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Don’s Conference Notes-Charting a New Course: The 43rd SSP Annual Meeting

by | Jun 14, 2021 | 0 comments


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

The 43rd Annual Meeting of the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP), held on May 24-27, 2001, was SSP’s first virtual meeting. It attracted a global audience of 770 attendees and featured plenary/keynote addresses, industry breakout sessions, educational sessions, an “exhibit hall”, social networking space, career counseling events, and poster sessions. The sessions were hosted on the Pathable platform, and the networking events on Remo, both of which worked well. In her opening remarks, Lauren Kane, SSP President, noted that we are all beneficiaries of the virtual format, and the attendance had exceeded all expectations.

Opening Keynote

How to Amplify Knowledge in a World of Information 

Laura Helmuth

Dr. Laura Helmuth, Editor-in-Chief, Scientific American, presented an interesting look at issues with misinformation and how journalists meet it. Scientific American is the oldest continually published magazine in the U.S. and has published articles by over 200 Nobel Prize winners. Because of the enormous physical and psychological effects of the COVID pandemic, Scientific American is expanding its coverage into why science matters. Its mission and main challenges are to explain a confusing new disease, provide evidence-based advice, amplify the voices of experts, and fight misinformation. Scientists must engage more with the public and explain what they do. We need to think about whose voices we are amplifying, what we are sharing, eliminate structural racism, and make sure we are more inclusive.  The stakes have never been higher to get this right.  We must constantly update outdated information.  The racism and xenophobia that we have seen is contrary to science.

How can we make scholarly publication more inclusive?  We are in the most collaborative time in the history of science. Structural racism is very deadly, and the pandemic exposed how widespread it was. We see racism at every stage of the disease; combatting it is one of our most important responsibilities. 

Many journalists try to humanize their stories when something like this happens because it is important to show the human side of any disaster and help people comprehend its magnitude. Graphics are useful for this purpose. The first 15 words of any story are the most important and are what people usually see. Journalists usually tell us the latest and imply that there is more to know which they will report when they find out about it, which is why we frequently see “what we know so far” stories. Magazines have long been filled with lists, which are a way to present complex information and draw people in to read the story. 

Reporters have been trying to explain that science is difficult to understand. The best knowledge can change—that does not mean science is broken, but that we are learning more. New stories tend to show how the latest work fits in the body of knowledge. 

One of our other challenges is that the world is weird. We must explain how we know what we know and delight in the weirdness of the world. The pandemic has elevated debunking and fact checking to an art form. Journalists are covering misinformation as a subject area, as shown by these recent articles in Scientific American:

  • “The Race to Curb the Spread of COVID Vaccine Disinformation”,
  • “Which Experts Should You Listen to During the Pandemic?”
  • “Nine COVID Myths That Just Won’t Go Away”,
  • “Fake News Spreads ‘Farther, Faster, Deeper’ Than Truth, Study Finds”.
  • “Here is a Running List of Disinformation Spreading About the Coronavirus”.

One of the problems journalists face concerns conspiracy theories: is it better to counter them or just ignore them? If something is not circulating widely, it is better to leave it. Scientists have been tireless in trying to counter misinformation and get people’s attention.  People are scared when there is a lack of information, but they need to understand that some of their questions do not have answers yet.  We need to tell them what is true about the world and what is not true. 

Many people are good at spreading misinformation, but we need to protect ourselves from it. Everyone can do their part to stop it spreading; which is a very personal thing and often happens in social or family settings. Prepare yourself to identify it and explain where you can find good information. 

We can and should do things like fact checking using the International Fact Checking Network. Awareness that misinformation is a huge problem is growing.  For example, YouTube has changed its algorithm to make conspiracy videos harder to find so that fewer people will be exposed to them. Things can get better, but it is a lot of work and it is important.  

Educational Sessions

The Glass Ceiling You Don’t Know About: Removing Barriers For People With Disabilities at Work

Simon Holt, Book Publisher at Elsevier, is visually impaired, with about 10% of the sight of a fully visual person. He noted that disabilities are not just about wheelchairs. The definition of disability is broad and covers many people; according to the United Nations, over 1 billion people have a disability, and 80% of disabilities are invisible. They fall into 3 types:

  • Environmental: inaccessible buildings, locations, and IT systems.
  • Systemic: the cultural fit in the organization and “Presenteeism”—the requirement to work set hours.
  • Psychological: First conversations are often about what you cannot do, not what you can, which may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

An employee lifecycle approach to disability works well. A contact person (not the hiring manager) should be established in the recruitment process with whom a prospective employee can discuss the job requirements. When the recruit is hired, advance planning for specialized equipment is necessary so that existing staff know that someone with special needs is joining the company. It is also to focus on inclusion and a person’s strengths. Disability Fundamentals for Managers is a free useful guide.

Cultural change is important. Know how to ask someone about their disability and how to discuss issues that arise. Managers should think about procurement policy for special equipment and find out what experts recommend. Holt has started a LinkedIn group, Publishing Enabled, to discuss issues specific to disabilities and the publishing industry.

Ruth Wells, Founder of the consulting organization Inventing Change has bipolar disorder and other mental health issues. If people around you are aware of your problems, they can support you and make any necessary adjustments, so openness is necessary. It is also necessary to know how to escalate problems you might have, which might take courage as you face people around you. After an episode, relationships must be reestablished. Despite your illness, you can be a productive employee. Ruth’s blog contains some useful articles 

Katy Alexander, Global Director of Marketing, Digital Science, has dyslexia. 

One in five people are dyslexic, and one in three of those are entrepreneurs.  Half of NASA’s employees are dyslexic. Some companies are actively recruiting dyslexic people because of the skills they have: they see the big picture, and are very good at pattern recognition and seeing how things connect. Because they excel at visual processing, many dyslexic people work in astrophysics. 

Barriers faced by dyslexic people may occur in the recruitment process because they are better at showing what they can do instead of talking about it. A lack of awareness of problems makes it harder to operate as a productive employee and may lead to viewing the employee as a problem instead of recognizing the barriers they face. Disclosure can lead to discrimination and workplace bullying, so some people will not disclose their condition and therefore cannot be supported. Because of a lack of awareness by managers, dyslexic persons’ performance assessments may be affected.

It is important to take a solution-based approach, look at the strengths of people, and find ways to remove barriers. Some solutions include considering the types of tasks given to applicants in the recruitment process and offer alternative solutions, provide support and training to reduce the stigma, improve processes and workflows, and decide what the company culture should be. The impetus for this approach must come from the top.

Kristina Martin, Chief People & Equity Officer at PLoS, discussed how colleagues can be allies and support disability inclusion, which must happen one conversation at a time. Before having the conversation, we need to consider what creates tension which must be resolved and focus on resolution pathways and points of inquiry. When disabilities enter a conversation, tension is increased.  Managers are trained to avoid risk, but disabilities increase it, and emotions exist in every situation.

Resolution values include:

  • An open and curious mind. Curiosity is very powerful.
  • Commitment is extremely important, involving a collective investigation to figure things out; for example, “We have not got it right for you yet, but we are not going to stop trying.”
  • The collective good. We all have common needs and goals. We all need help and will succeed or fail together.
  • An asset-based approach. We all have agency to impact disability inclusion—what can we do and how can we do it?

Here are some appropriate questions to ask.

We all have a very important role to ensure that we are harnessing the power of every person that we bring into our organization. Being an ally is crucial.

COVID-19 Changes in Scholarly Communication: What Pandemic Changes will Result in Permanent Changes?

Miriam Sabin, Sr. Editor, The Lancet, noted that COVID has affected every segment of the scholarly community. In an attempt to wake up the world, The Lancet published one of the first papers on COVID and said that it was like another plague that occurred in 1600. One effect of the pandemic was that awareness of the preprint server and submissions of articles significantly increased:

It rapidly became clear that extraordinary measures to support information sharing were needed: articles on COVID were prioritized; an outstanding commitment was made by peer reviewers who used a fast track process to get articles reviewed within 48 hours; and all COVID content was freely accessible. Editorial practices were strengthened:

The pandemic has made us more resilient, agile, and stronger to deliver the best science for better lives. Changes made to practices at The Lancet during 2020 are expected to remain.

Impact of COVID Lockdown Measures on Women Academics

Bahar Mehmani, Reviewer Experience Lead at Elsevier, B.V., reported on a study of gender differences in publication. The pandemic has caused a race for publication. In Elsevier’s journals, there were many more submissions by men than women, although the acceptance rate was virtually the same for men and women.  School closures are putting a larger burden on women academics, which resulted in fewer submissions because of family and child care duties. A window of opportunity for publication opened in the first few months of 2020, but many women could not take advantage of it. This study is continuing.

Mythbusting Preprints in a Pandemic

Shirley Decker-Lucke, Content Director, Social Science Research Network (SSRN) reviewed preprints and noted that they are articles that have not been peer reviewed, which allows rapid sharing and feedback to authors and also allows the authors to obtain a DOI. Myths about preprints and COVID-19 have sprung up, including:

  • COVID-19 was cured because of preprints. Although preprints played a significant role in sharing cutting-edge research, COVID was not cured by them.
  • People died because of COVID-19 preprints. Although there have been a few problem preprints that had to be retracted, they were taken down promptly and nobody died because of them.
  • COVID-19 preprints are just like any other preprints. Not true because most COVID-19 preprints are on medical subjects and require a detailed peer review and screening.
  • You can believe anything you see in the media. Journalists are frequently noting that preprints have not been peer reviewed, so this is also a myth.

The pandemic has resulted in significant pressure for publishers. Many processes are the same as before, but they have had to be faster and more efficient. Special hubs for content were created. The benefit was speed, but risks of public misunderstanding and harm were also increased. Besides medical preprints on COVID, SSRN now has many on other disciplines, especially economics; it has experienced a 30% increase in submissions. Cautionary language has been added to medical preprints, and a Medical Content Editor was hired. The benefits of this approach far exceed the risks, so the changes will continue.

COVID-19 and a Record of Versions

Kathryn Funk, Program Manager and Technical Information Specialists, PubMed Central (PMC) discussed indexing the scholarly record and said that the “version of record” has transformed into a “record of versions”. Two initiatives focused on speeding discovery of content during a public health emergency:

  1. Making content accessible and reusable to PMC and other open databases.
  2. The NIH Preprint Pilot.

Open science is very important to the National Library of Medicine (NLM). It launched the COVID Initiative in 2020 to make all coronavirus articles accessible and reusable to PMC and other open databases.  More than 50 publishers are now collaborating with NLM; 150,000 articles are available to the public, and the interest in that collection continues to grow.

As of May 2021, PMC and PubMed contain 2,290 preprint records which have been viewed 1.7 million times in PMC and 1.5 million times in PubMed. Since there was an emphasis on speed, early versions of articles and pre-tagging of preprints were added to PMC. The status of each record retrieved in searches is indicated. All versions are indexed in PMC under a single PMC ID number, and published articles are linked to their preprints. About 40% of the preprints in PMC have been linked to a published article. Preprints are available, on average, 110 days before publication in a journal.

About 20% of the content is available under a Creative Commons license and should be available in perpetuity; the rest is available under a license for access, download, and reuse for the duration of the pandemic as it has been defined by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Future plans include:

  • Continuing the COVID-19 Initiative through the end of the pandemic,
  • Continuing phase 1 of the NIH Preprint Pilot,
  • Enabling reuse as licenses permit, and
  • Monitoring the emergence of new publication and open peer review models.

Walking the Rocky Road from Policy to Compliance

This session was identified as the most entertaining, engaging, informative, and useful by the Chefs of the Scholarly Kitchen in their closing summary of the conference. It took a fanciful look at participants traveling from Policy City to the mythical Palace of Researcher Compliance. Ensuring compliance with a myriad of policies can seem like an impossible quest. Can our researchers defeat the Troll of Conflicting Instructions?  Will the Wizard of Machine Learning help or hinder them? If they can reach compliance, will there be any treasure left to cover their costs? 

Policy City is a shining example of a vision of how we want the world to be. Three representatives of organizations fulfilled this role: Elsevier, the Australian Research Data Commons, and the Committee on Publication Ethics and Open Access Australasia. The inhabitants of Policy City, simple folk known as Researchers have greatly multiplied in recent years but are too busy to heed guidance, and discontent is growing across the land. Too many beautiful policies have gone unfulfilled and unloved. The 3 representatives must go to the Castle of Compliance to find the treasure. They are joined by a host of Audience Members commenting on their deeds.

Here is an example of one of the incidents.

The Ranger from Elsevier is working with a Journal called Cell Press. The university requires Green OA; the Funder requires Gold OA, and the Journal is subscription only. How should these be resolved? Navigating these requirements can feel like a labyrinth, but it is really about balancing options. Gold OA is at the article level, and authors are given options of a license for commercial purposes or one that restricts such usage. Another alternative is the subscription option where readers pay to get access. That leads to Green OA where authors share their work on an institutional repository. This is complex because we are trying to balance 2 different payment models. OA needs can vary widely. To support authors, their needs are prioritized, and Elsevier works with funders and individuals to offer tailored solutions. The audience was asked what the Ranger should tell the 3-headed Troll; 61% voted to put the article in the institutional repository, and 24% wanted it to be published OA. 

Other incidents looked at policies from different agencies that were put together in a different way. Data has a starring role in research policies, which are becoming increasingly FAIR. Each journal has a different policy for data sharing; most of them require a Data Availability Statement. 

The Wizard of Machine-Actionable Metadata is appeased by always adding a data citation in an article’s references. Publishing is in conflict with integrity; what needs to be changed to increase it in publishing? Entrenched traditions such as pressures to publish, the quantity of publications from a university, speed being of the essence, low quality journals providing a path to rapid publication, and a blind application of metrics all contribute to publications having a reputation for integrity. Integrity can support quality publishing, especially if we can address biases. What can we do? It is all based upon being open so that publishing and integrity can be in harmony.

How should we cross the chasm to get into the Castle of Compliance? There is no quick and easy way; some of the difficulties are salami slicing (finding the smallest publishable unit), plagiarism, p-hacking (making the data say what you want it to say), and data manipulation. Options are to find a narrow spot to jump across, use eagles to access the castle, beseech the Gods of Open Data to strike down the difficulties because they are not interoperable, and copy a previous approach because you don’t have an ORCID ID. The answer is FAIR. 

Lessons and Silver Linings in Research Dissemination: Should COVID-19 Provide a Push Toward Lasting Change?

This session was based on a preprint posted in April 2020 entitled “Evaluating features of scientific conferences: A call for improvements.” The authors who are the presenters in this session are early career researchers (ECRs).

Humberto Debat, a Research Scientist at the Institute of Plant Pathology in the Center of Agronomic Research, National Institute of Agricultural Technology in Argentina, outlined the challenges of attending international conferences in a study of 270 science and humanities conferences. Few of them offered a career development workshop or outreach to the general public, caregiver grants, childcare services, or nursing rooms. 

International conferences are expensive; generally only 1 or 2 members of a lab can attend. At an average cost of $1,500 per attendee, the 270 conferences cost funding agencies $1.3 billion. ECRs are generally not promoted; networking events and gender equity and diversity statements are rarely provided. Some international scholars have been excluded from attending conferences because of visa issues. Travel to such events generates tons of CO2; and. one meeting can generate many cases of COVID.

Tomislav Meštrovic, Associate Professor at the University Centre, Varazdin, Croatia, reported on a survey in Europe that showed there was significant interest in virtual conferences. Respondents felt that they provided adequate networking opportunities. The number of attendees at a virtual conference can be up to 5 times higher than at an in-person event. Survey respondents came from over 40 countries, and nearly all of them were interested in attending another virtual conference. ECRs made up a large portion of the attendees, and over half of the attendees were females. 

The work involved in organizing a virtual conference is more than for an in-person conference. Significant effort must be expended to make people feel welcome so that they will strike up conversations and ask questions. There is always a need for a backup plan in case of technical difficulties with the audiovisual system, etc. Radom groups of people meeting in breakout rooms provide an opportunity to meet people.

Saravenaz Sarabinpour, Assistant Research Scientist, Johns Hopkins University, noted that virtual conferences enable greater participation by attendees. Science communication has become more inclusive; in 2020, virtual conferences experienced 3 to 10 times more attendees worldwide. They also enabled much higher representation from ECRs, especially if they had no or low conference registration fees.

Science is more than research; it is a culture that impacts policy. We had open materials, and open code; now we must think about open access conferences. New conference organization and formats require:

A Cross-Industry Discussion on Retracted Research: Connecting the Dots for Shared Responsibility

Jodi Schneider, Assistant Professor at the School of Information Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign defined retraction as “a method for correcting the literature and alerting users to articles that contain such seriously flawed or erroneous content or data that their findings and conclusions cannot be relied upon”. Prompt retraction should minimize the number of authors that cite the work or draw incorrect conclusions from it. Unfortunately, retracted papers continued to be cited; for example, 2 retracted COVID-19 papers that were retracted less than a month after being published have over 900 citations each. (Retraction Watch has a list of the 10 most highly cited retracted papers. The most highly cited article had over 2,600 citations!) Few authors exhibit knowledge of retractions.

Reducing the Inadvertent Spread of Retracted Science (RISRS) 2020, a project funded by the Sloan Foundation, conducted 50 interviews, analyzed the literature of research on retractions, and did a citation analysis of it. Here are the questions addressed by the study.

Here are the draft recommendations of the study.

Deborah Poff, Past Chair, Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), presented a proposed retraction taxonomy with 5 suggested headings:

  1. Correction: Content containing errors that need to be corrected but not needing a higher level of action.
  2. Expression of Concern: Concern about the reliability or integrity of a published article without sufficient information to determine its final disposition.
  3. Retraction With Replacement: Public articles with serious errors that when corrected change the findings significantly but do not invalidate the findings of the study. Typically, copies of the original article with errors and corrections highlighted are published as supplements to the retracted and replaced article.
  4. Retraction: Public articles determined to include occurrences of scientific misconduct or errors that irreparably invalidate its key findings.
  5. Withdrawal: Preprints with serious or pervasive error that would otherwise be retracted, or accepted versions of manuscripts that are published with a DOI without final editing, production, or formatting and that have serious errors that would otherwise be retracted. 

Some members of the committee thought the taxonomy should have a 6th term, removal, for discriminatory material or harmful violations of ethical standards or security risks; others felt that Withdrawal serves this purpose.

The assumption is that to work properly, the taxonomy will be curated and maintained by a non-profit publication ethics organization.

Hannah Heckner, Product Strategist, Silverchair (a publishing platform), said that a platform can be a container of content, home for a publisher to disseminate information and allow publishers to communicate their brand, or an interface for users. The platform should be a hub of information and possessor of versions of record. It should clearly display and make retractions available, link retraction notices to the original research, and serve as the historical record and source of truth for the content. Here is an example of how a retracted article can be displayed by a platform.

Links and notices should be provided when something has been updated. The platform needs to be in contact with third-party organizations such as abstracting and indexing services to communicate how content has been changed. Much has been done, but there is still a lot of room for growth. Moving forward, there should be more XML tags for content status, cross-industry collaboration, engagement of all parties in the ecosystem, support for the COPE taxonomy project, and a NISO working group that is being formed.

John Seguin, President and CEO, Third Iron, LLC (a library technology company), discussed dissemination of retraction status via technology pathways and said that retraction status is not synchronized with publication. There is lots of technology available for discovering papers, manipulating data, organizing citations, and building a research project; retractions can occur at any time. We need to be able to take the knowledge that a retraction exists and propagate it through the whole ecosystem. Citations and articles are generally initially accessed through a discovery system, which may or may not contain notices of retractions. Sometimes a retraction occurs after a researcher has read the article and archived it for future reference.

Here are 3 technologies for detecting retracted articles:

  • Scite_ is a platform for discovering and evaluating articles by smart citations. It is integrated into leading submission systems such as ScholarOne, Editorial Manager, and Manuscript Manager. It can check articles for citations to retracted articles at the moment they are submitted, thus minimizing the dissemination of retracted articles. 
  • Other systems with similar capabilities are LibKey and BrowZine which use AI technology on discovery systems to provide notices of retractions and links to them. 
  • Zotero, a popular citation management system also features automatic notification of retracted papers in your library, thus saving researchers from rechecking every article they have downloaded to see if it has been retracted. 

AI and Library Discovery

Ken Chad, Director, Ken Chad Consulting, Ltd., described a project on AI-driven discovery that he did with a hospital and the problems that they needed to solve. 

AI in context: The discussion of AI seems to be everywhere. The “AI Bucket” consists of big data, analytics, machine learning, natural language processing, data visualization, and decision logic. The 3 types of AI are Narrow (ANI), General (AGI), and Super (ASI). ANI refers to a broad set of algorithms that solve a specific set of problems. AGI is about as capable as a human, and ASI is more capable than a human. Most of the current discussion of AI is about ANI. AI works best when a large amount of rich data is available. Successful machine learning depends on large and broad data sets. In the future, whoever owns the data will be king.

AI has the potential to make a significant difference in health and care settings. Library technology vendors are also starting to take advantage of AI opportunities, and this technology will profoundly change the way that academic publishing works, but we are still at the early stages. 

AI applied to library discovery: Yewno’s Discover product uses AI to integrate with existing link resolvers to provide links to full text. It works with concepts (not keywords) to disambiguate terms. Algorithms understand meaning and can find hidden content as well as visualize relationships.

Value propositions must focus closely on what users want and value. If it is not distinctive it will not be strong, so we must ensure the proposition has relevant terms to generate new ideas, which can be achieved by focusing on outcomes to be addressed, barriers to be overcome, and applicable jobs to be done or problems to be solved. 

User experience methodology: Do not simply ask people what they want or need; instead define the job to be done (JTBD). Use a structured approach to understanding user needs and determine how the user will decide if the job has been accomplished successfully. Focus groups are an excellent way to understand the problem. They provide an environment for learning; people like them and interact together. Find out why users want to go through the discovery process. Describe them and place them in circumstances to find out why they care about the JTBD. 

With the healthcare project, users saw the potential of this approach. The visual approach has a lot of appeal, and Yewno’s product was highly rated, although it was not as useful for detailed queries. 

A recent CILIP report described the impact that AI will have on knowledge discovery and its potential to support new ways to analyze content. It is important to engage with this technology, explore the use of AI tools, and share the lessons learned.

Katie Fraser, Sr. Librarian, University of Nottingham (NU) discussed her experience with AI and discovery at the NU libraries, also using Yewno Discover. Much of the user feedback was negative; typical responses were “The widget was in my way”, “The results were wrong”, and “Stop pointing me to Wikipedia”. Defining terms is a critical step in the research process. Using Yewno’s product, that is done by AI rather than being controlled by the searcher, with Wikipedia frequently labelled as the source. Getting students to work beyond disciplinary boundaries can be challenging; Yewno forces students to do that and encourages serendipity. For searching law, the interface did not distinguish jurisdictions but mixed all results together, which is especially confusing to beginning searchers. 

Here some of the lessons learned and implementation challenges at NU:

There were some successes and positive results: working with a next-generation system improved the skills and understanding of the librarians and improved their knowledge of how AI complements current methods of gathering information. And despite the negative feedback, users found many resources they would not have without Yewno Discover. 

Ken and Katie jointly said that they learned several things about AI and discovery:

  • There would have been difficulties with any tool.’
  • The visual interface is good; AI makes it an interesting way to approach the job.
  • The library community needs to learn about this approach and get involved; we need this tool.
  • This is an opportunity for AI to be more specific to subject areas and work with institutional repositories and data. It is an evolving technology; we can help shape it.

Industry Breakout Sessions

These sessions provided an opportunity for service providers and others to discuss some of the trends they are encountering in the industry.

Scholarly publishing now: What’s hot, what’s not, and why you should care

Heather Staines, Sr. Consultant, Delta Think, noted that we all know that our industry is constantly changing, keeping up with trends is a challenge, and COVID has forced us to ask many questions. 

Organizations are becoming more data driven and want to understand better ways in what they do. More of them are seeking ways to direct their investment in open infrastructures and tools. Many new players are entering the fray which increases possibilities for collaboration. We are entering a period of opportunity with new ways to create content Organizations are expanding and developing their portfolios; most of their work is strategy-focused.

COVID has forced publishers to be more introspective. They are taking a step back and looking at themselves overall, using this year to reinvent themselves and change, and revitalizing their portfolios to make them suitable for the future. Our industry is moving to effect meaningful change and explore opportunities. Customers are being put at the center of content strategies.

Major platforms are serving the publishers using analytics, adding features, etc. People and processes are as important as the technology in a migration project. It is helpful for publishers to bring in a project manager.

Many meetings are experiencing increased participation virtually (as SSP did this year). Sessions are usually recorded for later viewing, and registrations are even being made after the meeting. 

Connecting Scholarly Communities: How the American Marketing Association (and others)

Reinvented Their Conferences Online

Brian Campbell, Marketing Manager, Ex Ordo (an online conference platform that has been used by over 800,000 users in the last 10 years) said that when the industry came to a halt, they had to help conferences to reinvent themselves.  Before 2020, conferences were connection points for members, platforms for disseminating knowledge, and the tie between research and industry. With recent virtual innovations they can be much more because attendees no longer need to pay travel expenses or deal with visa problems. Benefits include improved access to networks and information, so conferences can attract large communities and increased international exposure, thus offering diversified ways to connect and communicate. Here is a look at the current state of online meetings:

Some success stories:

  • The summer meeting of the American Marketing Association (AMA) was its first large-scale academic conference. It attracted over 550 online attendees from 50 countries and provided them with access to all the conference content for a month after the conference concluded. 
  • The Society of 19th Century Americanists (C19), which is dedicated to American literary and cultural studies from the 19th century, held its 6th biennial conference virtually with a series of events over 6 days on 2 weekends. It drew over 600 attendees and over 800 presentation submissions. Ten “digital conference fellows” were assigned to sessions to help attendees and troubleshoot problems. Presenters were given the option of uploading their talk in advance and having a live discussion at the conference or presenting it in the traditional manner. Younger scholars especially liked the pre-recorded content and used it to decide which sessions to attend. Fees could be collected at the virtual “doors” which gave speakers an unexpected international exposure, and C19 received additional revenue. 

The online conference has enabled scholarly communities to continue their work and has provided some valuable lessons for the future. 

  • Who is your conference audience? How will your conference improve their life? Some organizations have discovered that their product is not really a conference. There is a large demand for communities to talk to each other, so Ex Ordo is really a convener of communities.
  • Access new audiences and grow your community. Some people were not planning to attend because of travel costs, etc., but a virtual conference opens opportunities for them to attend and for an organization to grow its membership.
  • Embrace the online experience. Promote synchronous engagement and make space for panels, discussions, and feedback. Think of your conference not as just something that has been moved to an online environment but as something different.
  • Have some fun. 

Improving Speed and Quality in Journal Production Using Intelligent Editorial Workflows

Byron Laws, Sales Director – Americas, Novo Techset-Katalyst (NT-K, a provider of publishing and technology services and cloud solutions), said that publishing speed and quality are key metrics in journal production. NT-K worked with Cambridge University Press (CUP) to develop an innovative production workflow for its journals. CUP was experiencing delays in journal production turnaround times (TATs) caused by multiple rounds of author corrections and typesetting of proofs. The challenge to NT-K was to reduce TATs by 50% while still maintaining quality. 

A new workflow was developed using contextualized copyediting and AI-based content filtration with automatic pagination and proofing.  Author review of corrections before typesetting eliminated extra rounds of proofing. Articles are filtered based on the quality of language in them. Editing and pagination are integrated, reducing workflow. Benefits of this process include shorter production schedules, a greatly simplified workflow, reduction of multiple author reviews, faster TATs, typesetting only once, and improved quality.

How Corporations Use Research Output: What you Should Know and Why

How does the research community use the output we create, and why does this matter? Research Solutions is a bridge between publishers and researchers and facilitates acquisition and management of content for research purposes. It is very important for publishers to understand how they can facilitate the advancement of science by their publications.

Molly Dinneen, Sr. Librarian, Boston Scientific (a medical device company) described some of the work she does in conducting literature searches for clinical articles about named devices, understanding the state of the art, and working with medical writers. Search results are obtained from EMBASE, Medline, and other databases, imported into EndNote, then provided to the writers and stored in a database maintained by the library. The version of record must come from a peer reviewed journal. It would be helpful if articles on clinical trials indicated how many patients participated in the trial; the best way would be to have a metadata tag for this number. Data are collected about both Boston Scientific’s products and those of their competitors.

What Works? Can Publishers Increase Citations for Their Journals?

Bert Carelli, Director of Partnerships, TrendMD (a content recommendation engine for scholarly publishers, readers, and authors), said that impact factors are the most widely used way that authors evaluate where they will submit their work for publication. Before an article can be cited it must be discovered. Publishers use several strategies to compete for an author’s attention, such as press releases, email outreach, search engine optimization, but increasing citations calls for another level of discovery.  TrendMD has been able to increase discovery and thus citations.

Content marketing is a strategic approach focusing on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain an audience. TrendMD uses content to find new readers based on what they are reading and what users like them have read. It pools reading activity data to help curate the best recommendations. For example:

There is a glut of information being published on COVID-19. How can the most valuable peer reviewed content on the subject rise above the noise? The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) created a social media-based campaign called Methods Madness (similar to basketball’s March Madness) in which thousands of scientists voted for 16 prominent methodologies, with the winners ranked in “brackets”. As a result, new hashtags were created, and there was a 44% increase in articles on experimental methods. An issue of ASBMB’s members’ magazine described the “final four” methods articles which were sent to TrendMD for further promotion, resulting in a 50% increase in citations to them. Another benefit of the campaign was that prominent scientists participated in it and wrote reviews for ASBMB journals.

A controlled trial of TrendMD traffic resulted in a 50% increase in citations over a control group. For a new journal published in China and analyzed by TrendMD, a significant impact factor growth was observed. A similar effect was observed for a journal which was experiencing a declining impact factor that was reversed after a TrendMD content marketing campaign. 

Previews: New and Noteworthy Products

David Myers

This plenary session is always popular and eagerly anticipated at SSP conferences. It features 5-minute presentations by a panel of representatives of companies that have introduced new and innovative products, content, or services in the past year. Organized by David Myers, President of DMedia Associates, a consulting organization, he noted that the most successful organizations are no longer the ones that offer the best deal but are those that promote the most original ideas and do things that other organizations cannot or will not do. Markets can be accessed faster and more forcefully than ever; the resulting disruption means that we must be faster and more flexible, and we must evolve. 

Companies that presented were:

  • AIP Publishing: Bridging the gap between publishers and researchers with an e-book selection parallel to their review journals.
  • Altum Insight: Automates tasks for grant management and makes connections between grants and new discoveries to illustrate the path to new knowledge.
  • Code Mantra: Accessibility Insight for people who are visually impaired. Offers a compliance report module and an automated PDF Remediation Module. Checks documents for accessibility. Extracts math equations from a PDF and creates MathML files.
  • Data Conversion Lab: Content Clarity analyzes a publisher’s corpus to identify obstacles and errors in content structure that hinder interoperability and discoverability, captures digital ISSNs to detect name changes, etc., and produces a metadata and subject categories report.
  • Flashpub.io: An iterative way to share results. Creates micro publications—smaller, faster, scientific reports, visualizes emerging research stories.
  • Ithaka: JSTOR: Models and global usage of free or OA content, which has been discovered by referrers. Experienced a major increase in usage, with over 500,000 item requests. 
  • LibLynx: Makes OA available to publishing staff and creates OA Analytics benefits and features.
  • DCypher: extracts named entities from biological text.
  • ResearchSquare: A preprint platform that performs automated language editing of manuscripts with a digital editing tool. Provides language services for over 200 articles/week and assesses language quality to track quality of language. Its editing team is twice as efficient, avoided 60 new hires, and saved $10 million.
  • Block.co: Restores trust in intellectual property through blockchain technology. Major issues in publishing that are solved by blockchain are efficiency and cost sharing while protecting publishing assets.

An audience poll was taken to vote on the Previews Award, which was won by Code Mantra.


Fighting Racial Inequity in the Publishing Industry: Closing the Intention-Behavior Gap

Joseph Williams

Dr. Joseph Williams, Associate Professor, Counselor Education, University of Virginia, opened the third day of the conference with a well-received keynote. He began by noting that race is a central mechanism in which inequity exists, and racial equity means to guarantee of equal treatment of people of color. We know inequity exists when there is a disproportional inequity based on race. The scholarly community has robust data to show this.  At best, some of the disparities can be attributed to some of its practices—the industry may be unintentionally promoting white supremacy.  If we diversity the industry, we will see a higher bottom line. Institutions are sustained when there is a focus on morals. We must promote equity because it is the right thing to do. It has a cost; are we willing to pay it? 

Anti-racist values are easy to have. We need to reallocate resources and take an anti-racism approach. The hard part is making decisions and taking actions based on them. The intention-behavior gap describes the failure to translate intentions into actions.  The scholarly publishing community has taken an important first step in trying to address these issues by preparing an anti-racist toolkit. Here are some personal barriers:

  • Hurdles occur because we center on ourselves instead of our emotions which makes us become more important than those we serve. The value we place on being nice people overshadows their willingness to engage in anti-racist efforts that may result in disagreements and personal conflicts with other colleagues. Saving our colleagues from hard feelings is doing them an injustice and makes it hard for them to grow. 
  • Being labeled a troublemaker stops us from moving intentions into actions. It is hard to avoid this label when people become uncomfortable with what you are proposing. 
  • Apathy as a coping strategy. Personal apathy helps members of the scholarly publishing community avoid controversy and conflict with colleagues who do not support anti-racist change initiatives in the industry, which leads some people become indifferent and supportive of the status quo. Do we have an equity dashboard? It goes beyond affinity groups. Anxiety leads some professionals to experience feelings of guilt, apprehension, and uneasiness. 
  • Anger may lead to an ineffective response. It can be constructive and important and is an appropriate response to inaction of our colleagues. Members of the scholarly publishing community may isolate themselves and become neutralized by colleagues who prefer working with people who do not express anger.
  • A false sense of powerlessness can be an excuse to avoid doing this work and redefine our professional roles in ways that reflect a commitment to anti-racism. People are immobilized by different fears such as social concerns and job security, which results in not acting, not advocating, and not addressing racial inequities.

There is a cost to engage in anti-racist work. We need to identify both personal and professional barriers. 

Professional obstacles: 

  • Paralysis. There may be a feeling that the bottom line argument is not sustainable. We are talking about a value system; some people do not value racial equity. 
  • Professional and character assassination. People challenging run the risk of having their character assassinated. How do we protect against this? Rules need to be examined.
  • Perpetuating a culture of fear of speaking out. Asking uncomfortable questions may jeopardize your career. This culture is very prevalent; there is a hierarchy with barriers that you dare not cross. 
  • Job security. How do we protect against running the risk of losing your job, being demoted, etc.? How do you engage in this work without making others feel uncomfortable? There will not be change if people are not uncomfortable. We are in a dual pandemic: COVID and racism. There is no way to turn back to normal. How do we change our focus?
  • Lack of accountability. Accountability separates the wishers in life from the action-takers. How are people being evaluated? How are we measuring what matters? How do we hold each other accountable?
  • Dealing with administrative edicts. Think about this from a board level—the top down. If people at the top are not uncomfortable, these ideas do not work.  Are we just going through the motions? How do we hear the marginalized voices? Many people avoid conflict by capitulating to administrators’ wishes.

The scholarly publishing industry is in a very good position to lead the change going forward. Courage helps us get over the hurdles! Don’t worry about not being liked by everyone. Courage builds authentic relationships and helps to stand against the status quo. Develop compassion and empathy, especially for those at the bottom of the organization. Openly disagree with colleagues. Echo a colleague’s comments when they are made—can you back them up? Have the courage not to remain silent on these issues. Neutrality doesn’t work. It is OK to upset others; conflict is natural.  Speaking up is more important than fear or being liked by someone. Courage is a necessary prerequisite for these actions. 

The scholarly community is extremely important because it is the gatekeeper of information. How do we make it more equitable? Do we critique the profession?

Closing Plenary: The Scholarly Kitchen Live. What’s Next for an Equitable and Sustainable Future?

This traditional closing session is always highly anticipated. At this virtual meeting, the format was a little different; the session opened with Roger Schonfeld from Ithaka presenting results of a survey of readers of The Scholarly Kitchen (TSK), followed by a panel discussion with several of the “chefs” of TSK: Allison Muddit, Sian Harris, Jasmine Wallace, Haseeb Irfanullah, and Angela Cochran.

Roger Schonfeld reported that a large majority of readers feel that TSK is relevant to their professional needs. Readers are from US, Canada, UK, and Europe; TSK would like to see more global coverage. Three types of readers’ employers dominate: nonprofits, libraries, commercial publishers. Over 3/4 of the readers are not SSP members. TSK is seen as favoring open access. Readers like the increasing number of articles authored by guest authors. Commenting is now a positive experience.

Allison Mudditt: How do models address equity issues? 

  • Transformative agreements simplify management of APCs. 
  • Community action model: flat fee so researchers can freely publish.
  • Global equity model: provide unlimited OA support for authors with a flexible annual fee.

We can and should do better and provide opportunities for all researchers and treat them with dignity.

Sian Harris: People are recognizing the issues, which is encouraging. The APC approach does not work for everyone. We are glad to hear about publishers thinking about this. Clarity and consistency are issues. 60% of authors pay their APCs themselves. Researchers are not aware of the available options which should be clearly communicated to them.

Jasmine Wallace: What concerns you about publishing models? They move us toward a more equitable future. Every participant should have access to the most valuable content. The models illustrate what happens when a community starts to engage. 2020 showed us how to make the impossible possible. We have to shift our resources toward a more equitable space. 

Haseeb Irfanullah: What does sustainability look like? We need to sustain scholarly publishing. We are using many metrics to measure growth. Certain journals are expanding their horizons; PLOS has just added 5 new titles. How are researchers working with preprint archives? We need to make content accessible. When the pandemic hit, smaller publishers banded together to decide how to fight it. 

Angela Cochran: How do we promote climate science in our publications? How much travel is involved in sharing and collaboration?  Virtual and hybrid conferences are available to a new global community. Have we seen an increase not only as attendees but also as content promoters?

Sian: There are lower barriers to participate in conferences as attendees. When the restrictions happened, there wasn’t much change in the speakers. Now organizers are looking for speakers from other countries (Africa, etc.), which should continue after the pandemic is over. Some people still remain excluded from conversations.

Jasmine: What opportunities do we have with hybrid conferences, especially when we get back to in-person conferences? We must keep in mind that hybrid meetings are becoming more equitable. People have more access to conferences now, but we must think about what they will look like. Advance contracts may not be changeable, but is there a way we can renegotiate for smaller settings like workshops and seminars? Watching everything at your own schedule is very convenient; we might do that for the first week, then have an in-person event on a second week. A lot of people do not want to fly. When everybody is working at home, the dynamic is changed.

Allison: We have been able to hire staff from different parts of the country. Many staff members are anxious to get back; others are exhausted. We will need time to integrate and reflect on our practices. The concept of the home office is not sustainable; people will go into their offices regularly but not every day. Offices are spaces for collaboration; it will take time to figure out how to make hybrid arrangements work. It may still be lonely in the office.

Angela: Will we have more international travel for business deals, etc.? We have learned that things like editorial board meetings at conferences do not work well, but they work very well in a virtual environment.

Annual Business Meeting

At this meeting it was announced that there are 14,500 subscribers to TSK. The future of SSP is bright—finances are strong, and the society has a surplus of $122,365. The 2021-22 President of SSP will be Alice Meadows, Director of Community Engagement at NISO.

The 44th Annual Meeting of SSP is planned to convene at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers in Chicago on June 1-3, 2022.

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 50 years.


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