When it comes to our impact as researchers, authors, librarians, or publishers, there will always come a time when we have to ask ourselves an all too familiar question: How do I get this information to the widest possible audience? Although there are often easy or obvious solutions, be it your go-to journal or institutional repository, they may only represent a fraction of what’s out there. And since you’ve done all of this work and want to keep growing your impact, why not try and take it further? Further than your institution, further than your country, further than your continent. With the right resources the possibilities are vast.
But crossing boundaries isn’t always easy. You have to be thoughtful, you have to have a plan, and that plan needs to succeed. No pressure. This year, the annual meeting of the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) sought to address the very challenge of crossing boundaries. Titled “Crossing Boundaries: New Horizons in Scholarly Communication,” for the first time in its history the Society hosted its annual meeting outside of the United States—in Vancouver, Canada. Keynote speakers included David Kidder, CEO of Bionic, and Dr. Margaret-Ann Armour, the Associate Dean of Science, Diversity, at the University of Alberta. There were 33 concurrent sessions, two plenaries, and a number of networking and extracurricular opportunities. All with one goal in mind: to educate and advocate for progress in our industry.
Although the keynote speakers, Mr. Kidder and Dr. Armour, had notably different objectives in their presentations, both harmonized on an important point regarding impact: To grow you have to push beyond the very norms that you've come to identify as a given. For Mr. Kidder, this meant investing everything on the right idea. For Dr. Armour, this meant challenging systematic assumptions that affect diversity and team dynamics.
As an entrepreneur and Angel Investor, Mr. Kidder spoke to the very challenges that we all face in serving the research community: When growth is slow or flat, what is our obligation to change? Mr. Kidder argues that you have to take chances to achieve a breakthrough, as all too often organizations get too comfortable with their impact, like placing preferential treatment on process over risk. Neglecting to set the necessary resources aside to invest in the next best thing may mean losing out on a critical opportunity or falling behind your competitors.
Dr. Armour spoke to diversity in our industry; that often, despite our best intentions, subconscious biases appear where we least expect them. A notable example of this is gendered presumptions. Our first steps, as institutions and people, should not only be to recognize that these biases exist, actively considering their origin in our everyday activity, but to recognize how they can negatively impact our community. By not correcting our tendencies to be biased, we then promote the disengagement of those who have become marginalized. Harmony and freedom from bias is critically important in growth-dependent communities. Groundbreaking achievements will be made when we become open-minded and inclusive.
Other notable sessions on crossing boundaries included Spring Beyond the Book: Making Research Matter, where participants "write, edit, assemble and publish a book about the future of scholarly publishing on-the-fly in 72 hours"; Previews Session: New and Noteworthy Product Presentations, which was "designed to offer publishers and vendors the chance to showcase their newest and most innovative products, platforms, and/or content"; and Transformative Publishing Platforms for Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, where panelists report on recent project initiatives that were funded by the Andrew W. Melon Foundation to "respond to the shared problem of how publishers can sustainably support digital scholarship in the humanities."
So as you set into the summer months, taking some much needed time off from tending to your professional constituencies, set some time aside to identify the boundaries that you have come to depend on. This could be anything from the makeup or contributions of your team, to the easily achievable goals you've set. What you'll find is that they're fairly easy to point out and the margins are quite obvious. In fact, they're probably part of a pattern. But what if those boundaries weren't boundaries at all, but rather guidelines that were shared with you from an organization that was successful thirty years ago and is no longer around? Today you have an obligation to reexamine the impact that you have on your community. When progress is slow or flat, today you have an opportunity to embrace an initiative that takes you further. No pressure. Really.
Images credit: Anne-Marie Green