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November 2010

Ask Questions

A couple of weeks from now (Friday, November 5th, at 9 in the morning, to be exact), I'll be hosting a conversation with Y.S. Chi and Kent Anderson at the Charleston Conference.  I've known each of them for some time, and they are among the most experienced, thoughtful, and inquisitive people in publishing. 

Y.S. is currently Vice-Chairman and CEO Science & Technology for Elsevier -- you know, that little outfit that produces ScienceDirect, Scopus, Embase, Engineering Village, etc.   Before Elsevier he held several president and CEO positions at Ingram Book Group and was CEO and President at Random house.

Kent is CEO & Publisher of the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery.  He spent a decade with the New England Journal of Medicine, helping them move into the digital age, and before that ran periodicals for the American Academy of Pediatrics.  He's the editor-in-chief of The Scholarly Kitchen (which you ought to be reading daily).

These guys know a lot.  They spend most of their time trying to figure out where scholarly publishing is going.

I've told them I don't want prepared presentations.  We're going to hang out on the stage,  I'll ask them some questions to get things rolling, and then we'll turn it over to the audience. 

We're going to have fun.  What do you think I should ask them?


Finding Moonlight

I wasn't older than 14 when it became clear there were never going to be enough hours in the day for everything I wanted to do.   I was dealing with blisters on my fingers from this new guitar that I talked my sister's boyfriend into giving me $20 to buy; even then there were stacks of books rising around my bed; it was becoming clear that girls were going to require a lot of time; and I was becoming obsessed with the fascination of scratching sentences into cheap notebooks everyday.  Oh, and there was school.

Not much has changed -- the blisters are thick callouses, but I'm not close to making that guitar do whatever I want it to do; the stacks of books & magazines get ever higher; the girls are fewer, but they take up even more time; and it feels like there's more sentences knocking around my brain everyday than I'll ever in my life get a chance to get out.  Oh, and there's libraryland.

This is my only excuse for taking until last night to get to Moonlight on the Mountain.   We managed to get to its previous incarnation, the Moonlight Music Cafe, several times during the few years before it closed in '06.  Always a fabulous experience.  And every time we went we told ourselves we were going to get there more often and then it was closed.

So when the new room opened last spring, we were determined to be better.  Still, it wasn't until last night that we made it.  We were wonderfully rewarded.  First set by Jason Harrod, short break and then a set by the Twangtown Paramours -- all original music, some sweet, some funny, some delicate, some rowdy.  CDs for sale.  Plenty of time to mingle and chat with the performers. 

Go to their websites.  Listen to their samples.  Buy their music.

The new Moonlight is stripped down.  Cash at the door, no food & drink.  A few chairs & tables.  A small stage and what must be one of the finest sound systems in the city.  It's all about the music.  I made some Parisian style ham & camembert baguettes to bring along with a bottle of wine.  The candles on the table made it feel like a chic underground cafe.   How could there be a better way to end a busy week?

So when will we get back?  No promises.  We're coming up against a hectic travel schedule.  We've got all that other stuff to juggle.  But surely, surely, we can be smart enough to find a few hours here and there to bask in the music and Moonlight?


Hang Out With People in Publishing

A few days ago, I was harping on the need for librarians to spend more time hanging out with people in publishing, so it seems appropriate for me to point to the programme for the 2011 meeting of the Association of Subscription Agents, which will be held in London next February.  I've attended the meeting a couple of times as a speaker and have found it extremely worthwhile.   It's a small, relaxed meeting and as you can see from the list, they cover a broad range of topics.  These are people who are very concerned with figuring out where scholarly publishing is going, and what their various roles in it are, so the discussions can be very illuminating.  You get to engage in real conversation with people who have widely differing opinions about what needs to be done, but who all care passionately about getting it done right.   They even have a special rate for librarians!



Sidewalk Films: Tell Me What's Real

For two people whose first marriages imploded rather messily, hitting the fifteen year mark felt like a real milestone.  It made us happy.

We generally celebrate our anniversary at least twice -- once at the Welcome Reception of the annual MCMLA conference, whenever that happens to be, and once on the actual date.  (In the fifteen years since we got married at that reception, I don't recall that the two dates have ever exactly coincided.)  Given our typical fall travel schedule, as often as not we'll be out of town on the calendar date.  But Lynn always has our wedding champagne flutes in their travel case and we always have a fine time.

This year, the calendar angels were working in our favor.    We were in town, and the annual Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival was scheduled for the same weekend.  One other year we managed to get down for a day of the festival, but this was the first time we'd be able to go to the whole thing.  So I booked us into the Tutwiler Hotel and we made a celebration of it.

The venues for the films are all within easy walking distance of each other, so with a little ingenuity and careful scheduling, you can get to quite a few.  And we did.  We only saw one that we thought was pretty awful -- I won't mention it by name (bless it's heart).   We saw a couple that were stunning -- Marwencol was clearly a highpoint for me.  Lynn saw Mars without me and told me that I'd love it.  We were both touched and delighted by The Happy Poet.  There were others that were quite fine.

But for pure fun and silliness, the favorite was Americatown.  It's fast, it's funny, it's shot on location all across the country, and it's got just enough of a touch of seriousness to leaven all of that silliness.   It was joy to watch.

As someone who actually knows very little about film, one of my favorite things about the festival is that there is almost always someone associated with the film attending, and they'll do a bit of Q&A with the audience after the screening.  I learned quite a bit from those.  My very favorite Q&A moment, though, came after Americatown.   Cory Howard, who plays Roosevelt Microsoft, took a question from a very young movie fan.  The exchange went like this:


Very young kid (6?7?):  All those places that you went – was that all real or was it fake?

CH: Yeah, it was all real, man.  Yeah, we went to all of those places…

VYK:  But that… when you fell through that trap door in the sand….?

CH: (looks stricken)  Oh, man!    You’re so young….  I hate to do this…  (covers eyes briefly with forearm)  But that…  Well – look – you’re going to see a lot of movies from here on out, and I’ve got to be honest…  It’s ALL fake.  But there’s lots of real stuff out there, too!  You gotta get into that – there’s the trees & hills…  and, um, there’s Santa Claus…  and there’s, oh yeah, there’s insects, man!  Get into insects, they are so amazing!

VYK: (inaudible)

CH:  What’s that?  (puts hand to ear)

VYK:  There’s SpongeBob!

CH:  Yeah!  There’s SpongeBob!  He’s real.  He’s hard to find, down there on the bottom of the ocean, though.  But yeah….


Reality is where you find it.  We found quite a bit of it in downtown Birmingham that weekend.


Maximum Ingenuity at MCMLA

I imagine that I do a pretty good job with presentations, so whenever I see somebody who I think is much better than me, I'm trying to figure out what of their style I can steal.  It could be tough with Rothman, because his presentation style seems to come so naturally from who he is.

He was the lunch speaker for the final day of the MCMLA conference, talking about inexpensive technologies ("Cheap and Easy: Bang for Your Buck").  His slides are here.  (And I feel compelled to point out that I intended to put up a post about his talk before I found out that he'd have links back to me all over it.  As if anybody cares.)  Be sure to watch the video of his boy Simon, with his new laptop.  The last question during the Q&A was, "Sorry, but could we just see the video of Simon one more time?"

The slides are worth going through for the links to some very cool tools, some of which I was not aware of, that will solve some small problems I've been having, but what's more important about the presentation is the overall tone and approach.  Rothman's a one person librarian in a challenging situation -- small hospital, few resources, IT department that is very focused on security, and an administration that does not have library services very high on the priority list.  He's far from unique in being in that kind of setting, but all too often it results in the librarian whining about what they can't do.  The line from his presentation that has stuck with me the most is, "Not all the time, and not every day, but I love my job."  And clearly he does.

When I was teenager, falling in love with words, it took me a long time to understand poetic form.  What was the point of trying to put your thoughts into fourteen lines with a complicated rhyme structure & meter?  I came to understand that it is by banging against the restrictions of form that we release the best of our creativity.

Rothman showed a slide that listed his hospital's priorities for his job, and then his own priorities.  They're not exactly the same list.  What he understands is that he's got to make sure that he handles the hospital's list exquisitely well -- and once he's done that, he can unleash his creativity on dealing with his own list.  He doesn't waste time trying to persuade his bosses that his list is better than theirs.  He just gets the job done.

During the Q&A to an earlier session, someone was trying to explain to the speaker that they really couldn't do what the speaker was suggesting because they just didn't have enough time and people.  The standard excuses.  I was in the back of the room and wanted to scream, "You don't have to solve the whole damn thing -- any progress is still progress!  Make something happen."

I was talking with some of my crew awhile back about our liaison program.  We will never have the resources that it would take to do everything that we think ought to be done.  That doesn't stop the people I get to work with from doing amazing things every day.  It doesn't seem to stop Rothman, either.


Searching for common ground: public access and the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable

 As soon as I sent the draft of my editorial about the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable around to the other roundtable members for review, Fred began referring to it as my "how I spent my summer vacation" essay.  That's pretty accurate.  When Susan Starr, the editor of the Journal of the Medical Library Association, asked me last March if I'd be interested in writing an editorial for the October issue, I knew immediately what I wanted to write about.  The report itself is the important thing, and I didn't see any need to repeat the substance of it, but I thought it might be useful to describe my perceptions of how the Roundtable came about, and what I think it achieved.  I'm grateful to Susan for giving me the chance to do that.

At the most basic level, the goal of open access is to eliminate subscription barriers (there's much more to the various "flavors" of open access, of course, but that's the fundamental thing).  What I try to emphasize in the editorial is that across the broad spectrum of the scholarly communication community, there isn't any significant opposition to that goal.  But how we get there, and how we craft policy in such a way as to maximize the benefits and minimize the negative unintended consequences is very complex and requires carefully balancing among a number of competing priorities.  The Roundtable report attempts to describe that complexity and that balancing act in ways that we hope will be useful to policy makers.

Jim O'Donnell (another roundtable member) and I will be hosting a session on the report and its relationship to FRPAA at the Charleston Conference in a few weeks.   I'm hoping for a lively discussion.


Breaking Down the Mental Models

It hasn't been my geographic region for fifteen years, but every year I pay my own way to the MCMLA conference.  My history with the chapter is deep.  I go principally for the people, but every year I'm reminded what a great job they do with content.  Last year, the keynote was the amazing T.R. ReidThis year it kicked off with the tag team of Lorri Zipperer and Paul Uhlig.

 Lorri is well known for her work on patient safety, and this was the point of the presentation, as reflected in the title,  New Possibilities: The Catalytic Role of Librarians as Front Line Partners for Transforming Clinical Care.  But unlike other work I've come across over the years that discusses a more active clinical role for librarians, Lorri and Paul focused on the cultural barriers to this kind of collaboration, and emphasized the kinds of interactions that need to happen if it is to be successful.  I'd woken up that morning thinking about how I might respond to Marcus's comments to my previous post and it seemed to me that the challenges to effective librarian/physician interactions paralleled quite clearly those affecting librarians and publishers.

 They emphasized the ways in which we get trapped by our mental models.   This is not just librarians, of course; it affects all professions.  So we end up having warped views of those we interact with who are not part of our own tribe.  Lorri told the story of talking to someone not long out of library school and recommending that she read some of Atul Gawande's books.  The librarian responded, "I'd never read anything by a surgeon!"  Lorri told her she was in the wrong business.  An extreme example, perhaps, but reflective of how too many librarians think of physicians.

Paul put it succinctly:  "We are who we are because of the way we interact, who we talk with...  We create our realities in our mutual interactions."

So it is with librarians and publishers.  As librarians we create mental models of publishers that puts us in opposition to them.  Marcus says, "The traditional publishing model ... really should be at risk."  I scarcely know a person in publishing who doesn't agree with that -- but the tone of Marcus's comment reflects the notion, prevalent among librarians, that publishers are trying to defend and protect a traditional publishing model.  Surely it's the case that there are some who are trying to hang in there, hoping for retirement before it all collapses around them -- just as there are librarians who still think their job is to build & manage collections and worry about how to get people into the library.  But most of the people I talk with in publishing are trying just as vigorously as smart librarians to figure out how to transform their organizations so that they remain vibrant and fruitful in the digital age.

Marcus asks, "How can we credibly align the interests of publishers and librarians?" and in an email message to me he suggests that "the interests of the two groups are on a collision course..."  I think many librarians feel that way, but it has become very clear to me, through my work with the Chicago Collaborative and the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable, as well as so many of the numerous other conversations and interactions that I've had with publishers over the past decade that our interests are aligned in many more ways than they are in opposition.  But you'd never know that if the only conversations that you ever have are with somebody who is trying to get you to pay a price that's higher than what you want to pay. 

I'm a library director, so it's my job to worry about money and the health of my organization -- but of course, that's not ALL I worry about.  Publishers worry about research fraud, professional ethics, the development of young scholars, preservation and archiving, using new technologies to enhance communication, and developing better discovery and analysis tools to further the impact of research.  And, yes, they worry about how to get the scholarly literature into the hands of those who can benefit from it the most, which is why all of the major commerical STM publishers are experimenting with at least some kind of an open access or public access option.   The Roundtable's core recommendation is:  "Each federal research funding agency should expeditiously but carefully develop and implement an explicit public access policy that brings about free public access to the results of the research that it funds as soon as possible after those results have been published in a peer‐reviewed journal."  Every publisher in the room agreed with that -- the core disagreements had to do with how much government intervention is advisable and necessary.

I don't expect to agree on all issues with my colleagues in publishing.  For heaven's sake, Lynn and I just celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary -- I know about having disagreements with people that you care about.  

Lorri and Paul made a very compelling case for how much can be improved for patients when the people involved in patient care -- including the patients themselves -- are part of a broad conversation that exists in an atmosphere of trust.  They also pointed out that creating that atmosphere is something that takes time, patience, hard work and a willingness to listen and to challenge one's own mental models.  Those of us who care about the future of scholarly communication can achieve a great deal as well, but we have to have that same willingness.



Chicago Collaborative Rules of Engagement

It occurred to me while Liz and I were meeting with our Elsevier reps the other day that part of the reason that my perspective on publishers and publishing is so different from so many of my colleagues is that while I spend far more time with publishers than most librarians, almost none of that time is spent with sales & marketing people.   When Steven Bell, who writes prolifically about library matters had the opportunity to spend some extended time with publisher representatives, the encounter surprised him.  But, as he says, "My interaction with scholarly publishers has consisted primarily of short conversations at library conference booths."  This really has to change.

The Chicago Collaborative (CC) was designed to foster the kinds of conversations that can surprise both librarians and publishers when we sit down to talk about the issues that we have in common and quit thinking of each other primarily as buyers and sellers.  And in the five meetings that we've had so far, it's been extremely successful at that.  At the end of each day there's been a palpably giddy sense in the room.  We're all learning so much and there is a growing sense of how much we can accomplish when we work together, rather than being at odds.

But up to now, the library community has been represented exclusively by members of the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL).  (All of us are members of MLA and some of us are members of ALA or come from ARL institutions, but with the CC we're there as AAHSL reps.)  I've been pretty insistent all along that eventually this needs to expand.  The issues that we're trying to address are of concern to all librarians, not just those with a biomedical focus.

All the same, we all feel protective of our fledgling unorganization.  The adversarial approach that has been adopted by the OA advocacy groups has generated a great deal of mistrust in the community.  Too many librarians have an image of publishers as mercenary fat cats determined to "lock-up" scholarship, and too many publishers have come to believe that librarians would just as soon put them all out of business.  But when the CC meets, we have to put those notions aside, and work with each other in good faith, as people who are fundamentally dedicated to improving scholarly communication for everyone.

So we've drafted what we're calling the Rules of Engagement -- a set of principles that govern how we approach our discussions.  The rules refer to the Chatham House Rule (which I learned about when I joined the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable) and are designed to establish a baseline for candid conversations based on the idea that we are not there to push specific agendas, but to learn from each other and to work with each other.

It's a tall order -- we're trying to change the nature of the conversation that librarians and publishers and editors and scholars have.  But I remind myself that the CC is only a little over two years old and I think we're making progress.  I'm impatient because I feel that we (and by "we" I mean all of those in the scholarly communication community who care about making the most of the opportunities the digital age presents us) have wasted far too much time. 

Open access week is coming up.  Here's what I wish librarians would do -- if you really care about advancing the openness of scholarship, make a commitment to go to at least one publishers conference or meeting in the next year.  Introduce yourself to somebody other than your sales rep.  Go have a cup of coffee or a drink.  Ask them about what they see as the future of scholarly publishing.  And then listen.

Librarian radicals of the sixties

I don't think there's actually a written rule on this anywhere, but there seems to be an accepted tradition that each Doe Lecturer reads through all of the previous Doe lectures as they prepare their own.  Some months ago, I received from Ana Cleveland, last year's lecturer, a large blue binder containing copies of all of the previous lectures.  Apparently each lecturer sends the growing collection on to the next one.  Kind of a quaint tradition, given that all the lectures are now available online, and have been for years.

Since the lectures have been given every year but one since 1967, they may have to start naming the lecturer two years ahead instead of one, just so that there's time to get through them all.

I'm enjoying the reading.  I find that it illuminates much of my frustration with the Library 2.0 crowd and their apparent belief that their view of a new technological, patron-centered librarianship represented some kind of radical break with the past.  To wit:

The medical librarian of 1967 lives in a period of changing concepts, dramatic new methods, everwidening scientific horizons.  To meet these challenges he must welcome the future with patient flexibility and ready enthusiasm.  He is aware that no generation of librarians has seen such a swift transformation of techniques and that no generation has seen such a rapid expansion of scientific knowledge.  In looking toward the immediate past he may think of the medical librarian of thirty years ago as a complacent follower of accepted procedures, not as a pioneer in a brave new world.  (Gertrude Annan, 1967)

Recent emphasis [in the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association] is on the demands of medical research and education and on the techniques of an electronic world.  (Gertrude Annan, 1967)

Today the typical medical librarian must be an administrator, educator, researcher, collector, public servant, fund raiser, accountant, architect, psychologist and public relations expert.  With this enlightened viewpoint in mind, I object to being classified as the stereotyped librarian of twenty-five years ago.  I object to following outmoded policies and procedures.  I object to the status quo attitude and lack of experimentation and desire on the part of some for improved methodology for librarianship.  (Alfred Brandon, 1969)

Medical libraries are the recorded experiences of mankind in its attempt to study and take action on the problems of health and disease.  Their purpose is to bring the information gathered in the past to bear on the questions of the present and the future, and thus to break down the barriers of time and space.  (Estelle Brodman, 1971)

You can find similar statements in just about every one of the lectures.   That's why I never could figure out what was "new" about what the Library 2.0 folks were saying, other than that they were enchanted with the latest shiny thing.

The immediate challenges we face always seem new, of course.  There's always a new technology that presents great opportunities if we can figure out how to use it wisely and well.  But the philosophy, the approach, the ethic of librarianship that supports us in making our decisions was well-articulated over forty years ago.