As the small group discussion was wrapping up, we were talking about how the relationship between the library community and Elsevier might be different. I was with a dozen or so senior managers, and was speculating about what it might be like if a library director like me could use Elsevier almost as a consultant, who would come in and help me work with my faculty to analyze my institution's information management needs and come up with a multi-year plan that was carefully tailored to our institution's priorities and goals. "But would librarians trust Elsevier enough to do something like that?" came the question. "No," I said, without hesitation. "And that's just a reality that you're going to have to deal with, and figure out how to change. It will only happen bit by bit."
It's too bad that more librarians can't spend the kind of time with some of the senior people at Elsevier that I was able to this week. It's tough to demonize people when you've had food and drink with them and have talked passionately about what you believe to be the social importance of what you're doing. And make no mistake -- the people I talked with do believe passionately in the role they play in the whole knowledge creation chain. They believe they are doing good things. I was very impressed with their openness, their eagerness to listen to what I had to say, and their very thoughtful questions and discussion.
What Tony had said to me on the phone a few weeks ago was something like, "How'd you like to go to Miami and tell 100 Elsevier managers what you think?" Turns out that this was the first general meeting with the senior management from across the company since Erik Engstrom was appointed CEO a year and a half or so ago. And somebody'd had the creative notion that they should take half a day out of their meeting to listen to actual customers.
Which is why I ended up kicking off the Wednesday morning panel, telling the assembled group why I thought the journal article was going to become relatively less central as a means of scholarly communication and what that might mean for the library community, for a company like Elsevier, and for the relationship between them.
The panel also included Jonathan Teich, an ER physician who has spent his career developing point of care information systems, and Rick Walsh, chair of medicine at Case Western, who is also the editor of one of Elsevier's most important journals. The panel was expertly moderated by Doran Schneider, a family physician and medical reporter for his local ABC affiliate in Pennsylvania. We each took about twenty minutes to picture the future from our different perspectives, and then fielded questions for about an hour.
Afterwards, the assembly was divided into small groups, which is where we ended up talking about trust and relationships. At dinner the night before, I'd had the chance to talk with Engstrom at some length about what he is trying to do, and his belief that the company needs to embrace innovation and look for new ways to creatively engage with the communities that they serve. Part of that means looking at the relationship with librarians to see if it can be shifted from something that is often acrimonious and tense, to something that is a real partnership.
It's a tall order, and, as I said to the discussion group the next morning, if it happens at all, it is only going to happen a person at a time.