It started before my flight even took off from Boston’s Logan airport. Scanning the news stand, I spotted the Time Magazine headline: “What happened to vacation in America?” It was no shock of course, but I immediately picked it up and took a quick look inside. It reaffirmed what we all already know: our professional lives have spilled over into personal lives in a major way. We’re working when we’re on vacation and, as a result, sometimes we’re on mental vacation when we’re at work. Because, let’s face it, we can’t be “Professional Joe” (or Joanne) all the time. As these lines between our work selves and our private selves start to blur, there’s a crucial thing to remember about ourselves and our customers.
We’re all humans first.
The official theme of last week’s Society for Scholarly Publishing Meeting in Crystal City, VA was “The New Big Picture” and while there was no lack of discussion on change in the industry, emerging technologies, new services for researchers and more, that particular underlying theme kept cropping up.
With the first keynote from Charles Watkinson, Librarian at the University of Michigan Library and Director of Michigan University Press, we heard how we publishing professionals can become narrow in our thinking as we become more specialized in our roles. Yet, he contends that if we can just implement the “edge effect” by bringing various functions together and working at the edges of our fields, we have the opportunity to innovate and learn from one another. His examples focused on how bringing ideas and models from the journals world such as new formats, open access and author-pays models to scholarly monographs can transform a medium that has been under threat for some time.
In Thursday’s keynote interview with Ken Auletta, who has covered the media landscape for The New Yorker since 1992, he reminded us that there is a human factor behind most major business decisions. He described cable media magnate John Malone who in 1999 sold TCI, the largest cable company at the time, to AT&T because his wife wanted him to spend more time with her. Auletta emphasized that human behavior is what influences how quickly the media landscape is changing. He recounted that the New York Times reports that 50% of the traffic to its online version comes through social media, and with readers increasingly accessing content on mobile devices,, the challenge of generating advertising revenue while maintaining a good user experience is great.
A session on “The Researcher’s New Big Picture” allowed researchers, professors and grad students to share how they’re currently working and how publishers can better support their efforts. Their objectives aren’t new: tenure and funding. Also not new is their lack of time. The panelists want maximum visibility for their research, but, as one Microbiology researcher on the panel pointed out, when it comes to social media promotion, he wants to know what the reward for his time will be.
There was palpable surprise from the audience when two of the four panelists stated that they didn’t know what altmetrics were and only two had registered for ORCiD identifiers. It's clear that until researchers understand precisely how new tools will help them achieve their goals, they are in no rush to adopt them.
Another revelatory session was “Chat with Librarians”, which afforded publishers and others in the industry the opportunity to sit across the table from librarians and ask them anything. The range of services librarians spoke of offering their users was staggering. From using APIs to text-mine research, to advising academics on how to start open access journals, to helping researchers get published, it’s clear that librarians play a crucial role in nurturing the research process and making the day-to-day lives of academics easier. Beyond this, librarians told us that they need to show administrators that they are serving their university’s mission. Anne Seymour, Director of the Welch Medical Library at Johns Hopkins University, described the daunting objective of demonstrating the impact of research-i.e. how has research at Johns Hopkins affected health outcomes overall? To put it simply: how is research changing human lives?
Closing plenary speaker Jennifer Lawton, former CEO of Makerbot Industries, also acknowledged our humanity in her address on how to succeed and be successful. “It’s your life, so work hard to make it what you want.”
Whether they’re at work or at the beach, it's worth remembering that this is what our customers and partners are striving to do every day.