Professional Literature – How as a Reader You Shape the Future

Note: this post begins a series on “Mysteries of Publishing” in which we will
cover many topics related to the production of scholarly literature.
If you have questions or suggestions for this series,
please contact us using our contact form!

When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Hawaii in the early 1960’s, we were taught that it is our professional duty to not only stay informed about the latest information published in nursing journals, but that as a professional nurse, we need to subscribe to at least one nursing journal. Admittedly, at that time (now ancient history!), there were far fewer nursing journals than there are today, but Nursing Research had been in existence for over ten years, and the all-important journal – The American Journal of Nursing (AJN) had passed the 60-year mark (this year is AJN‘s 122nd year!). We were given coupons to subscribe to the AJN – a subscription(1) that I have sustained for most of my professional career because it truly has been “the leading voice of nursing,” with a rich history and ongoing coverage of professional and clinical issues facing nursing today(2). Today I am the Editor of ANS: Advances in Nursing Science. I remain a long-time AJN subscriber and my very first publication, and my most recent publication (authors Lucinda Canty, Christina Nyirati, Valorie Taylor and and Peggy Chinn) are both in AJN! Admittedly, I have a special interest in the well-being of nursing journals – but my interest is in fact rooted fundamentally in my deep conviction that the discipline of nursing is essential for human existence and that nursing knowledge is unique in addressing human health and well-being.

Every one of us who identify as nurses have, at some point in our professional lives, picked up a nursing journal (paper or digital) and browsed through the table of contents to see if there is anything that is relevant to what we are interested in reading. What we do not realize in this seemingly mundane act, is that we are in fact doing something that is essential to the ongoing development of our discipline, and that adds up to what is required for the future development of the discipline. Consider the metaphor of what is required to prepare a meal – it all starts with a mental, and then perhaps a physical “scan” of what is possible, what is available, in order to determine if what you have on hand in your cupboard match the idea you have for the meal you anticipate. If there is a match, you get to work! If there is not, you put on your shoes and head out to the market! Or, as sometimes happens, you decide to skip the preparation part and head out to a restaurant!

Of course the processes involved in creating a professional journal do not exactly match the processes of meal preparation. All the components that go into creating the journal you browse through are somewhat of a mystery to most people who pick it up to scan the table of contents. But your browsing is part of what sustains a journal’s existence; a journal can only exist if people are using it in some way. Picking it up to browse, or to find what you are looking for, is the first part of the process on the “reader” or “user” side of the equation. In the olden days of paper only, the main point of reference that publishers used to estimate the number of readers was the number of subscribers to the journal. Now, in the digital age, publishers have a number of data points that give them a clue as to whether or not the journal continues to be viable. One of those data points is the simple act of a click – the action that follows a link to a desired end point. When your click lands on the table of contents of a journal, voila! You have given the publisher an indication that you are at least interested enough to want to land on that table of contents for that particular journal! Still, subscriptions count a great deal – so it is important to realize that your subscription to a professional journal is part of what makes that journal’s existence possible.

When you visit a journal website and find a title that interests you, every move you make online is recorded into the database of information that the publisher then uses to form the future direction for that journal. I know that this level of electronic surveillance is a disturbing element that causes a great deal of concern and angst for many people. However the benefits that we all derive from having this kind of access to information tilt the scale enough so that those of us who have broadband access are willing to look beyond the negative dimensions in order to access specific information from the vast universe that is now at our fingertips. In the democratized realm(3) that we know as the World Wide Web (WWW), and the relative freedom from government control that exists for many WWW users, healthcare practitioners have access to never-before-imagined resources. Publishers (or any “maker” of information and other forms of “goods”) now have access to information that makes decisions about future directions more precise than ever before.

If you are picking up a paper copy of the journal to browse, the “trail” that gives the publisher an indication of your level of interest is less clear, but there are certain data points that might be available. Your paper subscription of course is the gold standard of “use.” If you have access to a library that subscribes to the journal (paper or online), the very fact that the library makes this particular journal available to users is a fact that publishers assess in their analysis of “use.” If your act of picking up this particular issue is something the library can track (for example you click through online to get to their copy of the journal, an issue is on “reserve,” or an article is assigned as required reading in a course), then your “use” of the journal gives the library data they need in order to decide if they should continue to provide access by subscribing to that particular journal.

All of this conveys this important message: your use of professional literature in any form matters. It is part of what gives publishers the evidence they need to continue what they are doing to support the disciplines they serve, or to take new directions in doing the important work they do in support of the ongoing development of the discipline(4).

So now is the time to browse the impressive array of professional nursing journals – simply to remind yourself of what is “out there” that you may not have even been aware of! The Nursing Journals Directory now lists over 260 credible, vetted nursing journals. Most nursing journals focus on practice and clinical content, but all of them also feature content related to the ongoing development of the discipline – both knowledge and practice. We have identified 23 journals, listed on here, that focus primarily on publishing research, theory and/or philosophy across the broad scope of nursing practice. As you browse, do not hesitate to give the journal a “click” – maybe several clicks – to explore more deeply, and also to send a “vote” to the publisher and journal staff that what they are providing might have some real value for you and your professional development!

Stay tuned for more in this new series of blog posts – “Mysteries of Publishing”! If you have a particular topic you want us to address, let us know in the comments below, or send us a message from our “contact” form. If you have something to contribute to this series and are interested in writing a post to publish here, we welcome your contribution!


  1. Subscription to the American Journal of Nursing is one of the best bargains in the world of journal subscriptions – currently $33.90 for the 12 issues a year, and online access to the full 122 years of journal content.
  2. For a fascinating study of the first 20 years of AJN (1900-1920), see this article published in ANS: Wheeler, C. E. (1985). The American Journal of Nursing and the socialization of a profession. ANS. Advances in Nursing Science, 7, 20–33.
  3. For a documentary account of the original intent of democratization of information/knowledge, see the fascinating book by Tim Berners-Lee, “Weaving the Web” – the inventor credited with developing the language that made the Web what it is today ( Of course unfettered free access to all that is available depends on two major conditions: the absence of governmental or commercial restrictions to access, and the economic capability of the user to obtain that access. The concept of “free” applies to both of these conditions – an ideal worth defending and fighting for.
  4. It is important to acknowledge here that access to professional literature beyond what is freely available on a journal website or through a library is a problem of mammoth proportions, and this deserves far more attention, and action, than has been granted to date. Library access is limited for those not directly connected to academic institutions, and subscriptions to more than one or two of the vast array of available journals are simply out of reach.. The Nursology Theory Collective published an excellent post on March 10, 2020, addressing this issue in their post titled “Access to Nursing Knowledge: A Privilege or a Right?” and offering a few excellent suggestions. But the problem remains, and I urge all of us to do whatever we can to find solutions to this problem, both immediate and long-term.

One thought on “Professional Literature – How as a Reader You Shape the Future

  1. Thank you for this series, Mysteries of publishing. I am going use some of the materal in my nursing ethics class. Your suggestions offer them the vision of ways in which they can empower the profession.

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