Serials Review

ISSN 0098-7913
Publisher: Elsevier Science

Seeing the Sites: Latin American Studies Online: A Review of Free Peer-Reviewed Journals
Allan Scherlen

Interest in Latin American studies, especially its culture and contemporary issues, continues to grow in the academic community. With that growth, serial resources, especially online resources, are becoming increasingly important to scholars working in the area. Seeking to provide students and scholars with ready access to the expanding array of academic journals in Latin American studies, librarians are increasingly directing users to electronic sources, such as e-journals, foreign news sites and online arts, and cultural publications. From popular magazines and commercial Web sites to more specialized scholarly e-journals, the task of sorting through the online serial literature of interest to Latin Americanists may at first seem daunting for one unaccustomed to these resources. Some are not in English and many may not be indexed in the standard library article and newspaper databases. This paper briefly outlines the topography of Latin American studies online serial literature and then focuses on an emerging class of free online peer-reviewed academic journals in Latin American studies, centering on two publications that currently exemplify this movement away from the traditional subscription model of scholarly communication.

Among the numerous Latin American academic journals currently being published, few are dedicated to providing all current and past content for no subscription charge; nevertheless, discussion continues in academia about ways of reducing the cost of distributing scholarly information and more freely promoting the growth and exchange of human knowledge.[1.] Certainly low-cost, high-quality e-journals should be fostered and encouraged. This article illuminates and celebrates two emerging free online journals in the area of Latin American studies: DeRLAS: Delaware Review of Latin American Studies, a full-text, scholarly, peer-reviewed e-journal, and CiberLetras, Journal of Literary Criticism and Culture, an online literary journal devoted to the study of Hispanic literature and culture. With both English and Spanish language content, these e-journals are respected in the Latin American studies academic community. Both have shown their dedication to publishing free quality, peer-reviewed research online and have established track records of continuous publication for five years. While neither is currently listed in Ulrich's Periodical Directory or Serials Directory, both are cataloged in OCLC and have ISSNs.

CiberLetras Background and Scope
CiberLetras, Journal of Literary Criticism and Culture, ISSN: 1523-1720.

CiberLetras is a free online critical journal about the literature of Spain and Latin America. It publishes articles, reviews, and interviews in either Spanish or English. The site is based at and funded largely by Lehman College, City University of New York. The journal originated because of concern among some Latin Americanists about the lack of serious academic journals devoted to Spanish language literature freely available on the Internet.[22.] They were also interested in providing journal literature to students who could not afford a subscription to a literary journal. The two founders and coeditors of the e-journal are Cristina Arambel-Guiñazú of Lehman College and Susana Haydu of Yale University. They assembled an advisory committee of four scholars from Yale, La Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and La Universidad de Buenos Aires and an editorial committee of twenty-five scholars representing institutions throughout the United States and Europe. The journal employs one staff member who handles the technical maintenance of the Web site. The modest cost of the operating the journal is absorbed by Lehman College.

CiberLetras accepts submissions in Spanish or English, which are read by the two editors. Those to be considered for publication are passed on to members of the editorial board for peer-review. Information on submissions can easily be found either on the About page linked from all the top banners and at the bottom of each issue page. The guidelines are clearly delineated and printable.

The readership is primarily from the United States, Latin America, Spain, and Canada. The editors are seeking ways to expand readership to Europe and other parts of the world. Since its founding in 1999, the site has been visited over 59,000 times, averaging between forty and eighty visitors per day.[23.] Guiñazú foresees a bright future for the journal because of generous support by her institution, the increasing number of submissions, and an expanding readership.[24.]

General Design and Navigation
The front page of CiberLetras is an attractive yet simple design, which easily loads and does not distract the reader with unnecessary graphics. The whole Web page sits upon a shaded virtual sheet of paper, aligned to the left of the screen, assuring consistent and pleasant viewing regardless of browser size or resolution. The elegant arrangement of the banner with title of the journal and four essential links (About, Home, Archives, and Links) is eye-catching, attractive, and useful on subsequent pages for navigation around the Web site (see Figure 2). The scrollable areas beneath the banner are laid out in two columns: a narrow descriptive column on the left containing the issue number with both a Spanish and English description of the journal's mission, and a wider main column on the right containing the theme of the current issue and a linked list of article titles.

Issues and Archives
CiberLetras is semiannual, publishing midwinter and midsummer. The first issue was August 1999, and the December 2003 issue is the tenth issue thus far. Each issue of CiberLetras usually collects a number of articles around a central theme. For example, the first issue of CiberLetras was dedicated to Jorge Luis Borges, the second addressed possible consequences of the twenty-first century upon Hispanic literature and culture, and the third was dedicated the early twentieth century Argentine writer Roberto Arlt. Contributions on various topics not related to the issue's theme are also welcomed and included, such as essays, interviews, and reviews.

The linked articles are laid out as a full page for maximum use of space and easy printing. Each author's name beneath the title is linked with a "mail to" e-mail address. The footnotes within the text of each article are linked to the corresponding footnotes at the bottom of the article. The layout of the issue page is delineated in several sections: the main thematic articles, followed by essays, notes, interviews, and reviews.

Archives of past issues are easily found by following the Archives link found in the banner of all the pages. A simple listing of the eight volumes to date, with the title of the theme for that volume, links the reader to each past issue.

Searching and Indexing
CiberLetras was approached by producers of the MLA Bibliography (Modern Language Association) to have all their article indexes in that database. A recent search of articles from CiberLetras in the MLA Bibliography yielded 136 items. I was unable to find CiberLetras articles in other indexes, however, such as The Handbook of Latin American Studies (HLAS Online), INFO LATINOAMERICA, Ingenta, or Arts and Humanities Search.[25., 26., 27. and 28.] The journal is, on the other hand, listed in a number of Web directories, such as the Yahoo Directory of Literary Journals and at the LANIC directory mentioned above.[29. and 30.] It has no internal search engine, so without a citation, a visitor must browse the individual issues or rely on an external search engine to comb the site. [31.] d

Site Maintenance
CiberLetras is well designed, attractive, and intuitively navigable. All links appear to function and the pages load quickly. Current and past articles, as well as the instructions for submissions, can easily be found. The Web pages at present are up-to-date and well maintained.

Added Online Value
CiberLetras has a link to Links in the banner on every page. This section is a work in progress, which currently only lists a few Web resources. The most important is the link to the Jorge Luis Borges Collection in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The editors plan to develop this section of the site in the future to provide links to various Web sites and other online publications related to Hispanic literature and culture.[32.]

DeRLAS and CiberLetras are outstanding examples of high-quality, low-cost academic journal publishing in Latin American studies. Despite complaints from the academic community about the high cost of journal publishing, small groups of dedicated scholars have shown that respectable scholarly communication can be nurtured and facilitated by devoting time and effort into a Web publication project.

Are these grassroots, low-budget, academic journals just an anomaly of academic publishing or the precursors of a growing trend toward a more expanding, decentralized, and decommercialized academic serial literature? Before such a trend can take full flight, scholars must acknowledge the comparable worth of these journals to existing titles, and tenure decisions will have to include these publishing venues. Librarians are already realizing the benefit of including free Web journals in their online library catalogs. Furthermore, some indexing and abstracting services are beginning to acknowledge that these publications are an increasingly important element of scholarly communication and therefore must be included.

1. For examples of discussion on the high cost of academic journals, see Gloria S. Werner's article, "SPARC-Alternatives to High-Cost Journals," American Libraries, 31 (March 2000): 52, and Charles Goldsmith's "Publish or Perish, but at What Cost to Academia? World's Research Libraries Balk at High Price of Journal Subscriptions," The Wall Street Journal, January 8, 2001.

22. Background information about CiberLetras was provided by Cristina Arambel-Guiñazú, interviewed October 30, 2003.

23. Web site statistics for CiberLetras provided by NetStats linked at the bottom of each article page.

24. Interview with Cristina Arambel-Guiñazú, October 30, 2003.

25. HLAS Online, op. cit.

26. INFOLATINOAMERICA. (accessed November 2, 2003).

27. Ingenta. (accessed November 2, 2003).

28. Searches of Arts and Humanities Search (ARSearch) were done through subscription access via FirstSearch: (accessed November 2, 2003).

29. "Yahoo Directory Literary Journals." (accessed October 30, 2003).

30. "Academic Journals in Latin America—Regional Journals—LANIC." (accessed October 23, 2003).

31. Searches in Google of a number of phrases from article titles within CiberLetras linked successfully to the site.

32. Interview with Cristina Arambel-Guiñazú, October 30, 2003.


Corresponding author. Scherlen is Collection Development Librarian for the Social Sciences, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC 28608.

1. Persing is Head of Serials, University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6278; e-mail:

2. Scherlen also joins Serials Review as co-editor of "The Balance Point."