Don’s Conference Notes-Responding to Challenges, Activating Opportunities, and Rethinking the Status Quo: A Charleston Pre-Conference

by | Jan 8, 2021 | 0 comments

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By Donald T. Hawkins (Freelance Editor and Conference Blogger) 

This was the initial pre-conference of the 2020 Charleston Conference. It was sponsored by the Society for Scholarly Publication (SSP) and took place on October 6, 2020. It attracted 47 attendees and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was presented virtually.  A plenary presentation by Roger Schonfeld, Director, Libraries, Scholarly Communication and libraries, Ithaka S+R, was followed by a panel discussion.

Roger Schonfeld

Roger began by noting that we are in sobering times of uncertainty and instability, and then focused on the state of higher education, which is marked by:

  • Wide disruption of the instructional model, 
  • Disrupted travel, 
  • Accelerating tensions between the US and China, 
  • Political instability and unrest in the US, and 
  • Distrust of institutions and authority. 

This chart shows the sources of higher education revenues in the US in 2008. 

The immediate challenges for higher education are the enormous uncertainties and complexities in decision making because of variations in the various market segments. For example, research is growing, but hospital revenues are down, and foreign influences such as export controls are also producing uncertainties. The present time is one of profound digital transformation, and we will not be going back to how things were in the past. 

University presses are facing significant and substantial shortfalls, but fortunately the increasing demand for e-books is a bright spot in this challenging environment. Pausing and then reopening research has been very disruptive. Even though research revenues are growing, support services will be reduced. 

The service model of in-person instruction has been disrupted; its future will be marked by major changes and digital transformations. Private institutions and community colleges especially have experienced significant severe enrollment declines, which has resulted in significant impacts on students.

The reminder of Roger’s presentation itemized some major implications of these changes and suggested some issues that must be solved.

Library Budgets are Tapped Out.

  • Academic libraries have or will soon have budget cuts as book prices increase. 
  • Libraries do not have the flexibility they once had. How will this affect cost structures of vendors? Can they reduce their costs by increasing efficiency in their operations?
  • Will publishers diversify their revenue channels beyond libraries? Some of them could change the way they organize their products and sell them to libraries. Some publishers are making investments in new products; will they be innovative?
  • Will libraries be able to develop trusted scholarly communication, reliable preservation, and other shared priorities? Will they focus on “must have” instead of “nice to have”?

Improving trust and review.

  • Peer review is not rigorous and too slow.
  • Preprints are quick but sacrifice trustworthiness.
  • How can the editorial process be redesigned?

Reassessing the value of libraries, especially their traditional roles.

  • Research libraries prefer digital access. Digital collections such as the Hathi Trust are therefore becoming more prominent. 
  • How will print collections be managed? Will they be preserved?
  • Communal spaces for learning have become an important library service. Will they remain valuable? Who will provide such spaces in a digitally transformed library?

Renewing our organizations in spite of the exposure of bad culture and practices.

  • Will organizations address weaknesses in their products, work practices, and cultures?
  • Can we measure performance in valid ways? 
  • Will organizations enable a permanent shift towards remote operations?

Adapting to global shifts: the US-China split.

  • Academia is not exempt from the split now underway. 
  • FBI agents are on US campuses investigating research processes. How will that affect US universities, and their ability to attract students to universities? What will be the effect on publishers?

Questions remaining to be addressed:

  • In the light of budget cuts, will publishers change pricing and product strategies?
  • Will libraries ensure shared imperatives?
  • How will the editorial process be modernized for trust and speed?
  • How will the value of traditional library roles (space, print) be reassessed?
  • How will our organizations be modernized?
  • How will we address the US-China split?

Panel Discussion

The seminar concluded with a free-flowing discussion by the panelists shown above on changes in the industry: 

  • There has been a huge increase in submission of papers on infectious diseases and COVID. 
  • Most people are working from home, which has made sales representatives increase their contacts. We need to present our values but also be empathetic to libraries and look at what is happening outside of our industry. 
  • Lack of personal interaction is affecting us in many ways. It is difficult to think about ideas and relate to customers. We need to be free to think about what new products and services we should develop.
  • We are only starting to unravel the impact of COVID on the biomedical community.  There has been a big impact on the flow of papers to publishers. There is a lot of interest in OA; preprints are important for getting papers out earlier. People want to be productive, but there are large forces hindering them from pursuing their scientific goals. 
  • We need to manage our workflow to be ready for the next crisis when it comes. Large submission volumes have required people to work at night, which is not sustainable. Think about how overloaded people are. At first, people thought it was great to be busy, but then they got exhausted, which affects everyone’s productivity. We need to avoid burnout, and empathy is very much needed. Respect people first and then empathy will come. Have a conversation about what is happening in your job. 
  • Understand the strains that universities are under. They often rent out their spaces for other purposes like events, etc., but now all that income has disappeared, even though they still have researchers, faculty, and students who need access to content. 
  • Our industry is very concerned with building relationships. When we come out of the current situation, what will our relationships look like? How strong will they be? 
  • There are too many Zoom meetings. Some organizations are using it for fun things, not only business. Video does not replace face-to-face meetings; we need to figure out how to improve that. 
  • How will US-China relations affect research and publishing? China is beginning to bring their research back from other countries. How will that impact libraries and publishers?
  • What will US universities look like in the future? Will the shift to digital content impact tenure and promotion policies? 
  • Will people go back to in-person conferences? A major reason for attending conferences is to network and interact with colleagues. The future will be both in-person and virtual; some people will not want to go back to in-person meetings; others will be anxious to go.
  • Librarians are promoting themselves as collaborators with researchers, but if researchers demand too much from them when preparing their articles, the librarians may want to be co-authors. 
  • We are all in the same flotilla but not the same boat! Understand what everybody is going through personally and the effects on mental health. Time is people’s most precious asset.
  • The future will be based on the decisions we make today and going forward.

Donald T. Hawkins is an information industry freelance writer based in Pennsylvania. In addition to blogging and writing about conferences for Against the Grain, he blogs the Computers in Libraries and Internet Librarian conferences for Information Today, Inc. (ITI) and maintains the Conference Calendar on the ITI website (http://www.infotoday.com/calendar.asp). He is the Editor of Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, (Information Today, 2013) and Co-Editor of Public Knowledge: Access and Benefits (Information Today, 2016). He holds a Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley and has worked in the online information industry for over 45 years.

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