getting published in a paper magazine/journal is still so appealing. But it is. And it will be a challenge for Open Shelf to attract some writers (and readers) because of this.

Back to frequency. Digital allow us to publish whenever we want. We have chosen to publish regularly but not on a specific timetable; articles, columns and features will be issued on a continuous basis (when they are ready, when we feel the time is right to release them). Open Shelf will regularly inform you of new content by a variety of means, and those visiting the site will see frequent additions. We want to get your attention and hold it.

Another major issue is readability. On one hand this is about the style and tone of the magazine. It will be the same as before: conversational, accessible, and of general interest. We are not an academic journal nor a news magazine. We strive for reflective, thoughtful, and intriguing.

But readability has another important dimension: reading on the screen. So many websites and online magazines are cluttered, hard to read, dense with text, and/or littered with images. We want something different.

The design and UX is still underdevelopment but the focus is on light, open, pleasurable, and easy to read on any device (responsive design is very important; we anticipate most readers will experience Open Shelf on their smartphone).

And perhaps most important of all, we want Open Shelf to generate conversation among our readers and writers. Whether that is by comments on the site or tweets or other blog posts is irrelevant. We simply want to nurture engagement.

The launch date is sometime in May; the exact date is TBD.

If you are still reading this post you may also be interested in contributing to Open Shelf. We are always looking for great stories and interested writers. To be clear, we are an open access magazine (under the Creative Commons C license Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 CC BY_NC-SA 4.0), and we are unable to pay writers. Lots of fame, not so much on the fortune.

Contact me at, @OpenShelfOLA or add a comment to this post.


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