Section 5

Peer Reviews as Documents of Record

Besides the AE, author, and press staff, who is permitted to see anonymous peer reviews?

The review of proposals and manuscripts is intended to be entirely distinct from any professional review an author may be undergoing. For this reason, AEs are strongly discouraged from sharing materials with an author’s hiring, tenure, and promotion committee without the author’s explicit permission. 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 not related to the book may constitute misuse, and the reviewers’ identities should not be revealed without their permission. 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 them to communicate with the committee about the issue directly. The author is free to share the masked reader reports and other information about the peer review process with their committee. 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—or provide a letter of support with the author’s permission.

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Do members of a press faculty editorial board know the identities of all peer reviewers? If there are exceptions, what are they?

As the charge of university press faculty boards is to assess the integrity of the review process, it is essential that the identities 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. When a faculty editorial board member has a potential conflict of interest the AE should be prepared to adjust the board materials for the project so that confidentiality and anonymity are preserved. (See Confidentiality and anonymity in the peer review process.)

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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?

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 them 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.

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Can reports be shared with other presses if an AE decides not to pursue a project?

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 for their review to be shared, the AE should not pass it along to the other press.

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What about long-term storage of reports and the identities of reviewers?

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, although 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 period may be benchmarked by the timing of the decision about whether 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.

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What if lawyers or other parties external to the university ask to see the reviews?

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 conflict with press policy—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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