Publishing Conferences: The Changing Landscape of Scholarly Communication in the Digital Age 2009

12 Feb

apccWhoosh. What a day: five sessions in a row at The Changing Landscape of Scholarly Communication in the Digital Age at the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center next to the George Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M. Overall, though, it was a good day.

First thing this morning I tried to get a wireless connection at the conference center but when that didn’t work I struck up a conversation with a guy sitting in the lobby next to me. Typically, I can contentedly stand in a corner all day at the periphery of a crowd with some kind of dour look on my face that is inherently uninviting so in the interest of “networking”—that is, as I call it, “schmoozing” and/or, as my wife refers to it, “being sociable”—I did my best to break out of that mode.

Thanks to breaking out of my (dis)comfort zone I met Dr. Gerald (Jerry) Vinson, retired TAMU engineering professor, who now travels around in the country with his wife in his RV stopping in at different colleges to sell his self-published engineering text/workbooks. Before that he had published several books through Kendall/Hunt and knew David Pike, the K/H sales rep that we worked with way back when in the TSTC Waco English department when we were putting Techne together, the project that led to the formation of TSTC Publishing. The publishing world . . . big, yet small, all at the same time.

Anyway, all that aside, here’s a brief recap of what got covered today:

“Scholarly Authority in the Age of Abundance: Retaining Algorithmic Relevance in the New Landscape”
Michael J. Jensen

Mike Jensen is the Director of Publishing Technologies at National Academies Press. For anyone who hasn’t seen their Web & e-commerce site, I would highly recommend that you take a look at it. I first came across it when Tom Woll was here last year doing his analysis of our publishing operation and pointed it out as an example of good design as well as pricing in terms of their books, e-books, sections of books, and so on.

Jensen talked about how popularity (that is, high high you are on the Google search results) needs to match actual real-world authority. (A corollary to this is that the more virtual an online world is the more divorced it is from actual empirical reality.) And, as well, academics need to focus on promoting the quality of their work to increase their popularity. (After all, Darth Vader has 36,000 followers on Twitter.) He also emphasized that when it comes to having academics break out of their comfort zone in terms of reaching a lay audience for their work that the technology itself to do this is secondary to “environment of encouragement” at their schools. Finally, as he stated on his final PowerPoint slide, “Shift happens while you’re making other plans.”

I happened to get a chance to talk to Mike after his presentation as he was having a smoke outside to talk about the NAP Web site. In particular, they have a really nice page preview function at it—you can flip through their books on a viewer embedded on the page—and I curious to know if it was their proprietary software or an off-the-shelf product. Sure enough, it’s their software . . . he said they’d thought about making it open source but that it hadn’t happened as yet. There’s a whole cottage industry built around book previewers—some charge you a per book fee for conversion; some are so code intensive I’d never be able to figure it out—but he suggested taking a look at Google Book Search. (D’uh! Everything comes back to Google in the final analysis.) It’s free and it should do what we’ll need so I’ll be taking a look at it in the near future.

“The Harvard Open Access Project”
Stuart M. Shieber

Stuart Shieber is the Director of the Office for Scholarly Communication at Harvard University.

Shieber talked about the Digital Access to Harvard Scholarship (DASH) project where faculty members are being encouraged to submit all their peer-reviewed articles accepted for publication to an Open Access database. Part of his talk dealt with different procedural issues that had cropped up but the most interesting aspect (for me) was when he talked about how a “moral hazard” had been created by faculty requesting journal subscriptions at libraries but having the libraries pay for them. That is, the users (faculty) are divorced from the cost (paid for by the library) so as the price for periodicals spirals upward faculty don’t realize the problem until suddenly the libraries can’t afford journals any more. Of course, the first thing I thought of in relationship to this was textbook pricing: prices keep going up as faculty make adoption choices without regard for the students having to actually pay for them.

“Intellectual Property Rights and the Open Access Movement”
Georgia K. Harper

Georgia Harper is the Scholarly Communications Advisor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Harper is basically a copyright lawyer who deals with intellectual property issues for UT. Given that she’s a lawyer, it was surprising to hear her come out vociferously against the concept of copyright, positing it as an unnecessary monopoly that does nothing to encourage/protect creativity as it was originally designed to do in the 1780s. To be honest, this was the session that I had the most problems with in terms of the message. This was probably because I was already getting worn out by people saying “if somebody would just cover first-round production costs” that Open Access would be great. Well, sure, if. But if you want quality texts–not some self-edited not ready for prime time production–there’s a lot more than just paper, printing, and binding (PPB) to consider. That is, what about the overhead for the folks it takes to do this? It seems like a lot of people outside of publishing seem to think that there’s not much to the mechanics of publishing other than running spellchecker on a Word document and merrily sending it off to the printer. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that’s how Ms. Harper feels about publishing. On the other hand, like I said, I was starting to get worn out about how these myhical “production costs” are the only thing keeping all writing ever done by anyone being available via Open Access policies.

“The Future of University Presses and Other Institutional Publishers”
Michael E. Keller

Michael Keller is the publisher of both Stanford University Press and Highwire Press.

Keller talked a lot about how tenure policies and practices need to change so that e-journal publications can count as heavily as traditional print publishing. Also, in a concrete suggestion for who should pay for “production costs,” he said that tenure committees should underwrite scholarly publishing/journals because there are fewer and fewer outlets for junior profs to get their research out to begin with. He also talked about how e-book/HTML versions of books need to actually create a “new narrative” that incorporates hyperlinks, multimedia, and other digital resources as opposed to just uploading an electronic version of a hard copy (that is, a PDF). He also thinks that more input needs to solicited from actual authors and readers as opposed to presidents, directors, and other administrators who tend to want to impose a top-down to publishing “transformation.”

“Impacts on the Academy of Improved Access to Scholarly Research”
David E. Shulenburger

David Shulenburger is the Vice President for Academic Affairs at the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASUGC) which is soon to be the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU).

Finally, in the last presentation I went to Shulenburger talked about the impact that improving access to scholarly research can have. Sure, faculty can get credibility and tenure. And schools and departments improve their “brand” by increased scholarship and citations of that scholarship by others. But, as he emphasized, people don’t realize what a wall academia has built around itself until you’re off the university campus and are then trying to get access to research. In addition, especially in medical areas, there is a real interest among people being able to do their own research to supplement what their doctors may be telling them. He said the Harvard DASH initiative was a good start but that public universities such as TAMU have an even greater responsibility to make all their research openly (and easily) available.

All in all, an interesting day . As I said earlier this week, we’re not really a university press per se—no original “scholarly” works—but we are part of a school with all the procedural/organizational “challenges” that implies so much of the discussion was relevant. Plus, I think TAMU did a great job of organizing this “Open Access” event. They really put their money where their mouth is; that is, they didn’t talk about free dissemination of information to folks they were charging $400 apiece to attend. Instead, they had a good cross-section of speakers, excellent facilities, and good meals . . . all for no cost to attendees. I’ll be curious to see if they have this again next year and if it’s still free. I certainly hope so.

[UPDATE 3/6/09: Streaming video of all the sessions is now available online here.]


2 Responses to “Publishing Conferences: The Changing Landscape of Scholarly Communication in the Digital Age 2009”

  1. danmihalache February 13, 2009 at 6:31 am #

    Hi! I’m Dan, architect in Iasi, Romania; Ireached to you from a literature site, but my main site is; lucky chance! I have to go now, but I’ll call back (from the other adress).
    All the best, Dan.

  2. Al December 18, 2009 at 2:33 pm #

    What’s up?. Thanks for the info. I’ve been digging around looking some info up for shool, but i think i’m getting lost!. Yahoo lead me here – good for you i guess! Keep up the great information. I will be coming back in a few days to see if there is updated posts.

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