Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 12.10.24 PMLast week was SSP’s Annual Meeting in Vancouver. All I can say is WOW! We are such a fortunate industry. We have smart people pushing the boundaries, keeping the trains running on time, supporting each other, experimenting with new technologies, and somehow finding the time to attend, participate in, and contribute to events like the Annual Meeting. We had agreement, disagreement, curiosity, fresh perspectives, and years of experience all converging on the issues and opportunities that exist in (and around) scholarly publishing. 

With so much going on, this month we asked the Chefs: What Did You Learn At This Year’s SSP Annual Meeting?

Joe Esposito: This year’s program at SSP was thin on the business issues that are the primary reason I attend, but I did pick up one insight during the plenary session on entrepreneurship. The session had many of the standard trappings: a peripatetic speaker, a taxonomy (5 ways to do this or that), and an algorithmically-generated sprinkling of the word “disruptive” every six minutes. But what was striking was the forceful rejection of user surveys in designing products. Citing Steve Jobs’ famous dictum that users don’t know what they want, the speaker encouraged us all to think beyond getting to know our users and instead think about inventing a new class of them.

The insight came to me is that no group of professionals anywhere pay more attention to what users want then librarians, who happen to be very, very good at this. In the value chain of academic publishing, with publishers upstream, readers downstream, and libraries in the middle, this means that any upstream innovations must pass through the survey-intensive filter of the library community. The practices of libraries, in other words, serve to stifle publisher innovations. SurveyMonkey may have set innovation back twenty years.

I foresee a new and robust wave of innovation from publishers in the coming years, but more and more of that activity will take outside of libraries or despite them.

David Smith: I’m writing this, just moments after one of the most profound and moving keynotes I have ever heard. Dr Margaret-Ann Armour spoke on “Crossing Boundaries: Encouraging Diversity”. Confession time. I thought it was going to be “one of those earnest and worthy talks that are really boring”.

I was wrong.

I was wrong because I’m a white privileged male and thus have no $%^&*ng clue about diversity.

I was wrong because my subconscious bias made me think that the above wasn’t true. And I thought I was pretty damn good at spotting my subconscious biases… Because I’ve put in the miles there. Or so I thought.

It was so hard to listen to, because uncomfortable truths are. It was inspirational, because authentic passion cannot be faked. Juxtaposed to the simulacrum of passion from the Silicon Valley lite headline speaker on the first full full day of the meeting, the contrast was blinding. It was beautiful.

Dr Armour’s speech will stay with me for a long time. I don’t currently manage any women. But I do manage non-Caucasian staff. And I’d like to think… But I am a white privileged male. So I’m going to ask them.

Diversity awareness sits in the same category as health and safety training. That annual burden that one must get through. It shouldn’t (either of them actually). Somehow, us white privileged males have got to engage with this. Give it the serious consideration it deserves. Accept that no matter how well-meaning our intentions and beliefs, we can always fall short. Commit to doing better in our dealings with our fellow human beings of whatever sex or color.

Kent Anderson: There were many great sessions and discussions at this year’s SSP Annual Meeting. David Kidder’s keynote on start-ups was well-done and relevant. But for me, the standout issue was cybersecurity, as this session was a real alarm bell on a few levels. Librarians and faculty members may be targets of digital organized crime and malicious hackers, with Sci-Hub phishing schemes possibly just a Trojan horse used to get credentials that crack open university systems generally. As one speaker pointed out, not only does sharing credentials violate contracts the university has agreed to, it also exposes university systems (and employees, patients at affiliated hospitals, and staff) to hackers. Examples and demonstrations of attacks set the context well. It’s more proof that digital publishing is neither simpler nor cheaper than print is or was, and there’s no sign of relief.  

Robert Harington: SSP 2016 in Vancouver was a resounding success. Despite my own travel nightmares, both going to Vancouver, and returning back to Boston, the conference itself was rich with optimism for the future of scholarly publishing. If I were to articulate one take-away from Vancouver, it would be the theme of mentoring and support for the next generation of those entering our field. From mentoring to diversity, many of the sessions were threaded with a sense of inclusion. Yes, there was plenty of interesting publishing, technology and product development to soak in, but in the end the primary message was one of ensuring that that we pay attention to the future for young publishing professionals. Perhaps the most enjoyable and poignant session for me was Friday morning’s keynote by Margaret Ann Armour, Associate Dean (Diversity) and a renowned professor of chemistry at the University of Alberta. With a humorous Scottish lilt she both inspired and gently chastised us into reassessing our views and actions on gender diversity in the publishing industry. She received a standing ovation following her talk, and I was right there applauding on my feet.

Rick Anderson: One of the most enlightening sessions I attended at SSP this year was the one titled “Sharing the Future Voices of Scholarly Publishing: Results from the 2016 SSP Early Career Professionals Survey.” Moderated by Emma Brink and Matt Cooper of Wiley (and of SSP’s Early Career Professionals Task Force), this discussion focused on the findings of an industry-wide survey that the task force conducted with scholarly-publishing professionals still in the early (or early-ish stages) of their careers. All of it was fascinating, but three findings in particular jumped out at me:

  1. Roughly 40% of respondents reported that they ended up in publishing more or less by accident. (Takeaway question: Are we doing all we can to spread the word about scholarly communication as an exciting career path, one that more smart young people should consider pursuing actively?)
  2. Many early-career professionals want to develop professionally, and are not aware that funding may be available within their organizations to support them in that endeavor. (Takeaway point: Those of us who are managers and administrators need to make sure we’re mentoring those in our organizations who are at early stages of their career, particularly in regard to professional development.)
  3. The Scholarly Kitchen is a major source of industry information for early-career professionals. (Takeaway point: We Chefs need to be thinking about this aspect of our audience as we consider what to write and how to write it.)

Alison Mudditt: I was particularly interested to follow threads across sessions that addressed issues of discoverability and engagement. As with so much of the infrastructure in scholarly publishing, systems have been built around the needs of STM journals and often don’t meet the needs of other disciplines and content formats that effectively, yet these issues are critical survival skills for all of us in a world where users are free to roam anywhere, including to an abundance of free content.

The data from Tracy Gardner and Simon Inger’s latest study of how researchers discover content was really thought-provoking and introduced the complexity of cultural difference on top of the disciplinary ones we already think about. I took away some good ideas but definitely plan to dig deeper into the data. At another session on engaging stakeholders I learned about new ways in which different organizations are engaging their communities – some good ideas to put into practice for our new digital programs here at UC Press. And as always, lots of good hallway conversations with people grappling with some of the same issues, especially around discovery of OA content that doesn’t fit into traditional workflows. Last but by no means least, it wouldn’t be a publishing conference if I didn’t learn how great the local BC wines are!

David Crotty: For me, the take home from the SSP Annual Meeting was seeing an entire industry now fully engaged in the promises and challenges of the digital realm. The successful transition from print to digital was the initial phase of a long-term process, and in many ways we’ve now moved on to part two, the drive to start truly implementing the exciting new things we can do while at the same time reckoning with the dangers posed. Sessions on persistent identifiers, text- and data-mining, new technologies and standards, standards, standards all showed glimpses of the path forward. Sci-Hub has lit a fire under our collective moribund access systems, and is driving consensus toward both more security and better user experiences. This will require an enormous level of “cat-herding”, as true progress requires buy-in from many different spheres — publishers, service providers, librarians and university IT departments, but the common sense of urgency for all involved (spurred further by this week’s reports of widespread phishing activities and potential data breaches at libraries) gives me cause for optimism that solutions in these vital areas are not far off.

Alice Meadows: The final session of this year’s SSP helped me as I was thinking about my answer to this question as the chair, fellow Chef Kent Anderson, posed a similar one to his panelists. The trends they identified in the course of the conference were cooperation and collaboration, interoperability, data publishing, libraries as publishers, user engagement, and a focus on articles rather than journals. The first two trends were especially evident in the sessions I attended. SSP is always a great conference for reminding me how much our industry relies on cooperation and collaboration between both individuals and organizations — largely, I think, the result of us all sharing a common purpose: to serve the researcher community. Interoperability is a key aspect of this — the research infrastructure (or plumbing as we like to call it at ORCID) relies on the adoption and use of persistent identifiers and standards across the systems and platforms that we are all building in order to better support those researchers. This year’s SSP included a whole track focused on standards, reflecting their increasing importance in scholarly communications. But even outside of that track I was struck by the number of references to organizations like Crossref and ORCID, CASRAI and NISO.

My other takeaway from the meeting was the increasing attention being paid to the lack of diversity in scholarly publishing, especially in terms of gender. I was sadly unable to attend the final keynote by Dr Margaret-Ann Armour. But the fact that SSP chose to devote a keynote to the issue of the under-representation of women in leadership roles in STEM subjects says a lot for the society’s own commitment to supporting gender diversity in scholarly publishing. Dr Armour’s keynote, which focused on the economic and other benefits of having a diverse leadership, struck a note with everyone I know who attended it — male and female — and will, I hope, continue to inform our discussions about this important topic in the months and years to come. (Note: See Alice’s recent post about the Mind the Gap session she helped organized.)

Ann Michael: This year’s Annual Meeting was especially sweet for me! It marked the end of my year as SSP President and I could not have asked for a better send off. The location was breathtaking, the program was rich and diverse, and, most important, the community was welcoming, engaged and thought-provoking. Aside from everything my fellow Chefs mentioned above, my two favorite parts of this year’s meeting were the Awards Ceremony (made even more fun by Phill Jones not being present to accept his Emerging Leader Award!) and my interactions with the Fellowship Awardees, especially during the mentoring breakfast.

Extending the Fellowship Program to a full year and including mentoring in the benefits may very well be one of the best things SSP has ever done. While people tend to focus on the more experienced person mentoring the early career professional, I selfishly look forward to the opposite. In my opinion each match-up is made up of two mentors and I look forward to all that I’m going to learn from my partner in mentoring! I’m also excited that mentoring is evolving into more of a network where folks can (and already have) reach past their assigned mentor to others in the program.

One illustration of this is the parallel guest Ask The Chefs post which will publish tomorrow entitled “Ask The Fellows: What Did You Learn At This Year’s SSP Annual Meeting?”

Please come back tomorrow to see what the Fellowship Award winners had to say about the Annual Meeting and show them your support and encouragement in the comments section.

I’d also like to thank everyone for making my year as SSP President a fun and rewarding experience. I’m thrilled to hand off to another Chef, Rick Anderson, and looking forward to supporting him this current year as I become Past President.

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.


13 Thoughts on "Ask The Chefs: What Did You Learn At This Year’s 2016 SSP Annual Meeting?"

In this morning’s blog reading, I read an intriguing post about shaking up [academic] conferences:

“Conference rage: How did something as truly awful as panel discussions become the default format?”

from the London School of Economics’ Impact blog.

At SSP, I particularly enjoyed the “roundtable” format for the “voice of the (librarian, researcher, student)” panel, and blogged about what I heard there, as well as the speed dating format. This was a new format to me, and was pretty intense for the participants (and I presume the speakers).

More from the LSE blog:

“How did something as truly awful as panel discussions become the default format? People reading out papers; terrible powerpoints crammed with too many words, or illegible graphics. Please, can we try other formats, like speed dating (eg 10 people pitch their work for 2 minutes each, then each goes to a table and the audience hooks up (intellectually, I mean) with the ones they were interested in); world cafes; simulation games; joint tasks (eg come up with an infographic that explains X). Anything, really. Yes ‘manels’ (male only panels – take the pledge) are an outrage, but why not go for complete abolition, rather than mere gender balance?”

David Smith – I’m very pleased to hear you’ve recognised your privilege and even more pleased to hear you will be directly consulting with your minority staff on issues that affect them rather than making assumptions. Could I ask you if you have any plans to rectify the current startling lack of women on your team?

Well the % of race and gender will move up and down as people leave and new people arrive. My team is but one of a number in our IT department and women are decently represented (in what can be a very male dominated environment). I’d always want to employ who I thought was the best person irrespective of race or gender. My test, will be to see if unconcious bias affects my decision making and what I can do to counter that.

Thanks to all for such a positive and cheerful set of responses. David (Crotty)’s comments about the completion of ‘the successful transition from print to digital’ do nonetheless confirm (despite regular self-denials from various of the chefs) an SSP worldview based entirely around STM journals and (very largely) the American experience. It can’t be said too often that academic books, especially in the humanities and social sciences, remain a powerfully print-driven format of delivery in the world at large, even if the modes of discovery, access and sale are now largely digital. No major H&SS book publisher is reporting global e-revenues of more than 25% of the whole, and the AAUP proportion seems consistently in the lowish teens (?), with transition rates of perhaps 3% per annum. Given how much of the organisational cost base and industry infrastructure remains devoted to this print provision, and will do so on any reasonable guesstimate for at least another decade, David’s optimistic sense that we have now reached Part Two is not one, I suspect, that your non-scientific-publisher readers will all share: I just don’t think that we can yet claim to be ‘an entire industry fully engaged in the promises and challenges of the digital realm’ across scholarly publishing as a whole.

Some of Alison’s comments indicate similar disciplinary anxieties. To take this argument one rather speculative and doubtless wrong-headed stage further, I would posit an increasing divergence between data-driven and experimental disciplines, and their modes of communication and enquiry, and those for which text, howsoever defined, remains paramount. There is a space between ‘information’ and ‘telling stories’, to reduce two of the most characteristic analytic tropes to their bare minimum, where sits, however uncomfortably, ‘ideas’, and we need to find new and better ways for the communication and discussion of ideas, whether in short- or long-form, in market and cultural contexts where a traditional model (the scholarly monograph) is in very slow long-term decline but as yet we have no generally sustainable market-acceptable or academic-culture-legitimated substitute. And where (as of June 2016) print shows no sign of losing its globally dominant majoritarian position any time soon. In addition, sadly, a ‘globally dominant majoritarian position’ and ‘very slow long-term decline’ are not mutually exclusive conditions…

Apologies for striking a rather more downbeat note in the midst of such collective bounce, but then, I wasn’t there!

Is Dr Margaret-Ann Armour’s speech transcript available anywhere online? Now I am intrigued to read it!

Hi Jennifer – Melanie Dolechek, SSP’s Executive Director, just told me that Dr. Armour’s talk was recorded and she’ll let us know when it’s available. David Crotty also said we will likely do something to feature that recording on the Kitchen. Thanks!

As for educating the next generation of scholarly publishing professionals, please be aware that many university presses have long run internship programs for students at their universities. We considered this to be such an important part of our work at Penn State University Press when I was director that we included a reference to in in the Press’s mission statement.

Thanks Sandy! You bring up a great point. In fact, Pippa Smart, the Editor of Learned Publishing, asked a question at the opening plenary about just this subject: How do mentoring programs differ between employers and industry organizations (like societies and associations)? It was interesting to think about the fact that both are critically important.

Having a neutral 3rd party mentor allows you to ask questions and get guidance on some things you may not feel comfortable discussing with someone in the organization that employs you!

I especially enjoyed the opening Keynote by David Kidder. It is always fascinating to listen to the learnings of serial entrepreneurs. The cutting edge “do or die” vigor of entrepreneurial endeavor keeps things fast, fresh, lean, and often very disruptive. Yet fast, fresh, lean, and disruptive are only successful strategies if you have the cash flow to sustain the business, and if the product is ultimately of value to the market. Most entrepreneurs burn through a lot of cash (often other people’s cash) attempting to create a utopic business condition. In the vast majority of cases the product is not successful and the business fails, or the cash runs out before the entrepreneurial dream materializes.

I accept his thesis that every business today should be paying attention to the playbook of a start-up culture. After all, fast, fresh, lean, and disruptive are all elements of business success. Where I disagree with his premise, is that not all businesses can sustain this culture. It places a lot of stress on the company (whether established or not). Granted, a lot of major companies could benefit from an internal shakeup, but the question is whether it is sustainable for the economy of a city, state, or country, for all companies to be seeking to operate under such corporate stress. For large corporations with deep pockets, it looks very attractive to stakeholders that a portion of the company adopts this structure and vision, so long as the company does not fail. However, for many companies (and I include publishers, universities, and much of academia in this space), breaking down all the tenets of operation in the name of entrepreneurship is a dangerous path.

Entrepreneurship is a brutal game. There are winners and losers, because the game is played only to win; no matter the cost. The disruptive nature of entrepreneurial endeavor dictates that rules of business conduct are only guidelines, and work-arounds are always sought. I can argue that it is this culture of “break the rules as long as there are corporate or personal gains to be made” that is bringing forward business or personal activities in publishing that by academic standards are considered predatory or irresponsible conduct. The “do or die” pressures of entrepreneurship can be compared to the “publish or perish” pressures of academic endeavor. I can argue that “breaking the rules” in the name of success in academia is not the path we should be taking. But, it is the path that many new journal start-ups, author support services, and individual academics are taking; resulting in clearly-defined stress on the tenets of the system, and ultimately the integrity of the scholarly literature.

I could argue that if academia and scholarly publishing is a microenvironment of society, and if it is correct that scholarly entrepreneurship is challenging “trust” as the pillar of scholarly publishing, then at a society level, all-out entrepreneurship could have unforeseen consequences to the stability of corporate economies and societal output as a whole. At the individual business level, entrepreneurship has its checks and balances — if the activity is not what society wants, then the business fails; a minor contained tragedy. However, in scholarly endeavor, whether or not the “business” fails, the legacy of irresponsible conduct has lasting consequences.

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