Oona Schmid, Publishing Director of the American Anthropological Association, has extensive editorial and entrepreneurial experience that position content and products to maximize their digital opportunities. She specializes in smart adaption to digital challenges, as evidenced by the win of an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grant to prototype an all-digital book review workflow and two grants from the National Science Foundation to help anthropologists preserve their digital data sets.
She recently spoke to us about the relaunch of AnthroSource as a society hub on Wiley Online Library and what this means for AAA members and AnthroSource subscribers.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about your background and the American Anthropological Association?
A. With about 10,000 members, the American Anthropological Association is the world’s largest scholarly society for trained anthropologists. Its mission is to promote a global exchange of anthropological research, and apply that research to the world’s most pressing problems. We do this principally through an ambitious publishing program and also through hosting an annual conference that attracts more than 6,000 anthropologists.
I came to AAA seven years ago as a publishing professional — not as a subject expert in anthropology. While the program has an incredible output of anthropological knowledge in 22 different journals, it was not on stable financial footing and was struggling with digital challenges like how to keep content visible to students or how to make sure non-anthropologists knew about our content.
Q. What is AnthroSource and how is it used by AAA members and researchers?
A. In 2003, the Association did a remarkable thing. It had the prescience to make a large investment—aided with an instrumental grant from the Mellon Foundation—to digitize the complete contents of 30 titles, realizing that the usefulness of its scholarship to members and other researchers required creating an online database of its journals. Initially built and hosted by Atypon, AnthroSource provided full-text 24/7 access to 31 journals of the Association.
That achievement used a design concept from the turn of the century. The site emulated a print experience, in order to promote trust and stability, so that we could address fears that we heard from librarians and members that online publishing would be ephemeral. A decade later, we have two new titles added to AnthroSource and in 2014 our content saw more than 1.5 million full-text downloads, but we also had an interface in dire need of a fresh look and more agile navigation.
Q. What are the new features and benefits of AnthroSource 2.0?
A. AnthroSource 2.0 provides full-text searching of all readable PDFs. It offers responsive
design for all webpages and the HTML content for our journals to make reading on smart phones and tablets easier. Best of all the redesign gets members and researchers to full-text content within two clicks.
The site also offers some new paths to uncover new articles, like dynamic lists of the articles that have been “most cited” and “most accessed,” and lets editors highlight content that is particularly timely or intriguing.
Q. What were the biggest challenges and opportunities of the re-launch? Did you gain any new insights into how members engage with AAA content?
A. I am always surprised at the power of Google. When we did user experience testing and asked members and the larger anthropology community what they do first, we witnessed how Google has shaped researcher behavior. Users beelined to the search box. We made our search box larger and easier to spot.
We always knew that the big value of AnthroSource is in its breadth and depth of full-text content. One awesome feature of the new AnthroSource is the “flyout” abstracts, which let scholars hover a mouse over a title (in a search result or within a table of contents) and identify immediately if they want to click on that article. I am very proud of this because it’s a way of emphasizing that digital environments can create added value for researchers. How many of us have had to wade through a huge search result to pan for the gold? It’s frustrating! This feature can help scholars filter out their content gold.
Q. Have you received feedback from members and the larger anthropology community since the launch of AnthroSource?
A. “A great improvement!” –Lynne
“WOW! It is gorgeous and user-friendly and such an improvement!” –Kathi
We are very pleased with our members’ reactions to the site. Of course we look forward to seeing the site continue to develop, but even a critic called the site “glorious.”
Q. What further enhancements would you like to see for the AnthroSource site in the future?
A. Discovery of content is the largest opportunity. I’d love to see the Association make sure the entire holding is digitally visible, whether faceting search results by keywords, deploying a taxonomy like HRAF does of cultural-linguistic groups, or creating new means of associating relevant archival and current content. These initiatives are challenging when content creation is done perfectly, but at AAA our content practices, especially before 2002, were erratic and so our archive is riddled with challenges.