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Conference Proceedings via iPod

Here's a clever way of distributing conference proceedings -- load 'em onto a video iPod.   From the description, it looks like just getting the CD would actually be more functional (it includes synchronized PP presentations and the video iPod does not), as well as $200 cheaper.   

As far as I can see, the site doesn't say which video iPod, but assuming that it's the 30GB model that retails for $249, and that the proceedings represent a $295 "value" (based on the cost of the CD-ROM version) then you're getting the iPod itself for $200. 

The combined version doesn't cost out so well -- for $575 you can get both the CD-ROM and the iPod, but since the iPod content is already included on the CD, you're now paying $280 for the iPod.  But I suppose if you're in an institution or with an organization that'll pay for your copy of the proceedings (and the accountants aren't looking too closely at your expenses)...

I'd be very curious to see what the final sales figures turn out to be...

I was reminded of Jonathan Swift's The Battle of the Books as Donald Kennedy (editor-in-chief of  Science) raised his hands in mock horror and said, "As for blogs...  I just don't know...  I try to stay away from them..."

This was in response to a comment from the audience at the Society for Neuroscience's workshop "(R)evolution in Scientific Publishing: How Will It Affect You" in Atlanta on Monday.  Heather Joseph (executive director of SPARC) had commented during her remarks about the increasing use of blogs for valuable scientific communication, and Kennedy was acknowledging (in amusingly melodramatic fashion) the dilemmas that these new forms of communication are presenting for the established order of things.

Swift felt similarly about the rise of the pamphleteers in the early 18th century.  In his age it seemed that anyone, anywhere, could set up a press and start pumping out opinions and scandal and scurrilous comment -- how was one to determine what was real and accurate and worthwhile?  What had happened to the authority of the ancients?  How were we to know what was true?  These are precisely the challenges and opportunities that we face today -- and the world is changing just as radically.   It is useful to ponder the difference between, say, a 1765 issue of the Maryland Gazette and last Sunday's print edition of the New York Times when trying to imagine what the blogs of today are pointing us to in the future.

The six panelists (see the link above for names and affiliations) represent a broad spectrum of informed opinion about the current state of publishing, and it was clear that there is no longer (if there ever really was) any blanket "anti-open access" sentiment in the publishing world, if we understand "open access" in its simplest and broadest form.    There was strong support on the part of all panelists for experimentation in as many forms as possible.    Mark Doyle (American Physical Society) put it most clearly -- if we were inventing publishing today, we wouldn't set it up the way that it currently is.  We are tied to anachronistic structures that made sense in the print world, but don't any longer.   The question is how do we get from here to there -- that is, how do you take a publishing enterprise that is primarily dependent on subscription revenue and transition it to some other economic model (whatever that model may be) in a sustainable manner?  Virtually every publisher that I talk to is engaged in some sort of experimentation trying to figure this out.

If librarians are going to be an effective part of the discussion, and if we are going to have some influence on the  direction in which publishing evolves, we need first of all to recognize that this is a completely legitimate and extremely difficult question.  We also need to recognize that opposition to FRPAA (for example) or scepticism about "author/funder pays" are not equivalent to opposition to open access in the broadest sense.

On the bus to the SCMLA welcome reception a day or two before, I had a conversation with Mellanye Lackey, currently a 2nd year NLM Associate Fellow at UNC-Chapel Hill.  She was asking about how one engages in that discussion.  I told her that she was in a perfect position, as a young librarian at a major research institution.  I suggested that she find out (easy enough to do) who in her institution were the editors of journals, the officers of scholarly societies, and the most prolific authors.  Then she should ask them for half an hour of their time, and have a discussion with them about their views of publishing and the directions in which they think things are going.  She'll no doubt find a huge range of opinion, and she'll be starting to build the relationships in which real dialog can take place.  But it has to begin by listening.

Where Was Lyle When I Needed Him?

I bought that first black cowboy hat (a Resistol) at Massey's Corral in Birmingham over a dozen years ago, on one of my first trips to visit Lynn.  Liquid Prairie was becoming a real band, and Ranger Dave & Wren both had black hats, so I figured it was time for me to get one.  I came to realize pretty quickly that bald guys really do need hats, and I liked the way a cowboy hat suited me better than any other hat I'd ever tried.  What began as a musical prop has become my most identifiable accessory.

So my companions were, I think, more shocked than I was when, as we left the restaurant last night and I asked for my hat (a Stetson that I bought in San Antonio), the girl who'd shown us to our table and who I'd left it with, opened up the closet, gasped, and disappeared down the hall.  She'd gone to get the manager who appeared shortly extremely apologetic, to explain that another customer, earlier in the evening, tipsy upon departing, had seen the hat in the closet and said, "Oh, and that's my hat."  The girl at the hostess desk at that point was not the same one who'd greeted us, and so she saw nothing out of the ordinary in his statement and she gave it to him. 

They appeared to think that they know who the customer is and are going to try to retrieve the hat -- if not, they'll replace it, of course.  I assured them I wasn't angry with them, and we exchanged phone numbers.  Shit happens.   I was more amused than anything, and have lovely fantasies about finding the guy, showing him the picture of me and Josie in our cowboy hats and saying, "So how are you gonna explain your despicable behavior to this cute little girl when she asks me what happened to my hat?"

The Bearded Pigs play tonight.  Can T. Scott play guitar & sing while hatless?  The masses wait and wonder.

Going Home (To One Of Them, Anyway)

When fall comes, and the travel season heats up, it's hard to look forward very much because I'm so focused on the tasks immediately at hand.  So while the St. Louis trip has been planned for months, it was only this morning that I woke up full of excitement that we are actually going to be there in just a few hours!  I've been sitting here having a salami sandwich and glass of wine for lunch, browsing the Riverfront Times and the Post-Dispatch online, and looking up websites for clubs and bands and restaurants old and new.

Tomorrow we'll go to the Missouri Botanical Garden with Lonnie & Emily, and I plan to stop at the Venice Cafe to play a few songs with Ranger Dave.  Kenny O is in town and will be sitting in on Tuesday night at the Broadway Oyster Bar.  The chance to hear Kenny & Brian trade choruses is something worth travelling a good distance for.

It's been two years since the last visit that I made, and so the city will be even stranger and more distant.  The town that I lived in for seven years is long gone -- I remember the trip back when I realized that for sure, and it was a relief that I didn't have to try to hang on to it anymore.  Many of the people remain, but they're all a decade further into their lives as well.  Some are gone and won't be seen again.  One learns to embrace those aches.

Much of the best parts of my life happened in St. Louis.  I was finally formed into the man that I am there, finally managed to find my way back into my own heart.    Oddly enough, I never developed a real affection for the city as a whole -- not in the way that I feel about DC, or Chicago, or Birmingham.  But the people and the individual places -- the clubs and restaurants and musicians and artists that I spent my time with...  those are indelible parts of me, and getting ready to get on the plane to head back for a few days reminds me of how deeply intertwined a part of me they are.

You Get All Kinds

On occasion, when I’ve been talking to librarian groups, I’ve pointed out that any sentence that begins “Journal publishers…” and then goes on to make some statement that is intended to encompass all (or even most) of the entities that fall into that category, is either inaccurate or trivial, even when one is only speaking about those who are working in the STM market.   I’ve spent a lot of time talking with publishers (both in formal presentations and informal conversation) over the past year or so, but never has that been more apparent than at the annual meeting of the STM Association in Frankfurt, where I gave a talk on Tuesday.

As Michael Mabe (now CEO of STM) said to me after my presentation, STM itself takes no position on open access – its members include dedicated open access publishers, many publishers who are experimenting with a wide variety of open access options, and a few, perhaps, who wish the whole damn issue would just go away (my words, I hasten to add, not Michael’s – he was far more circumspect).  But there are very few in that latter group. 

The people at the meeting encompass the broad spectrum of scientific publishing.  As I was getting up from dinner Monday night (the speakers had been invited to have dinner with the STM board members), I turned to a tap on my shoulder and there was Erik Engstrom, CEO of Elsevier, saying hello and resuming the acquaintance that we’d begun last April in Miami.  The next day, as I finished my presentation, the first person to come up to me was Jan Velterop, late of BiomedCentral and now working to develop open access initiatives for Springer.  During breaks I talked with people from Hindawi Press (an open access publisher with a very hard-headed business sense), from the NRC Press in Canada (which is associated with their national library and thus often finds itself trying to figure out how to straddle the library/publisher divide on a national scale), from the International Publishers Association, the Association of American Publishers, and a host of other interesting individuals.

Perhaps they were just being cautious around me, but I did not notice a single cloven hoof or forked tail, and even when I was trying to be as inconspicuous as possible (I was not wearing my telltale hat), I did not manage to overhear a single conversation discussing ways to screw librarians out of the last remaining dollars in their meager budgets.

I heard much that I disagreed with, of course – it’s unlikely that the assembled couple of hundred could find a single proposition on any topic that they all agreed upon -- other than, perhaps, the fact that they believe that they’re in an industry that provides a social good, that they want their organizations (commercial and non-for-profit alike) to succeed in the future, and that they’re having a devil of a time trying to figure out what the right thing to do is in this very complicated environment.

I included in my talk my usual schtick about the need for librarians & publishers to redefine their relationship as we work to transform scholarly publishing.  The message was well received, but it was also quite clear that these people are going to be redesigning scholarly publishing whether librarians are at the table or not.  If we want to have some influence over those changes, we’re going to have to do a better job of engaging with the publishing community than we have so far.