Note: Today’s post was assembled by Isabel Thompson, one of last year’s SSP Fellowship Award winners, based on the contributions of several of this year’s awardees in attendance at the SSP Annual Meeting

2017 SSP Fellows


A Fellow last year, I’ve ‘graduated’ to Fellowship Mentor this year, and it’s providing a wonderful opportunity to get to know this new group!

Reading this year’s Fellows’ responses reveals a few thought-provoking themes, and there are new perspectives on many of the topics discussed at the SSP Annual Meeting (such as open source technologies, data, or diversity). However, for me the most striking thing about these posts is the fact that many of the Fellows were very surprised – and enthused – by the discovery of the larger world of scholarly communications that became apparent to them only at the SSP Annual Meeting.

As an attendee at this or other conferences, or a professional with more years of experience, the incredible variety of companies, products, and role types can be a given. But if you’re relatively new to the industry, or have a more internally-facing role, how can you possibly understand the scale of the operation that is ‘facilitating scholarly dialogue’? That kind of knowledge is not something you can just take for granted.

This in turn links back to the conversation about how bad the industry is at explaining what it does and the value it provides – something that was addressed specifically at the SSP Annual Meeting this year in a session entitled “Finding Our Voices”. If people inside the industry don’t always know what we all do, then how are researchers (or for example, university administrators) expected to know, let alone see value?

If we can increase understanding among stakeholders across the board and at all levels, then hopefully we can engage people much more broadly, and thus develop solutions that serve researchers’ needs based on everyone’s expertise. Like last year, what struck me about the conference was the incredibly friendly and collaborative mentality pervasive throughout, so we have a solid basis for expanding and refining our communication if we choose to do so.

I’m honored to be listed alongside the other highly experienced mentors this year, and I look forward to learning from everyone involved.

Speaking of learning, let’s find out what the Fellows said when we asked them:  What Did You Learn at This Year’s SSP Annual Meeting?

Maggie Grossman, Northwestern University Press, USA: Coming from a background in university press publishing, just having exposure to all of the other heterogeneous stakeholders in scholarly communications — everything from science journals to society publishing to all of the various technologies and vendors — was incredibly eye-opening and valuable. Paula Stephan’s opening keynote on the economic and academic impact of the increased production of PhDs contrary to the decreased availability of university faculty positions was particularly fascinating. She noted that academia has perhaps now become the “alternate” career, which is interesting considering that for many of us, academic publishing was always the “alt-ac” track.

On that note, it’s heartening to know that SSP members are having the same critical conversations about diversity that have been developing in the AAUP and in commercial publishing over the last several years. I really enjoyed hearing from Gita Manaktala and Jesus Hernandez about their experience with the University Press Diversity Fellowship program. Programs like this one are helping to bust the myth that there is a “shortage” of quality candidates from underrepresented backgrounds and I am hopeful that these conversations will continue to push the industry forward.

My lasting takeaways from the meeting are all about collaboration: how publishers can collaborate to utilize the latest technologies; how university presses can collaborate with libraries to embrace new directions in scholarly communications; and that even though some of us compete for content or customers, all of us are working together to further the same scholarly mission.

Jerry Liu, University of Waterloo, Canada: Coming into the annual SSP meeting, I didn’t know what to expect. As one of the youngest attendees and someone who had gotten into publishing less than a year ago, I initially pictured a bunch of company representatives discussing their products. I was pleasantly surprised! Not only did it start with an amazing reception, I was able to hear many personal stories right off the bat through the networking events. The first thing I learned was that there is a huge variety of backgrounds and degrees that can lead to publishing, from the arts to the sciences. Another observation I made was how deep the publishing process really goes. Before the meeting, I was only familiar with the research and writing of a manuscript, but through the different concurrent sessions it was clear that so much goes into the process afterwards to create a successful product. Furthermore, the huge range of companies and services was astonishing and really showed how important technology is to everyone involved in the process. Lastly, each person that I spoke with had a unique perspective on the topic of publishing, based on their role, experiences and company. The perspective I gained from the annual meeting would truly not be possible anywhere else. Thank you SSP for organizing such a wonderful event!

Lois Jones, American Psychological Association, USA: Open data has been an important topic of conversation in the field. I attended sessions about the practical implications, best practices, and how to leverage technology to address related issues. There are so many questions that will only be answered in time (and with a lot of thought and hard work), but I was struck by how optimistic everyone seems. Both presenters and attendees at SSP were so solution-oriented and excited to make changes, while also recognizing real world obstacles.

The industry continues to hit important crossroads, so it’s very easy to become pessimistic and stop trying to innovate, but SSP encourages the exact opposite. All of the ideas for furthering science, whether via open data or better systems, were thought-provoking. I especially enjoyed the quick product pitches at the “Previews Session.” They aren’t all applicable to my work, but they all taught me something new.

I also met a lot of people I’m looking forward to talking with more, from different areas of scholarly publishing. It was fantastic to talk with enthusiastic professionals, all which had varying outlooks on the state of publishing. I look forward to learning more from them.

Sai Konda, PhD, American Chemical Society, USA: A society’s biggest strength are its people — their ideals, philosophy, and work ethics. This strength was very evident at the SSP Annual Meeting. I had a unique opportunity to witness these in-person and be part of fruitful discussions as a first-time attendee at the meeting. It would be an understatement to say that it made a lasting impression on me. Not only were the attendees open to dialogue irrespective of their status in the organizations, they also provided invaluable mentorship advice at several such interactions. It was also very enlightening to see the diversity in the topics at the various sessions that provided a perspective from different vantage points. In particular, the keynote talks by Paula Stephan and Jeffrey Mervis really got the neurons firing. Last but definitely not least, the volunteering activities stood out as the impetus behind the society’s activities. It was inspiring to see all the professionals devote extra time for the society’s cause and convinced me to contribute back to the community. I look forward to continuing engagement with the society and eagerly await #SSP18!

Lucy Lambe, London School of Economics, UK: Coming from the library world, there was so much for me to learn about the production end of the research lifecycle. But I also learned what we have in common – in particular an awareness of the need for metadata, standards, and persistent identifiers. I was also pleased to attend so many sessions that focused on openness in publishing. I learned about open source projects like Ubiquity Press and Editoria that aim to support the publishing workflow at a much lower cost in order to reduce the cost of open access publishing – welcome news for institutions looking ahead at the issue of funding open access monographs. Another problem that has long been on the horizon is that just being open is not enough; publications must also be discoverable and accessible from multiple platforms. Metadata is the key to discovery.

Overall I found the collegial nature of the Society extremely encouraging. There was a sense of everyone pitching in on committees and task forces, and an overwhelming amount of appreciation for those willing to give their time. It’s so easy to forget the enormous amount of work that goes into creating a successful event like the SSP Annual Meeting, so thanks once again to everyone involved!

Christen Pruitt, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., USA: I often feel overwhelmed by scholarly publishing’s complexity, vastness, and historical knowledge. My experience at SSP 2017 not only reinforced the complexity of this broad ecosystem, evolved over several centuries, but also exposed a shared mission, close-knit community, and perpetual evolution.

I learned that the mission to support the dissemination of knowledge manifests in many ways. This multi-faceted approach once seemed so complex, but now seems less complex because each role contributes to the SSP mission. For example, the variations in data sharing and reproducibility policies were challenging to implement for the disparate Life Science subjects I publish. The session about open data policies unpacked the categories and the resources available. I also learned that despite members’ vast geography and reach, we are actually a familiar and, dare I say a friendly, legion of like-minded individuals who thrive on collaboration and cooperation. This was evident in the meets and greets that occurred all around and at all times. Furthermore, the historical knowledge that I thought was out of my reach is actually contained in the minds and experiences of the SSP members and I have access to this knowledge through the connections I made and will continue to make. My Fellowship mentor, Kent Anderson, introduced me to colleagues who are willing to share their knowledge and experience. I arrived at SSP 2017 thinking about unsurmountable challenges, but they are actually encouraging opportunities to support our authors, researchers, and institutions with the strength of our shared mission, close community, and ongoing evolution.

Franca Driessen, Oxford University Press, UK: Many of the discussions and the two keynotes at this year’s SSP conference touched on issues facing STM research and publishing. Paula Stephan (Georgia State University) focused on problems surrounding the training of PhDs and where they end up starting their careers if not in academia, and Jeffrey Mervis (Science Magazine) spoke on governmental attitudes towards STM funding.

A prevalent topic throughout the conference was how we can best support the research community in their aim to do their jobs most effectively while also preserving content produced through that research. Persistent identifiers (PIDs) for journal articles are ubiquitous and most researchers are completely at ease in their use, but research results are shared in other forms, including blogs, online research encyclopedias, etc. Creating PIDs for researchers would help to preserve a person’s whole body of work, something which the people at ORCID are attempting to do.

While PIDs would be a boon to archiving material, another development that caught my eye was the need for metrics to measure the impact of a piece of content from a book. Traditional metrics measuring impact of journal articles, such as the Impact Factor, barely require explanation, while Altmetrics are also becoming more utilized by the research community. For books, however, the main metric for impact is still sales (and perhaps review articles). So it was certainly exciting to listen to ideas from Altmetric about such a metric for monographs, and, perhaps through further conversations at SSP meetings, this kind of measurement will be developed.

Jessica Kirschner, University of Pittsburgh, USA: As an MLIS student, I’ve learned about one small portion of publishing, the output, and supplemented this knowledge with experience in scholarly communications. Thus, the SSP Annual Meeting provided an amazing opportunity for an overview publishing industry, from commercial publishers to societies and vendors. Not only was it enlightening to see presentations on industry-wide trends, but it was also interesting to learn about new software and services which libraries don’t typically utilize.

As the conference title suggests, the theme of change was central to all of the sessions. Scholarly publishing wants to deliver the same product, but changing technology (which allows for more efficient processes but also pirated content) and changing environments (such as the downward trend in PhDs remaining in academia as noted by Paula Stephan) are altering how we can and should do that. To that end, we’re struggling with many questions, including: How can we make content more discoverable? What metrics can we calculate to better illustrate impact to scholars—and hopefully university administration? How can we measure the success of open access publications? How can we limit content piracy?  There are no definite answers, although the conference panels suggested possible paths. I’d actually have been more surprised if we had clear solutions, since, in this time of change, we’re still experiencing trial and error to see what works best for our various services and clients. Instead, these questions leave us with lots to think about before next year’s meeting!

Jennifer Lee, PhD, Royal Society of Chemistry, USA: The SSP Annual Meeting was a fantastic experience where I gained a broader understanding of the industry and interacted with passionate people across diverse roles and perspectives. I felt warmly welcomed by the community where everyone was encouraging and genuinely interested in conversations with newcomers.

I attended talks to learn about developments across the industry and enjoyed presentations from insightful experts.  The theme of artificial intelligence arose across the workflow for discovery, mining, or quality control, with varying levels of human involvement. I found these approaches intriguing since they highlight potential interactions across different companies with their respective strengths.

I learned about organizations that are developing modular systems and incorporating annotations through a common interface that may change the current state of publishing. It was interesting to see examples of new products when the industry is viewed by some as relatively slow to innovate. I enjoyed thinking about how the industry may evolve in the future for the research community within the overarching context.

I am grateful I had the opportunity to attend the meeting and to meet a knowledgeable mentor as part of the Fellowship program. I look forward to continually thinking about ideas from the meeting and discussing them with others in the industry.

Max Mosterd, Knowledge Unlatched, Germany: It was great to attend the SSP Annual Meeting this year as an International Fellow, providing me with the opportunity to learn and meet colleagues in scholarly publishing. SSP proved to be a great place to learn about my main interest: open access.

There were a number of sessions on open access, showing me the increasing importance of it in scholarly publishing. As the copyright holders of content, publishers sit on a great wealth of knowledge and have access to well-connected communities. I understand that publishers approach open access with some skepticism, but I noticed that many seem to embrace it and translate their access to knowledge and communities into valuable services.

In this context, I enjoyed the seminar “Signifiers of relevance or identifiers of communities: brand equity in scholarly journal publishing”. Publisher brands are key in academic publishing and during this seminar it was shown how open access can be leveraged to grow the brand equity. From a different angle, Mark Johnson elaborated on how PLOS entered the market as a new incumbent building upon open access. However, perhaps more interesting, he emphasized the new services PLOS developed and thereby leveraging the communities they have access to around the open access content.

This holistic approach to open access and seeking the associated growth options in communities and analyzing knowledge is great to observe. As such, I truly believe in what Robert Harington mentioned in a comment during the closing plenary: that it is not a time of doom but a time of opportunities.

Lindsey Irish, Oxford Brookes University, UK: SSP’s Annual Meeting this year in Boston was an incredible experience where I was able to speak directly with industry leaders about issues facing scholarly publishing. Despite the difference in age and experience, I found that these leaders were keen to hear my take on the industry and eager to provide their own input on subjects like open access and hiring practices. Being a Fellow allowed me to quickly establish myself as an enthusiastic new member of the scholarly publishing community in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. By attending sessions, I learned about topics I hadn’t previously known about like predatory journals and the challenges of making monographs available through open access. Getting to know other members of the SSP community through networking events was also an awesome experience which lead to meaningful connections. I am eager to get to know everyone more through my involvement in the Fellowship program throughout the year. And the “lobsta” rolls were great!

Ian Harmon, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA: I could go on at great length describing everything I learned at the SSP Annual Meeting, but two things really stood out to me. First, I developed a much richer understanding and appreciation of the complexity of the scholarly communications ecosystem. Prior to attending to the meeting, my exposure to the “scholcomm” world had generally been from a librarian’s perspective. I understood that the ecosystem also involved researchers, authors, publishers, and students, but the SSP meeting exposed me to a number of other types of contributors, including developers of infrastructure and security. Second, I really enjoyed learning about the different backgrounds of the people I met at the meeting. I met people with backgrounds in the humanities, sciences, performing arts, and various types of industries. One of the things I really like about librarianship is that people come to it from a wide variety of backgrounds, and I was pleased to see that the scholarly publishing world is similar in this respect. The environment at the meeting was extremely welcoming, and I think that the diversity of the SSP’s members helps contribute to, and reinforce, this wonderful environment.

It is an honor to be one of this year’s SSP Fellows, and after my experience at the annual meeting I hope to be involved in the organization for years to come.

Ann Michael

Ann Michael

Ann Michael is President of Delta Think, a business and technology consulting and advisory firm focused on innovation and growth in membership organizations, scholarly publishers, and professional information providers. Ann is Past-President of SSP.

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4 Thoughts on "Ask The Fellows: What Did You Learn At This Year’s SSP Annual Meeting"

Ann notes “how bad the industry is at explaining what it does and the value it provides,” but some of us have devoted a significant amount of our professional lives to doing just that, and I hope these enthusiastic new young members of our profession will take the time to read what is already available. I have some 80+ essays about our industry posted “open access” at Penn State’s IR here: Most of these essays originally appeared in journals like the Journal of Scholarly Publishing, Against the Grain, Learned Publishing, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. For SSP Fellows I would recommend “Listbuilding at University Presses,” “The Value Added by Copyediting,” “Thinking Systematically about the Crisis in Scholarly Communication,” “A Brief History of Scholarly Publishing,” and several essays about open-access monograph publishing. (Enter these titles and terms in the search box to access the essays.)

And to be fair, she’s right. Sandy, you’ve been a vocal proponent for publishers but you are a rarity. There’s a reason The Scholarly Kitchen draws so much attention — it’s uncommon in our industry for anyone to speak publicly about what we do and why it’s important. As an industry, we let others define us and let others steer the conversation in directions that paint us in a negative light in order to further their own causes. Our fear of speaking up does us a disservice. My favorite lesson from the session mentioned above is that if you’re not publicly speaking on behalf of your publishing house, then Elsevier’s Tom Reller is your de facto spokesperson.

Hi Sandy,

Absolutely! In no way was I trying to suggest that there isn’t information out there – just that it clearly isn’t reaching people (or at least, not systematically or universally). There will naturally be a lot of variation between organisations, but also between (and within) departments of the same organisation. A lot depends on an individual’s time and desire to look into the wider picture, and also on chance (as to what they come across in the course of their jobs) – so perhaps there is more that could be done to increase the awareness and use of good resources out there.

I’ll take a look at these essays you mention – thanks!


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