Yesterday marked the first full day of the 2010 STM Spring Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Somehow I’ve managed to spend the last decade in STM publishing without attending this meeting.

I’m glad to say that’s been corrected!

The speakers included a diverse group of publishing professionals, librarians, academics, and entrepreneurs. And while the topics and perspectives varied, some common themes emerged:

  1. Librarians want to supply their users with content electronically and, more specifically, via mobile devices.  This is not limited to journals.  eBooks of both monographs and textbooks were also discussed.
  2. Librarians want all of these content forms at the same time.  They don’t want to wait for electronic versions.
  3. Tools provided to search library collections must be straight-forward and intuitive for users; training should not be required.
  4. However, training and preparation is needed in overall “information literacy.”  Especially at the undergraduate level, students need guidance in becoming discriminating consumers of content to develop the “mental maps” of context that help them to evaluate the quality of the content they come across.
  5. In relation to the academy, as budget pressures increase, the need to publish research is becoming more critical.  Research is an avenue to grants, contracts, and private donations. Since state funding is decreasing and tuition can only be raised so much, research-related sources of funding will be critical.
  6. Finally, several speakers raised the point that it’s very difficult to secure referees for the peer-review process.  Even authors who submit multiple papers often decline requests to review the work of others.

While there were many informative speakers throughout the day, I’ll cover some of the highlights.

The morning started with Gretchen Bataille, President, University of North Texas, discussing how the academy is changing and what academics need from publishers.  She covered topics ranging from peer review to the future of the journal to the importance of research in securing grants and donations.  The bottom line:

Publishers need to find a way to add value . . . accept disruption in the way your work is done . . . and find new ways to achieve your mission.  The trend toward purely electronic journals will continue.

Andrea Kravetz, VP , User Centered Design at Elsevier, spoke about how market research often gives as “a lot of data about what a user wants to tell us [whereas . . . field studies allow us to watch what they actually do.” Observing where and how information is accessed is incredibly important when designing a product.  My favorite example was the brain atlas.

When it came to teaching students, our atlas wasn’t working for them. [We watched them] using Playdoh or modeling clay to show students what would happen when a brain was diced and sliced a particular way . . . they needed something they could rotate and interact with – so we built the brain navigator, a 3-D model of the brain that allows the user to pinpoint a part of the brain and access text or spatially dice and slice it.

Deborah Lenares, the Collection Manager for the Sciences and Manager of Acquisitions, Serials, and Interlibrary Loan for the libraries at Wellesley College, spoke about the Wellesley pilot in patron-driven acquisition.

Patron-driven acquisition allows a library to pay only for the content they use, a very attractive idea.  According to data that Deborah quoted, after four years in the library collection, 40% of books purchased have never been checked out and 26% have been checked out only once.  While these statistics were taken from Brown University, Deborah said they were representative of most university libraries.

With their patron-driven acquisition pilot, the college paid nothing for the first five minutes a book was reviewed, 10-15% of the list price the first and second times the material was viewed for more than five minutes, and the book was purchased at list price on its third use.

At the end of the 7-month trial:

  • 944 titles had been browsed
  • 557 titles had been short-term loans
  • 34 titles had been auto-purchased (purchased on third use)
  • 15 titles had been “firm ordered” (purchased in advance because of high expected usage)

Usage was not limited to the sciences:

  • 39% were in the sciences
  • 37% were in the social sciences
  • 23% were in the arts and humanities

Wellesley considered the trial a success and will likely expand this program.  For others considering this path, Deborah had some words of advice:

  • Prices on the platform should be the same price as the print, not 1.5 or 2 times the print cost
  • The platform should offer a free browsing period before charges are incurred
  • The platform should offer a format for downloading content to a handheld e-reading device

She stressed that biggest improvement she would like to see is for the e-books to be published the same time as the print, and that it’s very important for the content to be available on handheld devices.

Publishers please get your content into these aggregators.  We’ll be spending more of our monograph budget on this in the future, and if your content isn’t in there we won’t be able to get it.

In one of the most captivating and somewhat entertaining talks of the day was given by Philip Bourne, Ph.D., Department of Pharmacology & Skaggs School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Science. He presented “One Scientist’s Wish List for STM Publishers.”

Bourne described an environment with which we are all familiar — too much to read, not enough time, too much scanning, not enough digestion, too much waste, not enough preservation or meaningful categorization.  In short, he wants help managing the entire scientific workflow and acknowledges the fact that:

The paper is an artifact of a previous era and it is not the logical end point of science . . . traditional PDF is an inferior way to convey science.

The bottom line: If publishers can help the scientist organize their workflows, many potential enhancements to the journal article would come as byproducts, and be more easily created than they are now.

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Ann Michael

Ann Michael

Ann Michael is Chief Transformation Officer at AIP Publishing, leading the Data & Analytics, Product Innovation, Strategic Alignment Office, and Product Development and Operations teams. She also serves as Board Chair of Delta Think, a consultancy focused on strategy and innovation in scholarly communications. Throughout her career she has gained broad exposure to society and commercial scholarly publishers, librarians and library consortia, funders, and researchers. As an ardent believer in data informed decision-making, Ann was instrumental in the 2017 launch of the Delta Think Open Access Data & Analytics Tool, which tracks and assesses the impact of open access uptake and policies on the scholarly communications ecosystem. Additionally, Ann has served as Chief Digital Officer at PLOS, charged with driving execution and operations as well as their overall digital and supporting data strategy.


5 Thoughts on "STM Association Spring Conference: Are Publishers Listening?"

Bourne described an environment with which we are all familiar — too much to read, not enough time, too much scanning, not enough digestion, too much waste, not enough preservation or meaningful categorization. In short, he wants help managing the entire scientific workflow

There are services around which can do some of this work quite well, some are even undergoing significant redevelopment as we speak.

Indeed there are many contending services. The problem is that finding, evaluating them, much less implementing them is laborious. There is a basic paradox here, that implementing new labor saving methods is laborious in the short run. Productivity drops during the transition. Thus the primary limiting factor in the diffusion of new technology is often that human capital is very limited. In plainer language, if there is not enough time then there is not enough time to change.

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