Don’s Conference Notes- Charleston InBetween: A New Symposium

by | Aug 19, 2021 | 0 comments

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

Leah Hinds, Executive Director of the Charleston Conference

Charleston InBetween was a new symposium hosted by the Charleston Hub to provide an in-depth examination of subjects that is not practical at the Charleston Library Conference because of lack of time, or because the subjects were too important to leave until the annual conference occurred. Although the organizers had discussed a secondary in-depth conference for several years, the calendar was very crowded; however, with the onset of the COVID pandemic, the rise of virtual conferences provided a good opportunity to experiment with a new symposium.

The inaugural InBetween symposium was introduced by Leah Hinds, Executive Director, Charleston Library Conference, and took place virtually on July 28, 2021 and attracted 211 registrations. Many of them were for groups of up to 5 attendees, so the total attendance was estimated to be over 600. The symposium featured two panels:

  • Panel 1: Clarivate Acquires ProQuest, moderated by Roger Schonfeld, Director, Libraries, Scholarly Communication, and Museums Program, Ithaka S+R.
  • Panel 2: Exiting the Tunnel: Reflections from Savvy Executives Upon What the Bright Light of Post-COVID Offers to Them, moderated by Ann Okerson, Senior Advisor, Center for Research Libraries (CRL).

Panel 1

Roger Schonfeld, Moderator

The acquisition of ProQuest by Clarivate for $5.3 billion was announced on May 17, 2021. 

Product Categories and Key Questions

According to Roger Schonfeld, here are the major products of the two organizations:

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Key questions regarding this transaction include:

  • Is the transaction principally financial or strategic?
  • Is the product opportunity principally about discovery, enterprise library systems, the academic research experience, or something else?
  • Will the acquisition limit or increase competition?

Michael Clarke, Managing Partner, Clarke & Esposito (a management consulting firm serving the publishing and information service industries) agreed that the acquisition is strategic and financial.  Current economic conditions for it are good; low interest rates make it a good time to buy, and there are likely to be some cost savings from combining operations of the participants.  Clarke also wondered what EBSCO thought about the transaction.

Dracine Hodges, Associate University Librarian, Duke University noted that there is much diversity in libraries, and one size does not fit all. Traditional and extensible platforms are needed, and it will be interesting to see what happens with the new Clarivate in respect to content management, the platforms it builds, and how libraries will be helped to optimize their services. Libraries are publishers, partners, and customers of information providers; how will the merged company serve them? Privacy is becoming a major part of the library mission because of how users and technology are changing; what will Clarivate value?

James Phimister, Managing Director, Education and Applied Knowledge, NEJM Group said that before the acquisition, Clarivate was a $1.8 billion business that primarily focused on a science and intellectual property (patents, etc.) portfolio, and ProQuest was an $800 million business with significant historic content and a focus on library solutions. Will the combination transform the academic library market? ProQuest’s interlibrary loan business will be an addition to Clarivate and will help them enter the social science area. The merger has strong financial support, is a good non-speculative use of cash, and has a good potential to enhance user workflows.

In a discussion period, it was noted that the ExLibris part of ProQuest has had a significant market impact, provides a substantial increase in scale for Clarivate, and gives them new markets to enter. Are there new packages or combinations of products that can be developed? Will there be a new Big Deal? Competitors are competing for library budgets, which change slowly so we will probably see a longer evolution of change. Will the combined company be able to bypass the library and sell directly to the institution? Clarivate is now positioned to sell new products with bundled pricing and enter new markets.

Library and Education Marketplace issues

Claudio Aspesi, Consultant, SPARC, said that ProQuest tended to focus on its intellectual property business rather than science, which led to the possibility that the core of the future company will emphasize the corporate market rather than the academic. Many people believe that the focus of the deal was strictly financial. On the day of the announcement, Clarivate stock responded very well. 

Companies buy options, not just assets, such as bundling, defensive moves, intellectual property and its associated market value. Much of the economy is driven by research at some level. Understanding which technologies will become relevant will create significant value.

Kaitlin Thaney, Executive Director, Invest In Open Infrastructure (a consulting firm that provides support to institutions and funders wanting to invest in open infrastructure) said that the merger raises large technical issues and asked what it means for pricing, the role of retail practices, and where privacy fits. 

The discussion of these issues focused on regulatory and government actions and what libraries and educational institutions are thinking. There are differences in how data is treated; how policies will change, and what form of regulation is appropriate? Categories of risks include collection of data and how it is used, diversity of algorithms to assess values of research, and community control. Regulation should address these areas and provide a robust set of principles to protect the community. Competition provides several ways to assess what everyone is doing. The academic community should make decisions; can they be regulated?

Publisher Viewpoints

Gwen Evans, Vice President, Global Library Relations, Elsevier, noted that the question today is not what libraries hold but who they serve. We are in the higher education business, not the library business, and publishers must recognize that. What types of data and metadata will the merger of Clarivate and ProQuest bring together? ProQuest’s holding of Alma was a major consolidation of the market; what metadata does Clarivate add? The direct relationship of publishers with faculty, authors, peer reviewers, and researchers is important—what is useful to them as users of content? Global experience matters. End users prefer bundles as long as their lives are made easier; for example, smartphones, Google, Amazon, etc. 

Todd Toler, Vice President, Product Strategy and Partnerships, John Wiley & Sons, said that merging Clarivate and ProQuest is a huge transaction and will form the biggest entity in journal publishing. There is a low level of paranoia about Clarivate harvesting data signals and using them to enhance their market position. The merger deal seems to place a confidence in library-based discovery.

The discussion noted that a critical piece of metadata is core to libraries because many of them are still handling print, which could add to Clarivate’s universe but probably will not significantly expand research workflows. Google is now a major player with end users.

Panel 2

Ann Okerson, Moderator

According to an article in The Economist the last phase of the pandemic will be drawn out and painful. Here are some questions for consideration as we exit from the “Tunnel” of COVID. 

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Kevin Guthrie, President, Ithaka, noted that when the Ithaka offices were closed in March, 2020, everything changed instantly to a new world where nothing is normal. Inertia was interrupted. COVID revealed things we did not know about our society. Staff safety became paramount. Weekly staff meetings using Zoom increased transparency; when people work from home, they have flexibility in managing their time to address other commitments and their own mental health. In addition, leaders take a greater part in their lives and became more empathetic with their challenges. We are not going back to where we were—many staff members want to work at home permanently. 

As an organization, Ithaka worked with publishers to offer free access to books and journals. All institutions with a JSTOR collection received access to all of Ithaka’s collections, which resulted in over 60 million accesses. This expanded access will continue until June 2022; the effect on Ithaka’s business model will then be determined. We will be held to a higher standard going forward, and it will not be possible to go back to how the world was before COVID.

Leaders and organizations must be transparent, accountable, and employee-centric in addressing inequities, such as telecommuting differences between employees. Why are people coming in to the office? Which part of the work requires them to be there? No matter what we do with the technology, it will always be challenging, especially if some people are going to the office and some are not, so we must be very sensitive to such situations. 

Amy Brand, Director and Publisher, MIT Press, said that the pandemic has shown us that crises bring people together. They have found new ways to connect and care for one another. How we get our content where it needs to go and how we view our publishers and leaders have been greatly transformed. The MIT Press staff has complete freedom when to work from home and when to be in the office. People are still feeling raw and are still learning how to work remotely. Trauma and displacement are still with us; resetting and regrouping are extremely important.

How are people discovering content? Publishers have found themselves developing strategic models several times. OA, preprints, and new rapidly published journals are making peer review more efficient and reliable. Demand for trustworthy content is increasing. Book sales took a major hit early in the pandemic, but sales of entertainment books and those for general readers have rebounded, which led to MIT Press’s Direct to Open program as a better model for technical books. The case for OA has been convincingly made, so we must be more discerning about access models; CC-BY is not always the right one.

Metrics to judge researchers’ reputations must be redesigned. Values-driven publishers will work with universities to modernize reputations of authors and the significance of their work. Publishers must help authors achieve the reputation they deserve.

Peter Brantley, Director, Online Strategy, University of California Davis (UCD) Library, noted that because of the need to move to a virtual environment, the UC libraries learned to collaborate. A consortial ILS deployment was the first time all the campuses worked together on a big project. As a result, the staff became more confident in moving together as an institution, which was more important than tools or methods. 

A collaborative focus on digital learning led to Equitable Access, an innovative UCD bookstore program that has saved students hundreds of thousands of dollars every quarter. Students are charged $169/quarter for their entire portfolio of textbooks and increased access to OA books. The rate of retention in this program is very high; few students opt out. 

Instructors have also migrated to digital content. Many states are hosting conferences about open educational resources (OERs), and there has been a large increase in the exploration of controlled digital learning (CDL) and open e-book library platforms. Without CDL, many printed books would be unavailable; libraries must identify works they are comfortable lending.

Rob Manuel, President, Indianapolis University (IU), said that IU has moved from being an educational institution to a caregiving one. The storm is continuing, but the effects are different, and the light at the end of the tunnel keeps moving. Most students and their parents are working in industries that will take a long time to recover from the pandemic, and many academic institutions have been forced to withdraw funds from their endowments.

Here are some effects of the changes at IU:

  • Rethinking the importance of some degrees, such as nursing and teaching. We need to understand how important and needed such professions are. 
  • Silencing of convenient and lazy research. 
  • Restructuring decision-making based on skill sets rather than titles, so new problems can be solved, which may have long-term effects on how a university operates. 
  • Seriousness about planning by leveraging goodwill among faculty, staff, donors, and students thinking about problems. Technology can be a promoting force and a friend.
  • Make decisions about what we own or build vs. what we partner to get. 
  • Cash and liquidity are now king. Most institutions are building a reserve in case something like the pandemic happens again. Leaders are being required to think about both growth and savings.

Mimi Calter, Deputy University Librarian, Stanford University, discussed library services on the other side of the tunnel:

  • How will we reopen our buildings? Who must be on campus and keep the doors open? What should the hours be?
  • Paging services made print more accessible when buildings were closed. Do we continue them, rescind them, or manage them?
  • How do we implement CDL and provide access to course reserves and digital access to collections? 
  • How have we have turned to virtual services and what does that mean for our reference and research support service model going forward? What is the balance between virtual and hands-on services?

Change is in the air, and we are at an inflection point, so it is important to think about the overall package of services.

Some things that have changed include patron, organization, and staff expectations, capacity, and an increasing reliance on virtual services. We must consider how we provide materials instead of requiring users to come into the library. What remote work is appropriate? Should online services be prioritized? Does the library staff work fully remotely, or do they come onsite once or twice a week? Staff members have become accustomed to working remotely, and managers have learned how to manage them. What can we realistically undertake as we deal with budget cuts? Libraries will be doing more with less. We have not yet found a new normal in many places, but we need to be ready and willing to find things we will stop doing.

Nancy Kirkpatrick, CEO, OhioNet, challenged the audience to recognize that the pandemic has shone a light on the inequities not only in our society but also in our profession. Our best intentions are truly not enough; if we have work to do, we still have an opportunity to effect change. It is exciting that we are not going back to how things used to be. Now more than ever people are recognizing that normalcy was not good or appropriate for everyone. We must not only imagine what being better looks like; we can achieve it—ask your users what would be better. 

How might the library support engagement in new and different ways? How has the curriculum changed with the move to online courses? What is an ideal teaching environment and what role does the library play? Find a way to gather all the data you can and use it to support changes to make. There are many commonalities in our profession. Wherever you decide to start, find a way to do it now. Look at library social media daily. If you did not come out of the last 18 months as a changed organization, why not?

Jim O’Donnell, University Librarian, Arizona State University, concluded the presentations by noting that we are living in a time of transformation: 

  • The age of digital transformation is done, and digital has won. In a year of closed buildings, we have learned the powerful advantage of digital information. Print is for special and unique collections. We must make everything our users want digital. However the legal battles work out, digital is here to stay. If it is not online, it is not literature! Our business models must evolve.
  • The age of collecting is over. Our users do not care about who has what; they just want access, and we must challenge content providers to enable it.
  • The age of fumbling to remember your password must end very soon. Just how well are we training 19 year olds to use 1-click access? We need to make transactions invisible as much as possible.

We must not face another 40 years of the death of digitization. Librarians’ roles in leading us out of it are essential.

Ann Okerson concluded the symposium by summarizing what we learned in Panel 2:

  • We are intensifying and trying to do better in what we have been doing all along.
  • Virtually vs. physicality—which is better when?
  • Are we really encouraging diversity in the new normal?
  • Nobody imagines that technology is a solution to all of our problems, but it has a strong role to play.
  • Nobody was concerned about the consideration of their institutions.
  • We do not know what the new normal will be, but a high degree of optimism exists.

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Because of the success of this InBetween conference, they will continue. The next one is tentatively scheduled for the last week of April, 2022.

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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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