Don’s Conference Notes- New Directions in Scholarly Publishing: An SSP Seminar

by | Feb 18, 2021 | 0 comments


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

This two-day virtual seminar was sponsored by the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) and attracted about 190 attendees. It featured 7 presentations, beginning with an opening discussion with 5 of the Scholarly Kitchen “Chefs”, which was followed by 6 plenary presentations. At the end of the first day, there was a “virtual social hour” at which attendees could interact with the presenters. 

Scholarly Kitchen Discussion

C:\Users\DTH\Desktop\SSP New Directions\Photos\2020-10-01\007.JPG
Scholarly Kitchen Chefs (L-R) Top row, Alice Meadows, Charlie Rapple, Lettie Conrad;
Bottom row, Hasseb Irfanullah, Judy Luther

Lettie Conrad, Publishing & Product Consultant, LYC Consulting, moderated the discussion, and the participating “Chefs” were Haseeb Irfanullah, Center for Sustainable Development (CSD), University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh; Judy Luther, President, Informed Strategies; Alice Meadows, Director of Community Engagement, NISO; and Charlie Rapple, Co-Founder, Kudos. An article on the Scholarly Kitchen summarizing the discussion is available.

The Chefs were given a series of questions and asked to respond to them.

How is the research ecosystem responding to this year of disruptions and upset?

Charlie Rapple: We don’t yet know what the “new normal” is because it continues to evolve. Researchers have had to assimilate many additional tasks: online teaching, redesigning research methods, and accelerating review and publication of COVID-19 content. Much of the new normal will not be sustainable because it relies on extraordinary efforts from individuals who have had to adopt new technologies and become more innovative. 

Hasseb Irfanullah: Researchers have suffered from anxiety, and not all of them are benefitting from a quarantined lifestyle. 

Judy Luther: The abruptness of the change required everyone to adapt with little time to prepare. Those who were teaching had to make adjustments for the fall term; the challenge was to prepare for both in-person and online classes. One of the changes was to rethink assignments that would engage students in activities that they could do at home. Societies have also sought to support their members in these challenges.

Many researchers accustomed to presenting their research at meetings had to adapt the length of their presentations, possibly pre-record them, and then participate in an online discussion on the day of the meeting. Societies are experimenting with different models for their meetings.

Alice Meadows:  NISO is focused on serving the organizations that support researchers by providing building blocks for tools and services such as manuscript submission systems, content platforms, repositories, etc. The main concern has been to ensure that libraries, publishers, vendors and others have access to these building blocks so they can adapt their services to meet researchers’ changing needs.

Seamless access has evolved from being important to implement but not necessarily urgent, to being a top priority for both publishers and researchers because they need to be able to easily access content from wherever they are working. During March and April of this year, usage of Elsevier’s content via Seamless Access increased by 35%.

What can libraries, publishers, funders, and others do to support researchers, not just their research?

Hasseb Irfanullah: One of the things the pandemic has shown us is how important research has been and why we should invest in it. Until now, it seems that the actual purpose of doing research has been to be published and get degrees, jobs, or promotions. What does it mean if research does not lead to action? Many positive things are occurring in scholarly publishing due to the COVID pandemic: publications are being made open and are widely used; new infrastructures are installed and used; and new skills are being learned. Will we take the opportunity to focus less on the “publish or perish” mindset and more on the impact of research, and also advocate for and prioritize investment in research?

Charlie Rapple: The interdisciplinary nature of research and the importance of working together across communities as effectively as possible have been brought into focus by the pandemic. Beyond academia, scholarly publications tend not to be the timeliest or clearest way of communicating. The focus on publication as an incentive for researchers creates a tension for them; collaborators from different disciplines may have different objectives. We need more rapid evolution in scholarly communication mechanisms and evaluation processes.

Alice Meadows: It is absolutely critical that the open research infrastructure continues to be well supported and sustainable during these difficult times so that researchers will be able to continue with their work. Funders should ensure that in tight budget times such as these, supporting open research organizations that may be at risk of survival is important. There have been some notable acts of kindness at the institutional or organizational level; 2020 has given us the chance to really evaluate the important things in life.

Judy Luther: Existing trends to minimize burdens on authors submitting their manuscripts and reducing the time to publication are accelerating. Processes that are a legacy of the print era will be under pressure to change. Posting articles on the Web within a day of acceptance is becoming normal. Speed is taking precedence over waiting for a more perfect final version, which was the practice when print was the primary method of distribution. There are pressures on doing peer review faster and allowing reviewers to have time to deal with altered environments, which requires planning, communication, and kindness to prevent burnout.

What do you see as productive positive responses to this year’s changes? 

Judy Luther: During the last few years at several conferences (such as SSP or Charleston) an increasing number of sessions were recorded, thus enhancing benefits for members of professional societies, creating new pricing models for non-members, and building a digital collection of presentations. Online programs can reach a much broader audience and will appeal to people who cannot travel to the meeting. Some scholarly societies use DOIs to link researchers’ presentations to their published articles, books, or data sets. Another enhancement would enable members to link their presentations with their vita. What new opportunities make sense for societies?  If enhancements are made, future access to content may change our expectations for meetings.

Alice Meadows: The pandemic has been an opportunity for the community to be more accepting of flexible home working. Moving to a virtual world could bring many benefits for scholarly communication. For example, NISO is planning its 2021 conference, which will be virtual and which will give an opportunity to engage with the global information community and all of its stakeholder communities.  Of course, people or communities without ready internet access will have problems in the digital world, and many available community resources such as libraries are closed or only partially open. However, we can build on the benefits of an online world and make future scholarly communication more equitable, inclusive and accessible.

Hasseb Irfanullah: We have shown that we can adapt to the negativity of the pandemic and turn it into an opportunity, and we have shown our collective resilience. We can call this the “new normal”, but does that mean we will go back to the old normal when the pandemic is over? Some things have changed forever: we have realized what we have achieved by togetherness, and hopefully we will not forget what we have achieved.

Charlie Rapple: The pandemic has renewed researchers’ social contracts, and experts are back in fashion. We can hope that there will be renewed public support for research funding. It is encouraging that there has been a focus on accelerating the processes of research and a recognition of what research impact is. We can be inspired by how some parts of the research culture have been reinvented and hope that funders and institutions will recognize the need to reinvent how research is incentivized and rewarded. It would be a shame if our goals were to get back to the previous status quo.

Navigating the New Normal

This session was a panel discussion with Simon Holt, Book Publisher, Elsevier; Clair Irwin, Doctoral Student, University of Illinois; and Alexa Colella, University of Illinois Press, who addressed the following 3 questions. 

  • What is your experience as an advocate for inclusion?
  • How would you begin working with an organization to find gaps in how they accommodate?
  • What are some constructive, tangible, and productive steps, including tools and resources that we as a community can use to help us adapt and navigate the new normal?

A large part of the discussion related to how the publishing industry can adapt to the needs of people with disabilities.

We need to make people comfortable to get the help they need, self-identify, and remove any stigma if they have a disability. The shared experience of COVID has helped to destigmatize a lot of mental health talk in the workplace.

We need to get other people to talk about their experiences. Speaking up is hard and allies are certainly needed. People with a disability solve problems every day. 

To help businesses, it is necessary to be able to identify the main gatekeepers in an organization. Then you must pitch solutions and see how that helps individuals. Senior leaders must profile the work that is being done. What kind of an industry do we want? The publishing industry seems to lack diversity, even though diverse teams perform better. How are we removing the barriers to increase the diversity of people we interact with and recognize that everybody is on a journey?

The level of compassion in organizations has been good, but that compassion should continue and then expand into more than just asking if someone is OK, by asking what the organization can do to support people on an ongoing basis. Flexibility and compassion must continue and become the norm.

As people who design environments, documents, websites, buildings, online platforms, etc., what we CAN do and MUST do is to design them to not disable people who need to use them. It is so much easier to build something (such as a physical location or a piece of software) accessibly first time than to do the repair work later after finding out that people are not able to use it. Both the British Medical Journal and JAMA have a pool of patient reviewers to assist in this process.

Many large changes are happening today, but every day small things are also important to look at. For example, during the pandemic and working from home, Zoom is not always useful for those with hearing difficulties, and two-step verification uses captchas that are not useable by those with low visibility. Such details are often the hardest things to fix; they may seem “small” but they can be the tallest barriers! We tend to take many things for granted until they do not work for us or someone else. Imagine how much more people could do in their jobs if they did not have to devote so much mental and emotional energy and time to just getting a simple accommodation. Companies should engage people on a human level and ask what they need. (One person noted that “What can we do to support you?” was the kindest question she had ever been asked by a supervisor.)

Does everyone coming into the publishing industry really need a degree? We need to look not for the most qualified person but for the most appropriately qualified person for the job. The publishing industry seems to lack a diversity of perspective.

Cancelled, Postponed, Reimagined: New Directions in Participating in Academic Conferences

This was a panel discussion with representatives of companies that organize academic conferences. Here are some of the questions posed to the panelists:

  • What is networking like online? 
  • How can we maximize user engagement?
  • Can online events be more accessible?
  • What is the unique value of online events?
  • How can revenue be generated from online events?
  • What about the publisher’s perspective?
  • What will the future look like?

We must understand the objectives of our clients when we move to virtual delivery.  Bioscientifica organizes events with 300 to 4,000 attendees. New formats give the attendees an opportunity to attend more sessions. Lengthy sessions cause audiences to disengage; sessions with different speakers are more appealing. We must be concerned about the stability of the delivery platform.

The internet does networking and chat very well. It is important to share the benefits of meeting virtually with your community. Having a chat panel alongside of the presentation instead of only at the question period at the end is very helpful (although some people find it difficult to simultaneously listen to the speaker and type.) If you are shy or attending alone, online chat provides a much more level field than a physical event. Another advantage of online content is that it can be sent to a library and used after the event.

There has been a huge move to online delivery because of COVID. Is it right to charge attendees for that? We must understand the value of the content. Virtual attendees will expect to see the cost of the meeting included in the registration fee. Many online conferences can afford to have a cheaper registration even with higher attendance; however one consideration is that when physical conferences become possible again, can we sustain the efforts we have made for virtual engagement when a physical event is occurring at the same time?

Sponsors must be creative in providing high-value content for the attendees. Marketing digitally is challenging, but it can be robust. We have seen limited features for sponsors and exhibitors at online conferences, which is not a good way to engage. The addition of features for the sponsors will be critical to platform development.

Supporting Researchers, not just their Research

Participants in this panel were Adriana Romero-Olivares, Department of Biology, New Mexico State University; Jason Heustis, Director of Student Development and Training Evaluation, Harvard Medical; Jory Lerback, PhD candidate, Dept. of Geology & Geophysics, University of Utah; Jordana Schmeirer, Graduate Student, Rochester University (moderator); and Koen Vermeir, Research Professor, CNRS, Co-Chair, Global Young Academy, and Editor-in-Chief, Centaurus.

The panel discussed how we can support the people behind the research. They are not known by just their jobs. Questions for discussion were:

  • Are there ways we can address needs related to caregiving, work/life balance, mental health, etc.?
  • Researchers at different career stages have different needs. How do we ensure that we are aware of and addressing those needs?
  • What policies and practices actually support practitioners who want to contribute to the scholarly literature based on their practical experiences?
  • How can we better meet the needs of multilingual researchers?
  • Where are we failing to meet researchers’ accessibility needs, and what can we do better?
  • What can we do to diversify reviewer pools? 
  • What do researchers want to see from scholarly publishers?
  • What might be needed by journals?

At Harvard Medical, a survey was conducted and collected 270 resources, events, and news articles for graduate students not only on basic career guidance, but also on mental health, and spiritual and financial wellness. 

Many people have become full-time care givers in this time of pandemic, which has implications for peer review processes. We need to think about what everyone is getting out of the process and its effects on mental health.  Peer review should be a process for making connections and helping people to advance their scholarship.  We might consider making it more conversational. We often train people how to accept feedback, but we should also be training them how to give good feedback. 

Mentoring in the peer review process by publishers can be very useful (Koen started mentoring at his journal and was told by the publisher that it was quite unusual). Researchers need support in basic writing, building an argument, and responding to reviewers. The review process may seem intimidating to researchers, especially those in early stages of their careers. Twitter is a good place to hear what people need. One of the problems researchers face is that life comes at them fast. Simple steps that we can take to improve the efficiency in the publishing and editing processes will save time and help family life as well. Standardization is one way to make publication easier, but it must help the user. 

Moving towards an academic culture that does not focus on toxic behavior is important. We need to get rid of the idea that you are not a good scientist unless you work 12 hours a day without eating, showering, etc., and look at researchers not only as scientists but also as normal people. Just because we engage in conversations on subjects outside of science does not mean that we are unprofessional; it is one of the ways we can make academia more inclusive. 

Civility of language and the way reviews are written is very important. There may also be a gender bias in reviews because women and men react differently in response to feedback suggesting a major revision in their articles. We also must realize that the needs of a postdoc student are very different than those of a graduate student or assistant professor. Orientation sessions may not exist at all universities, but they are quite useful, although we tend to forget what is taught in them. 

Once people get to the stage of actually collecting and analyzing their data, then they must decide on whom to disseminate it to, and to know this, they must ask multiple stakeholders about their needs.

Many researchers are working internationally; how can we meet the needs of those working in a second language? We should not assume that the native language of researchers is English. Copy editors who can deal with language issues, have full proficiency in English, and can clean up manuscripts are needed; publishers may not have them because of cost cutting. Sometimes reviews of articles are biased because the authors are in a non-English language country, even though the article was written in English. European journals are especially challenged because of the diversity of languages spoken by their authors.

OA will help researchers meet many of their accessibility needs. It is evolving and complex, which is a problem for many researchers. Publishers could provide guidance on complying with requirements to publish in OA journals. Open conferences and seminars are also appearing and will be especially useful to many people who cannot travel because of disabilities. 

Keynote: Post-Pandemic Scholarly Publishing: Will Nothing Really Be the Same Again?

Magdalena Skipper

Magdalena Skipper, Editor-in-Chief, Nature, keynoted the second day of the seminar and said that the COVID-19 pandemic has given us the opportunity to collectively support the research community and collaborate across the industry. 90% of all researchers were affected by the pandemic, and many were unable to continue their research because of shutdowns. According to a Nature survey of postdocs worldwide, almost 2/3 of career researchers worry about the negative effects of the pandemic on their career prospects which is also a concern to publishers and editors who are thinking about how they can support these researchers.

Data sharing has become important. Researchers are not only considering how to reuse their data, but also collaborating with others to share data. Data must be curated appropriately to facilitate sharing, and it is an opportunity for publishers to support researchers. One obstacle to data sharing is the lack of data portals and databases. Some initiatives to compile data portals and regularly update them have been started, such as the COVID-19 Data Portal and OpenData COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) is also advocating for open data sharing, and it has played a crucial role in bringing together funders and publishers to commit to working together and ensure that all research preprints and final results on the pandemic are made freely available for the duration of the outbreak. Springer Nature has been curating data on COVID-19 in a portal available on Figshare.

One notable effect of COVID-19 on scientific publishing is the exponential growth of preprints, which is being driven by the biomedical community. Almost half of all scientific work on COVID-19 first appeared on a preprint server.  The call for rapid publication has also affected the speed of peer review; one survey of 14 journals in virology found that the time from submission to publication had dropped from 117 to 60 days, which has put pressure on researchers who review papers, journal editors, and publishers. It is difficult to see how these accelerated processes can be sustained after the COVID pandemic is over. Some publishers have formed peer review consortia to maximize the efficiency of peer review.

When the pandemic occurred, many scientists jumped into research about it, and some of them are not planning to return to their former research fields. It is important for publishers to ensure that the work of these new experts is published in the most optimal way, which affects how reviewers are chosen. There has been a concern about scientific misconduct, such as several articles being written from the same data set but represented as describing new data, and not citing the source. Inappropriate reuse of data can lead to ethical concerns, which is an opportunity for publishers to guide researchers and prevent misconduct.

Another effect of the rapid publication efforts is a rash of swift withdrawals of preprints and retractions of published papers. Errors tend to be questioned quickly by the scientific community, and publishers also moved quickly to correct the publication record. Sharing preprints is good (Springer Nature encourages it), but we must not forget that they are preliminary findings which have not had the scrutiny of peer review. The interest in science and research during this pandemic is unprecedented and shows how science can be an excellent tool for policymaking. The New York Times has called on scientists to make themselves available when asked by journalists to comment on a preprint or published article.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in science. Many articles have been written about how women have been disadvantaged during the pandemic because the burden of raising a family and working with children whose schools have been closed largely falls on them.

What does the future hold for science publishing? Much has changed; are the changes for the better or worse? We can expect to see more data sharing and reuse, increased preprint sharing, and the use of other forms of information dissemination such as social media and the community of publishers coming together to support researchers. All of these are positive changes resulting from the pandemic.  Science publishing will be more diverse in a post-pandemic world. A rich ecosystem is a healthy one, and many of the changes will be a benefit all of us.

Preprints: Testing Science’s Need for Speed Limits

Panelists in this session were Heather Staines, Head of Partnerships, Knowledge Futures Group (moderator); Jon Gurstelle, Director of Publications, American Political Science Association (APSA); Iraxte Puebla, Associate Director, ASAPbio; Richard Sever, Assistant Director, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and co-founder of BioRxiv and MedRxiv; and  Colin McAteer, Director, Publishing Operations, American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Speakers’ areas of expertise were introduced by brief scenarios played by actors. 

Colin McAteer focused on 3 areas that he felt would benefit the most people: domain-specific applications, content integrity, and sustainable business models. His discipline, mechanical engineering, is the realization of ephemeral ideas within physical realities. Domain-specific applications require a demonstrable success of something; partial unformed ideas are not as valuable as the application of definitive ideas. The goal of the publishing process is the realization of a fully formed and tested outcome; being first is not as important as being correct. 

Publishers of journals are caretakers of the version of record and are responsible for content integrity. The version of record is a living document that assimilates errata, retractions, author corrections, impact tracking, and archiving. Papers exist in a continuum and are not single isolated entities; one proposal is that papers in a repository should be identified with a definitive status indicator (submitted, accepted, rejected, etc.) Journals will benefit from a self-sustaining business model. Market pressures require continuous evolution to accommodate technical innovations.

Jon Gurstelle noted that APSA recently installed a preprint server. Preprints are considerably different in the humanities and social sciences than in the physical sciences.  The experiences of APSA members who had interacted with existing systems were useful in designing APSA’s server. Its specifications included

  • A society-owned nonprofit alternative to commercial preprint servers,
  • Accommodation of an increasing number of submissions in journals,
  • One place to store conference papers, posters, and presentations,
  • Building an open political science community, and
  • Member benefits.

The server has existed for about a year, and about 10% of its papers are related to COVID-19. COVID articles in the social sciences are not clinical but generally focus on the effects of shutdowns.  APSA’s server has several unique features:

  • All rights are reserved to authors in addition to CC-BY licenses (which was very popular with authors),
  • Single sign on with a member ID, which then populates fields required for commenting and eliminates anonymous submissions,
  • Support for multiple versions of papers, 
  • Grouping of papers from selected conferences, and
  • Integration of final versions of papers using CrossRef data.

Every submission is moderated and checked for originality using IThenticate, reviewed to check its relevance to political science and ensuring that it is scholarly. Metadata is checked for completeness and accuracy, and then the decision to accept, revise, or reject is made and sent to the author. One year after the site went live, it contained over 260 preprints, with 90,000 views of abstracts and 37,000 downloads.

Iratxe Puebla addressed some of the benefits and concerns that researchers have about submitting their papers to a preprint server before publication. Preprints help researchers communicate their work; results of a survey of 337 researchers identified the main benefits as the ability to communicate their work briefly, increased exposure for their work, access to the server without cost, and the ability to get early feedback. Concerns were risks of premature posting of research results, danger of being scooped by disclosing results before peer review, confusion about licensing and copyright, and the possibility of overload because there are no space constraints on preprints like there are on journal articles. 

Preprints are a step in the science communication cycle. They provide early feedback to researchers and can stimulate collaboration between groups. Their increased visibility is a marketplace for editors. Some journals have appointed “preprint editors” to follow the appearance of postings on preprint servers and encourage authors to submit papers to their journals. Transfer protocols have been established, and some journals have facilitated parallel journal submission and preprint posting.

Opportunities and questions for the future are:

  • What will preprint levels be after the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • How can we mitigate risks of premature media coverage of preprints?
  • How can we build trust in information shared before peer review?
  • What is the risk of information overload?

Richard Sever asked why one would want to share preprints. The average submission time to publication for a PubMed journal is 7 to 8 months, with a maximum time of over 2 years. In contrast, if an article is submitted to a preprint server, it is available within 24 to 48 hours, and if we assume that each article leads to 2 new ideas, after 10 years, there has been a five fold acceleration in scientific discovery. This graph shows the tremendous growth in the BioRxiv OA print repository for the biological sciences from 2014 through the middle of 2020.

MedRxiv for the health sciences was launched in 2019 and has experienced a similar growth pattern, with a very large increase in submissions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has shown the importance of preprints; a combined total of over 8,000 preprints with new data were published in BioRxiv and MedRxiv.

Despite the growth of preprint archives, we still need peer review, but not in the way it has been traditionally done. The ability for commenting on preprints shortly after they appear on a preprint server using systems like Twitter has had significant effects. We also need to consider what peer review will look like in a post-COVID-19 world: when it should be done, by whom, how, and which articles or preprints should be reviewed. 

New Directions in Tools, Visibility, and Findability of Research

Panelists (Top Row, L-R): John Shaw, Nancy Roberts, Stephen Rind-Tutt; (Bottom Row): Lettie Conrad, Ian Mulvany

Panelists were John Shaw, Chief Technology Officer, Sage Publishing (moderator); Lettie Conrad, Publishing & Product Consultant, LYC Consulting; Ian Mulvany, Chief Technology Officer, BMJ; Stephen Rhind-Tutt, President, Coherent Digital; and Nancy Roberts, Founder and CEO, Umbrella Analytics.

Why do you think our industry is so behind the technology?

There is much caution in the industry. We want to see the full picture before we embark on any journey. Lots of thinking goes into anything we do and especially about what others are doing. We need to be comfortable with failing quickly and moving on. Facebook can put content on 4 billion laptops in seconds. That same journey in the scholarly community requires a 12 page report, costs $2000-$3,000 and can take months. Users are moving toward faster systems of discourse, which requires us to change culturally. We must be able to give up some things and experiment, shift our mindset, and decide who we are serving. Organizations move much slower than individuals, but we must serve the individual user experience. We were one of the first industries to get on the web, and we have created good tools and services for it, but we have ceded our technology to vendors. We are still wedded to individual content users, which is a disaggregated way of looking at content. We need to decide whether to take our margins and invest them in new markets to meet their expectations. Facebook cares about the revenue per user; we need to put the user at the center rather than the content, take an experimental approach, rapidly innovate, and learn. 

Do we have what it takes to compete? Do we have the will to do what it takes to be competitive in the future?

Yes, we do, but if we remain focused on delivering books and journals using traditional techniques or on print versions requiring special typesetting, our costs will get progressively higher, services to users will get worse, and we might fail. We must focus on the user and provide services that add value, and if we do that, the future is bright. Money is available in our industry, but what will we choose to do with it? Many of the challenges we have are social. “Can we do it?” is not a technology question but a cultural one. A journal is a product, so we need to bring a product-centered mindset into our organizations and our journal portfolios.

We have been focused on core journals and books. How can we expand to a value-added environment?  

Think about services rather than products. We can do more personalization; what little things will create a welcoming, warm, and trusting feeling by users? We must have methodologies for things like peer review. Since 1990 there has been a move away from traditional books and journals towards podcasts, Twitter, email, Wikipedia, and blogs. Very few people are collecting tweets, but future generations will wonder why we did not. We can provide things like DOIs to users, and we know how to do that. The longer we hang on to books and journals as sacrosanct, the harder it will be to keep up. We need to think about new types of content and apply our core competencies to it. Just by thinking about competencies and users will allow us to arrive at a new business model. We should emphasize our expertise in arranging the world’s knowledge and making sure the users know where it is. Much of what we do is replicating what we are good at. What competencies do publishers have that we might have to adopt?

What will libraries look like in the future? 

We need a greater focus on institutional archiving because a lot of our current focus is on archiving by individuals. Libraries are in a unique position to bring new thinking into information management and research data management, as well as having a systematic approach to retrieving information. Much of today’s content is outside scholarly publishing; we need to bring diversity into it and get focused on the areas where we are needed. The book is not our destination; instead, we need to help people learn how to search, how to do archiving and indexing, and how to keep up with what is new. A lot of ad hoc information management is happening. Librarians are passionate about these issues and are thinking about their future. Getting the attention of academics is difficult, so the library will be under pressure to redefine its role. Librarians are excellent partners with users, helping them to understand what they are trying to achieve.

AI is a solution to most findability and discoverability problems; what role does it play? 

Some types of machine learning are rapidly improving and are showing remarkable capabilities. AI will play an important role in the technologies that we work with, but it is just a means to an end. Ask what you are trying to do in your business before jumping into machine learning and AI. Some AI applications are not appropriate for our industry; do we need to be in that space? You must look at the data you have, focus on the problem you need to solve, be very clear about why you need AI. what you will use it for, and not get carried away by it. Sometimes solutions are very simple and don’t need AI. Large benefits can be realized by making sure the data is clean; links are correct, etc. A major benefit of AI is its scalability such as its ability to handle millions of documents.

What is the role of identity management? 

We must build up a picture of who our users are, what they are trying to achieve, and how we can help them build trust and loyalty. Identity is one of the most important aspects and least appreciated and understood features of what we do. Understanding the user is where we can find out if we can add additional value to our services. Individual identity will become the sun of our universe and will provide new energy to it. The closer we get to users, the better we can serve them, and to do that, identity is essential. Altmetrics help us move toward a much more rigorous view of the outcomes of what we are publishing. There is a fear of monitoring human behavior. We want to serve people by leveraging our opportunities. The user must be the center of our universe. We must keep our industry strong to solve our problems, and it needs to happen now.

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 ( 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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