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Don’s Conference Notes: Charleston In Between 2022

by | May 24, 2022 | 0 comments

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

The second Charleston In Between conference took place virtually on May 12 and 13, 2022. It occurs approximately halfway between the main Charleston Conferences in the first week of November; its purpose is to conduct an in-depth exploration of important developments in the information industry. This year’s subjects were:

  • The mergers and acquisitions landscape in scholarly publishing: the Clarivate/ProQuest acquisition,
  • “In the News”: The Ukraine conflict and its effect on the research, scholarship, and education, and
  • Vendor Information Sessions and Networking.

Mergers and Acquisitions

Roger Schonfeld

Roger Schonfeld, Director, Libraries, Scholarly Communication, and Museums at Ithaka S+R, organized and moderated this panel which examined the acquisition of ProQuest by Clarivate.

Christopher Burghardt, Sr. Vice President and General Manager, Clarivate; and Ofer Mosseri, General Manager, ExLibris were the panelists.

Christopher Burghardt (L) and Ofer Mosseri (R)

The merger occurred 5 months ago in an atmosphere of shared respect for customers and colleagues. The merged company will be outside-focused on university, academic library, and government institutions. It will be optimized to emphasize national libraries, research institutions in university and government institutions, and their use of the Web of Science. Leaders of ProQuest and ExLibris are starting to work together using their complementary strengths and those of Clarivate. Libraries are the main customers and the heart of research excellence. Many people see Clarivate as increasingly competing with Elsevier.

The acquisition is expected to reduce costs and add value to the company, saving approximately $1 million by eliminating overlaps in functions and technology; for example, ProQuest employees were moved to the Office 365 platform used by Clarivate. Talents being redeployed and investments in products and research and development are occurring, particularly in Alma and analytics, which will streamline and simplify workflows. The Web of Science is Clarivate’s oldest platform and a core product. New content types such as preprints, theses, and author profiles are being added. Many assets in research information management are available, and are taken very seriously.

Following the panel discussion, Roger Schonfeld reviewed the mergers and acquisition landscape. Scholarly publishing includes all business models and organizational forms. Commercial acquisitions and strategic partnerships are common. Nonprofit organizations are more likely to merge together rather than acquiring one another. In the last 20 years, most acquisitions were driven by a desire to grow primary publication lists and expand coverage. Today, however, library budgets have not kept up with the growth of higher education institutions. 

Open access is changing the nature of scholarly publishing; publishers are developing the market for author publishing charges (APCs) paid from research grants and are enhancing value through new services such as platforms, workflow, analytics, and infrastructure. Developing services is driving the vast majority of acquisitions. Some publishers have turned to globalization, but that will not result in unending growth. 

Here is a set of differentiated strategic directions for the industry that complement each other:

Publishing:

  • Provide services for smaller institutions like societies. 
  • Bolster the version of record by integrating additional content types such as preprints and research data. In the future these may be read more by machines than by humans, so machine-readable protocols will be needed. What does the article become? 
  • Deliver scholarly workflow tools and services to support discovery, access, and research collaboration. 
  • Grow the primary publishing list to seek scale or expand coverage. (The largest publishers have generally abandoned this strategy.)

Beyond Publishing is a very dynamic area: 

  • Support discovery, access, and research collaboration. 
  • Make content fully available under traditional licenses.
  • Scale open source and community solutions. (For example, Duraspace merged into Lyrasis.) Follow Elsevier’s efforts. 
  • Support the research enterprise and develop management tools which is a growth area for companies with capital to spend. 
  • Sustain shared infrastructure for community benefit (or leverage it for proprietary benefit). 

Patterns and assessment

  • Differentiated strategic directions
  • Scale: The price paid for a transaction is rarely disclosed. These are big investments; some rumors say they can be over $100Million. 
  • Are these acquisitions bad? 
  • Yes: Market considerations can yield higher prices. 
  • No: Scale can yield stability; workflows can be integrated and seamless; some can provide greater competition. We must look at their effects within the market.

In The News: Ukraine

This session, moderated by Ann Okerson, Senior Advisor on Electronic Strategies, Center for Research Libraries (CRL) provided a fascinating view of how the Ukraine war that started on February 24, 2022 has impacted many of our lives as well as our professional world. It was especially relevant because the speakers described their personal experiences.

Ann Okerson

Dr. Tetiana Yaoroshenko, VP for Research and IT, National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy described the challenges of providing information services to an academic institution in a time of war. She began by thanking the US community for standing with Ukraine, which has a 1,000 year history as an independent people. Homes were destroyed by Russian cruise missiles. More than 3,000 people have died and over 5 million people have fled, including 95,000 scholars and researchers. Schools and universities, libraries, and museums have been destroyed and are using temporary facilities. Ukrainian books are being confiscated from libraries in Russia. In Ukraine, librarians are bringing books to the Metro stations to let people read them. Many university students and teachers are learning virtually. Even in shelters, graduate students are working on their projects. Everyone is receiving assistance. It is crucial to grow the country. It is important for all of us to try and stop Russia. 

So far, the library’s collection has been preserved. The building is locked up, but distance education is provided. Reference services are provided electronically. Many students cannot continue their studies now. Collaboration with Russian scholars and libraries is not continuing.

Kent Lee, President and CEO, East View Information Services said that East View has offices in Moscow, Kyiv, and around the world. They are active and creative intermediaries, connecting with countries of the former USSR and bringing the eastern view to its customers. All offices have been affected during the war. East View has had an office in Ukraine since 1992 and assembled collections of books, journals, and newspapers. The Kiev office became a hub for other Soviet countries. Ukraine has a significant publishing industry in Ukraine with 25,000 books, 2,500 journal titles, and 1,600 newspaper titles published annually. After the Russian invasion there has been no communication with the Moscow office. There are about 24 staff members in Kyiv as well as Ukrainian staff in East View’s Minneapolis headquarters. Staff members have lots of experience working from home. 

Immediately after the war started, there was a high risk of Russian forces invading, so in the first 5 weeks, many staffers left Kyiv and went to other places in Ukraine. People in the Minneapolis office have been in contact with Ukrainian employees. Electricity and data services continue to work. All employees find comfort in doing some work. Now most of the staff is back in Kyiv, and nobody has been killed or injured. Local transportation is still difficult. Shipments outside of Ukraine are going by mail. Publishers have again started sending depository copies of books. 

Going forward, there is no end of the war in sight yet, but staff members are working to ensure that there are no gaps in publishing records. Publishers in Ukraine are continuing their work by issuing digital editions of newspapers. There will be a huge wave of new publishing after the war. The Moscow office also continues to do their work and is not under attack, but they are cut off from the outside world.  Logistical support is difficult to arrange. 

Gwen Evans, VP, Global Relations, Elsevier spoke about publishers’ decisions about Russian content and the challenges of providing or withdrawing services from Russia. 

Elsevier has made significant donations to Ukraine. Discussions with bordering countries continue despite many security and safety considerations. We have a duty to care for all our colleagues in both Ukraine and Russia. There is a large interconnection of Russians with family in Ukraine and Ukrainians in Russia. There has been a large outpouring of colleagues helping colleagues.

Elsevier has suspended all publishing in Russia except for healthcare content. Sanctions against Russia are monitored daily; access to Russian institutions is cut off. The academic freedom of employees is recognized. The Committee on Publishing Ethics (COPE) has released a report about Russian relationships and Russian authors.  There have been protests among Russian residents and scholars. Elsevier has not cut off access to individuals unless there is a sanction in place. How do we create an infrastructure when a population formerly at an institution is displaced? How do we support scholars at risk? These are technological and social issues to be addressed. How do actions against Russian publishers help Ukraine? Do we want to restrict information either in or out? Will it help individuals on the ground?

Quinn Dombrowski, Academic Technology Specialist, Stanford University Library, described the Saving Ukrainian Cultural History Online project (SUCHO) which started on Twitter. On the first day that the website was advertised on Twitter, over 400 volunteers signed up. (It takes longer for libraries to respond.) The Browsertrix crawler empowers anyone to create a website by just filling out a form. Google Maps of cities under siege were scanned looking for museums and cultural heritage places, born digital content, etc., and then websites were created. They will be safe until after the war and then will be delivered to Ukrainians. The Internet Archive is a partner of the SUCHO effort.

Arik Burakovski, Assistant Director, Russia and Eurasia Program, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University described challenges to research and higher education arising from the Russian war in Ukraine

Founded in 1930, The Fletcher School of Law is the oldest graduate school in the US with a program in international affairs. Many of its alumni are in Russia and Ukraine. Rising tensions between the US and Russia when the Crimea was annexed resulted in threats to academic freedom and increased government scrutiny. No travel to Russia was allowed when the COVID pandemic broke out, but think tanks and university partnerships were established, and collaborative workshops and joint courses on US-Russia relationships were conducted. The goal was to use scholarship to promote law in Russia and inform decision making in both the US and Russia. All travel was again suspended on February 24. Tufts severed ties to Russian education institutions, but informal lines of communication with scholars were kept open. Fletcher is still accepting applications from scholars wishing to visit. 

Russian universities have developed hundreds of partnerships, and scientists have collaborated and published thousands of articles. Since February 24, collaboration has eroded. The Ukrainian government has called for an academic boycott of Russia. Exchange students were pulled out of Russia for safety reasons. Scientific cooperation, financial ties, and grants with Russia were suspended. Russian authors are banned from many scientific journals. Citations from Russia in the Web of Science have stopped. Many universities in Europe have suspended all ties with Russia.

Russian students and scholars are feeling isolated by the west. We have inadvertently given a gift to the Russian government which wants to convince students there is no hope for them. Researchers are disheartened by Russian science.

In Ukraine, Fletcher has had multiple events with Ukrainian universities and agencies and plans to expand those activities in the coming years. Some universities have been destroyed by the war, but most of them continue to conduct teaching and research online. Many researchers continue to interact with scholarly institutions around the world and are getting support. We should not encourage a brain drain from Ukraine after the war and should rebuild higher education in Ukraine.

At the end of the presentations, speakers were asked what we as individuals should be doing. Here are their responses:

  • Quinn: Don’t look away and don’t forget. It will take a lot of time and effort to rebuild Ukraine.
  • Kent: We need as much institutional support as possible. We do not have much influence with Russia, but we need to have quiet conversations with them.
  • Gwen: Always remember that experiences of people on the ground are different from those of institutions.
  • Tetiana: Continue your strong support of Ukraine. 
  • Arik: Don’t turn away, but continue to stay informed about what is happening and do what you can to engage with people on the ground. 

Vendor Information Sessions and Networking

De Gruyter

Many presses, platforms and models make for a messy and challenging landscape which led to the University Press Library (UPL) program.  Presses have many choices for distribution of their content, and libraries have many places from which to purchase content. Both libraries and university presses have very challenging environments.  For libraries, challenges include titles scattered across multiple platforms, variations in digital rights from title to title and press to press, and not all titles available in unlimited user format. Presses have print cannibalization concerns, inconsistent revenue streams, and management of aggregators. They must decide which platform is appropriate to host their content. 

Solutions to the challenges:

  • Libraries: DeGruyter’s UPL offers collections for 19 presses, with no DRM restrictions and an unlimited number of users. About 70 North American libraries have adopted this model. 
  • Library Presses: UPL does not lead to erosion of print sales and provides a strong and sustainable revenue stream. 

Additional considerations:

  • Get it and forget it with content, reporting, access, e-collection management is a popular model.
  • Exceptional support for university presses is provided. 
  • Content has modern-day significance.

Cambridge University Press

Cambridge has developed a higher education e-reader, Cambridge Spiral. Users can Highlight content in different colors, embed URLs, and annotate content. They can export content to PDF but cannot download it. They can create an electronic bookshelf and read books offline. Access is for 60 days and then the book must be downloaded again. 20 books at a time can be downloaded, and annotations can be shared with other students. Instructors can create groups of students, then highlight and annotate content and share with them. They can access chapters without needing to navigate through the entire book. Instructors can assign chapters to students. 

HeinOnline

HeinOnline has 38 databases on different subjects that are used by 1,000 subscribers in more than 150 countries. Over 3,000 different journals are fully searchable. Links to other documents are embedded into articles. Machine learning brings up other relevant results. Every journal goes back to its first issue. Six month free trials with on-campus and remote access are available with no obligation to subscribe after the trial. Databases on water rights and LGBT rights will be offered soon. Venn diagram searches allow users to see overlap of subjects.

East View Information Services has been providing e-books in Russian, English, Chinese, Arabic, and Persian to academic users and libraries since 2013. It is uniquely positioned to provide e-books to university libraries because of its deep understanding of research needs, a history of providing scholarly publications, and a focus on saving libraries time and effort.

Key benefits of e-books include access from any location; savings on physical space, shipping costs, and processing; an access-friendly model; and shorter processing time with MARC records. 

Products: Slavic e-books (about 6,000 titles from over 40 publishers), a complete set of Cambridge Archive Editions, China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI, over 14,000 titles from China’s most authoritative publishers dating back to 1905), China Economy Public Policy and Security (contemporary publications from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), Kotobarabia from the Middle East, (Modern Arab Renaissance Collection (3,000 e-books) and Arab Leaders, Historians and Philosophers Collection (5,000 e-books). 

BMJ

Research to publication: Collaboration Between the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and University of California San Francisco (UCSF). 

85% of biomedical research is wasted because it is never published or not enough emphasis is placed on research education.  The research to publication project combines the expertise of a high-impact medical publisher with a world-class university. It helps research skills and helps researchers get published in high quality journals. It combines 8 courses that guide students through the research and publication process, with 52 modules and over 200 hours of online learning. At the end of the program, researchers are prepared to publish in any high quality international journal, and they receive a substantial discount on APCs for articles accepted in BMJ’s journals. 

ExLibris

When building features users want, collaboration with customers is key. ExLibris has formed two communities: ELUNA (ExLibris Users of North America, 1,538 members, 43 consortia) and IGeLU (International Group of ExLibris Users, 645 members, 5 consortia). Members can propose ideas for new ExLibris features and the entire community votes on them. ExLibris will implement the new features within 12 months after they are approved by the community. Key activities: build the community, vote, discuss, and communicate. Subject domain experts build communities of practice. ExLibris commits to work hand in hand with its user community through working groups. This level of engagement with a vendor is unique. 

Avidnote

Avidnote is a web-based app for writing, organizing research notes, and collaborating with others in academia. Most researchers still take notes by hand, but that process can be digitized, which is what Avidnote does. It brings together all parts of the academic writing process in an integrated platform, so that it becomes easy to search for notes. These processes can be performed in Avidnote:

  • Finding and retrieving research articles,
  • Reference management, and
  • Annotation.

Avidnote is designed specifically for academic notes. Notes can be shared with colleagues or assigned to projects. References from management systems can be added. The cost is $20/month for researchers and faculty members; it is free for students. Users own all of their data, which is private on the system. There is no data backup which means that users can retrieve and download their data at any time. Avidnote is recommended by many university librarians. Free pilots are available.

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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