Academic Publishing, Learning from Libraries, Libraries

Changing sides: From Library to Publisher

In the academic publishing world, every now and again you meet librarians who have moved across to work for a publisher, or vice versa. We wondered about their motivations and experiences, so we decided to talk to some of them.

Tash Edmonds

  • Please give us your name and describe your role.

Tash Edmonds, Senior Book Sales Specialist at ProQuest

My role involves working very closely with library teams to aid them with their collection and acquisitions strategies and key purchasing decisions for books, both print and electronic. This can range from helping support Print to E initiatives, reviewing procurement policies and implementing new acquisition models. I am expected to have a very high level of sector expertise and product knowledge and the skills to be able to ascertain what is the right solution for a specific library to help them achieve their departmental and institution-wide goals.

  • What makes your company a special place to work?

ProQuest take a very customer focused approach and that appealed greatly to me and is one of the reasons I have stayed for the past four years and am proud to work here. We do listen to the market and endeavour to be as responsive to change and innovative with our products, as much as our libraries require us to be.

On a personal level, I have always felt that every colleague, regardless of role or position within the company does have a voice and there are channels through which you can be heard to make suggestions and share ideas. That’s so important when working for a large organisation and is something that I believe is a core value at ProQuest and makes it a special place to work.

  • Why did you choose / what do you enjoy about working for a publishing company?

I was intrigued about the inner mechanics of an aggregator and how the relationship with libraries worked from their perspective. As a librarian in HE I saw so many changes in the sector in terms of content, platforms, licensing etc, some which I found positive, confusing and at times, downright irritating, and so I wanted to gain some insight into the rationale behind certain decisions.  My interest was with ebooks and the advantages that they can offer researchers and library users in terms of access and collaboration, and I liked the direction ProQuest was heading with their ebook platform.  I’m an inquisitive person so it did feel like being in The Wizard of Oz and seeing what was behind the curtain!

My biggest enjoyment is getting to work with my libraries and trying in some small way to help them with their day to day roles, as well as supporting them with larger initiatives and collection polices that they are working towards within their institutions. Librarians have a high level of expertise and tend to be very generous with sharing knowledge so I’m lucky to be able to learn a lot from them as well.

  • What was your responsibility when you worked in a library?

I was a member of the Acquisitions Team, starting off as a library assistant before becoming one of the team leaders. I worked on pretty much all aspects of Collections from managing access and resourcing material types for print and electronic journals and books, administering DDA programs and having responsibility for the accessible formats service which supported students with a variety of learning differences. I also was an active member of the library’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion group working on ways to make the collection and library space as inclusive as possible for all users. My commitment to equality led me to take part in the Race Equality Charter Award where I worked as a lead on the area of professional staff recruitment and progression.

  • How does your experience of working as a librarian help you in your current role?

I think it has been a huge help to me during the past four years and made the transition easier, as it was a sector, I was familiar with and there were many friendly faces that I had either worked with or knew from conferences and courses attended over the years.

On a day to day level I think being able to share my own library experiences such as restructures, moving collections from print to electronic, implementing shelf ready, managing a DDA or coping with a flood have hopefully been a benefit to the libraries I work with. My background really helps with my conversations and building close relationships as I can emphasise and share their pain when things don’t go to plan! Thankfully, I’m also able to draw on many successful projects I was able to work on during my time in libraries, share advice and offer support when required.

  • How does the work for a publishing company compare to what you used to do as a librarian?

Overall it is very different as each day tends to be very different to the next which is one of the best aspects of my role.  I travel quite a lot so there are certain periods of time where I am never in the office and I’m sure I can regularly be seen with my travel bag trying to get a train out of Paddington or Euston. The variety and autonomy are probably the two main differences from the work I did in libraries which tended to have more of a rigid structure. I do miss my old library team but I’m thankfully still in touch with a lot of them.

  • What are the particular challenges you face in your role?

I would say that I am by nature someone who likes to fix things and find answers to a problem or a conundrum (which probably explains why I became a librarian), so if I can’t find a speedy solution, I can become frustrated. I have however learned to accept that not all fixes are quick, and patience is required, but I believe that’s a useful life lesson to use outside of work as well as in it.

  • Is there anything else you would like our readers to know (about yourself or your company)?

ProQuest is a great company to work for and if you are a librarian looking to gain some insight into “the other side” so to speak, it offers so many career opportunities. There are a large group of librarians working throughout the company in a variety of roles so the probability of running into one is highly likely!

Digital Publishing, Learning from Libraries, Libraries

Libraries Week – “Celebrating Libraries in a Digital World”

It is Libraries Week in the UK – a “celebration of […] the role of libraries in the digital world” (CILIP’s words).  CILIP is organising and coordinating a series of events to mark the occasion.

Libraries up and down the country are organising events and activities around the celebrations, and the hashtag #librariesweek is trending on Twitter this week. The role of public libraries in a digital world is one that seems to need a lot of PR. More and more libraries are being forced to close down or reduce their services: services which go much beyond the mere lending of books.

Libraries are hubs of information, learning and social interaction on multiple levels. They certainly still provide information and entertainment via books, but they also allow access to multimedia content and games; provide events and courses; and offer opportunities for different communities to get together. More and more libraries are being turned into “community hubs” by their local authorities.

The digital equation

In 1998, the UK Government introduced the People’s Network, which recognised the need for everyone to have access to computers (and ultimately the internet). £100 million of lottery funding was invested to create an IT-based public library network, an objective fulfilled in 2002. The project equipped all public libraries with hardware and software which they could make accessible to their users. Over the past 20 years, countless users have relied on these services in a world that has become more and more digital. This has meant that the more vulnerable members of our society – the elderly, unemployed and those who cannot afford to pay for IT equipment themselves – have been able to participate in the digital world, not only by using the libraries’ equipment, but also by being given support and help on how to make most of the opportunities that present themselves online. Many libraries report that although the borrowing of books is going down, footfall is increasing; they say they can never have too many IT workstations. This is demonstrated also by the increase in use of online resources such as E-Books, subscription websites and downloadable audiobooks. Public libraries therefore occupy a big role in a digital world!

Budget cuts and lack of resources have put this system under a lot of strain recent years: the money for the People’s Network has dried up at a time when the equipment held by the libraries is in desperate need of being replaced. More modern computers are needed, as well as faster software and the resources to train staff to keep abreast of new developments. Some library authorities (e.g., Cambridgeshire) have decided the only option is to charge the users of IT equipment.  This leaves those unable to pay in an impossible position: in a world where Universal Credit can only be applied for online, those who need it most are being denied the means to apply for it. In 2017 and 2018 Lorensberg’s, the online resource booking company, commissioned a series of case studies from Gold Leaf on this precise topic. 20 years after the launch of the People’s Network, we examined the current IT situation in public libraries and the challenges of digital resource provision they face. These case studies are available as freely downloadable E-Books: “Short Stories from the People’s Network” (2017) and “More Short Stories from the People’s Network” (2018).

Libraries have come a long way and have achieved so much – especially in providing digital inclusion, and we should not stop celebrating this at the end of this week!

Academic Publishing, Audiobooks, Digital Publishing, Trends in Publishing

Audiobooks – more than just a trend?

Audiobooks have been the fastest growing area in consumer publishing, but also in academic publishing they are becoming more and more popular.

Undoubtedly the market leader is Amazon’s “Audible” but other audio services like Spotify, Audiobooks.com and various eBook vendors also offer audiobook programmes and some publishers distribute audiobooks on their own ebook platforms or websites.

Of course, audiobooks are not new – their origins date back to the 1930s when audiobooks were being sold on vinyl records, primarily for educational purposes. However, since they have become digital, their market reach has grown exponentially and with modern devices (for example smart watches or speakers), they can be played in all sorts of environments and have also become more interesting for the academic market. Their potential to bring in new types of content is interesting to the academic market and non-fiction “trade” publishing was  the first to take advantage of this, for example in Bloomsbury’s “33 1/3” series with a focus on exploring popular music (this project is a co-operation between Bloomsbury Publishing and Spotify).

In academic publishing, Princeton and Cambridge University Presses were the first publishers to announce their audiobook programmes: whilst PUP launched theirs in 2018 , which now comprises 12 titles, Cambridge launched their pilot with 4 titles at the 2019 London Book Fair (and a fifth title will be available in October). They have benefited from some authors who have been happy to read their work, for instance the topical “There Is No Planet B” by Mike Berners-Lee. Both university presses collaborate with the UK-based production company Sound Understanding. In November 2018, Wiley announced a collaboration with RBmedia to produce over 650 audiobooks over the next three years, though the focus will be on business and finance as well as the popular Dummies brand, more than on traditional academic publishing.

No doubt, with audiobooks being one of the buzzwords of the industry, there will be more to follow, and readers ought to keep an eye on our blog, where we will talk more about this trend as it evolves with some industry stakeholders.

Libraries, Services

The British Library: literally a national treasure

Today the British Library is housed in what from the outside is a very a non-descript building.  Resembling a giant warehouse, it stands on Euston Road in London next to St Pancras station, its much more imposing neighbour, and is a stone’s throw from both Euston and King’s Cross stations.  It therefore enjoys an ideal location in terms of accessibility.

Rather amazingly, the current building was opened twenty years ago last year: there are posters inside that celebrate this.  And, in contrast to its dull exterior, inside the building is magnificent.  A majestic staircase sweeps ever upwards (there is an escalator for the lazy or less fit), each floor an ingenious showcase to shelves full of books behind glass from George III’s peerless library. There are comfortable working areas on every floor, available to anyone who needs to nip in to find a place of work for a few minutes – or a few hours – before catching a train.  Often these are occupied by students – interestingly, mainly overseas students – are they more aware of this national resource than the home-grown variety?  There’s a restaurant, cafés and a shop; and everywhere it’s light and bright and warm, the antithesis to poky, stuffy and forbidding, facilitation of modern scholarship made vibrant. 

Beyond are the reading rooms.  Anyone who can provide the right credentials can get a reader’s card.  It does involve quite a lot of waiting about – and being turned away if you haven’t brought the right documents with you.  You need a passport and recent proof of your address on a utility bill or bank statement.  Security is tight – partly because St Pancras is viewed as a possible terrorist target – but the bag searches are quick and this care taken over readers’ safety is reassuring.  Once the reader’s card has been secured, it provides access to the reading rooms, accompanied by a wonderfully efficient book selection service.  Books may be ordered online in advance of turning up at the library, and they will be waiting for you when you arrive.

All this is free.  But for a payment of £80 a year, you can become a member of the British Library as well as a reader. This provides many benefits, including free access to the exhibitions for you and a friend, free access to up to four events per year and discounts on purchases from the shop, cafés and restaurant.  The current exhibition (it closes on Sunday) is Leonardo da Vinci: a Mind in Motion, and features a collection of Leonardo’s scientific writings, drawn from three major collections.  It is well worth a visit if you happen to be in London today or over the weekend.

Even if you are only an occasional visitor to London, you are likely to get your membership ‘moneysworth’ over the year.  More importantly, you will be supporting one of the world’s greatest libraries, a national treasure of which we can unequivocally be proud in these times of turmoil and political farce.  So this short post is meant as a little nudge: if you aren’t yet familiar with the British Library, and can make time for a visit – or go to its plainer but as a provider of scholarly resources equally munificent sister at Boston Spa – our betting is that your life will be enriched.

Finances, Students

Jumping on the student gravy train

We’re almost twenty years into this century and each year has brought an increase in the politicisation of the UK’s universities, with the resulting knock-on effect on the student population.  In 2002, Tony Blair said that the government’s target was for 50% of eighteen-year-olds to enter higher education – a figure which it subsequently transpired he probably picked out of the air.  David Cameron was keen on universities being run as businesses, while at the same time deploring the “narrowness” of the subjects they covered. 

The introduction of tuition fees, starting at modest levels in 1998 and rising eventually to £9,000 a year in the academic year 2012 – 2013, meant universities were now in competition with each other, and trying not only to attract the best students or encourage students to enrol for the courses that best served their goals, but taking any students with the remotest prospect of gaining a degree, provided they could pay the fees. This has resulted in the phenomenon of 38% of students receiving unconditional offers, or offers with “unconditional components”, according to UCAS, this year.  The practice has now come under scrutiny because there is evidence that some of these students have not made as much effort to gain good A level grades as they would have if they’d had targets to meet.  Confusingly, the same quest to beat the competition has made sixth form colleges and secondary schools with sixth forms turn away students who did not achieve high GCSE grades, to preserve the reputation of the school. 

In a partial about-turn, but still with the competitive aim very much in view, some universities are now offering incentives, in the form of bursaries, to students who get the best A level grades; others are offering reduced fees, putting money into “free” accounts for the purchase of study-related materials, or providing first-year students with computers in order to fill all the places they have available.  And although in practice UK universities embrace the concept of “widening participation” with varying degrees of enthusiasm, all are paying it 110% lip service.  But really it is all about bums on seats.

Now others are jumping on the student gravy train.  Banks are offering cash incentives to students opening accounts.  One very famous hardware manufacturer sells a computer costing almost £1000 which, recent adverts suggest, students can’t do without; they’re being offered it via a payment scheme of “only” almost £50 per month.  It is easy for students to get loans, not just from the government, but from banks and other financial providers, including some very dubious ones. 

Students have therefore become big business.  Everyone wants a piece of the cash they do not actually have, but will somehow find ways of obtaining because they believe they are investing in their future.  Sometimes the outcome will be worthwhile; on many occasions it won’t – they’ll either drop out of courses unsuitable for them or which they can’t keep on funding; emerge from university with degrees that don’t fit them for the jobs they want to do; or find that no jobs exist in their chosen field.  And the real scandal is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to find someone to turn to for unbiased, well-informed advice before they make these costly decisions.  Schools and universities are likely to put their own vested interests first; many parents still labour under the delusion that if only you can get a degree, the world will be your oyster.

Wouldn’t it be great if the institutions and businesses seeking to make money from students put back a little of that money to set up an independent advisory council for students – something akin to an Ombudsman Service, a financial planning service, a Citizen’s Advice Bureau and a careers advisory service rolled into one?  It wouldn’t close down the gravy-train – to expect that would be too pie-in-the-sky – but at least it would help them to make wiser, better informed choices more suited to their needs. 

Services

Going out to Tender: a Study in Etiquette

During the (almost) twenty years of Gold Leaf’s existence, we have worked on many tenders.  Sometimes we have been sitting on one side of the table; sometimes on the other.  We have helped clients prepare  Invitations to Tender [ITTs] and assess the eventual results they’ve received; we have advised at tender “beauty contests” (i.e., formal presentations requested of shortlisted applicants); we have attended the latter on behalf of the clients making the bid; and on occasions we have bid ourselves.  We therefore hope that these notes, which are born of considerable experience and have been triggered both by a recent, particularly poorly-conceived tendering process in which we invited to participate and in anticipation of helping a new client to prepare an ITT, will be useful to our readers.

People sometimes ask what the difference is between an ITT and a Request for Proposal [RFP].  The two terms are often used interchangeably; but an RFP can be more informal in approach than an ITT, which usually involves a formal invitation to participate, results in multiple responses and culminates in the award of a legally-binding contract to the successful applicant.  An RFP may be a simple request to an existing supplier to set out the methodology, costs and fees for a project that has already been offered to them, without reference to other suppliers.  This article will focus on ITTs; and on best practice (“etiquette”), rather than providing a step-by-step “how to” guide for constructing the ITT document (much excellent advice may be found online for those seeking such guidelines).

Prior to designing an ITT, the first step to take is to consider carefully whether it is necessary at all; and if the answer to this is ‘yes’, whether it should be an open or closed ITT.  If you are considering designing an ITT for the second part of a project which a favoured supplier has already completed successfully, and you and the supplier are both happy for them to continue with Part 2, you do not need to put the second part of the project out to tender unless not doing so means a contravention of the public procurement policy in your country (the UK rules are set out clearly on the GOV.UK website here, but will almost certainly change after Brexit) or goes against the rules of your own company or organisation.  If you are obliged by such a policy or rules to go out to tender, you owe it to your less-preferred suppliers both to take up as little of their time post-bid as possible and to keep an open enough mind to consider their bids with professional seriousness: the excellence of one of them may, after all, surprise you!

If you genuinely want to devise a tender, to discover what is ‘out there’, whether it should be open or closed depends on how specialised is the work required.  If your organisation operates in a sector that requires of the supplier prior specialist knowledge and experience – e.g., of practical application of the Arts – or specified technical competence – e.g., being able to provide a technological solution with certain non-negotiable features – a closed tender is not only your best but probably the only responsible option for you to take. This will involve sending the ITT to a selection (typically 4 – 6) of potential suppliers, each of whom you believe is capable of fulfilling the requirements. If the project requires creative thinking or the deployment of transferrable skills, or you think that a new approach from those taken for previous, similar projects might be desirable, an open tender might work better. Do be aware, however, that assessing open tenders is much more time consuming than assessing closed tenders (as you are likely to get many more responses, and, it has to be said, much more “dross”, which will still need to be dealt with scrupulously and courteously).  The construction of open tenders also requires more care, as respondents, even if they are capable of delivering excellent results and therefore worth considering, won’t necessarily be on the same wavelength as you are at the beginning of the process.

All bids should be acknowledged upon receipt and read carefully and appraised according to a set of criteria, which in the case of an open bid should include assessment of transferrable skills and creativity.  If a “beauty contest” is planned – and at Gold Leaf we would encourage this if there are at least two promising candidates – only bidders who are genuinely still being considered for the project should be called to interview.  It should go without saying that this is because the ITT process involves a duty of care on both sides: the applicant owes it to the originator of the ITT to give it and any follow-up work his or her “best shot”; and the originator owes it to the applicant not to waste his or her time and money on completing extra tasks, such as presentations and business modelling and undertaking the expense of travelling to a meeting, if there is little prospect of their winning the bid.  Most emphatically, the originator of the ITT should not abuse their position of power by involving “secondary” candidates in extra work merely in order to benchmark their preferred candidate.  It cannot be emphasised enough that a formal interview that requires extra work and whose end result is a legally-binding contract for the successful candidate cannot be downplayed as a “little chat”.

Finally, once the successful candidate has been offered the project and accepted it, unsuccessful candidates should be contacted as soon as possible.  If the ITT was open and there were many respondents, it isn’t necessary to give all of them detailed feedback; a courteous thank-you and explanation that you were impressed by the many excellent applications received will suffice.  However, if the ITT was closed, all the unsuccessful applicants deserve a full explanation of why their bid was not chosen; as do all those called to interview in an open bid.

Much of the above, of course, simply requires a mixture of professionalism, good sense and courtesy. 

If you are considering going out to tender and would like assistance with any part of the process, from deciding which type of tender you need to the design of an ITT to help with assessing the resulting candidates (including the “beauty contest”), Gold Leaf will be happy to help.

Deutsch, Students, Universities

Germany: Universities of Excellence – excellent universities?

The German university system has never had an equivalent to Oxbridge, Russell Group or the Ivy League. This is partially down to the way students are admitted – there are no (or very low) tuition fees and by law each university is obliged to offer all students with a German “Abitur” (A-level/IB equivalent) a place for Higher Education. Only if a certain course has more applicants than places can the university choose – and even then the choice must purely be based on A-level results.

Therefore, German universities are pretty egalitarian and cannot chose their undergraduate students and build a profile in the same way universities in other countries do, and students tend to choose their universities mainly based on location.
In more recent years, universities have been given more freedom to choose their postgraduate and PhD students, based on criteria they themselves can set, but since that is a recently new development it has not yet resulted in the same kind of profile building as UK and US universities have perfected.

Much high-ranking German research happens outside the universities: research societies like the Max-Planck Society, the Leibnitz Association, the Fraunhofer Society or the Helmoltz Association run over 200 non-university research centres and are empowered to award PhDs and PostDoc qualifications.

It may be asked, surely there must be a difference in quality between German universities?

The DFG (“Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft”, German Research Foundation) is the main funding body for research at German universities and has been responsible for funding of research in all disciplines since 1937. Over the last 15 years, the DFG has recognised that in order to participate in the international exchange of research and in international university rankings, a certain “elite”  status was necessary for some universities. Therefore in 2004  the DFG started the prestigious “Universities Excellence Initiative”, which initially supported certain “clusters of excellence” at a variety of universities. Effectively, selected interdisciplinary research projects and graduate schools were being awarded special funds for developing outstanding research.

This initiative evolved and was developed further over the years, and in 2019 was re-named the “Excellence Strategy”.  It nominated a selected number of universities as “Universities of Excellence” – awarding these institutions up to €15m annualy for research over a period of 7 years.  When this period time has elapsed,  each university is re-evaluated. On 19 July 2019 the DFG announced the 11 winning universities (list see below) that have been awarded this status.

The universities had to apply for selection and were evaluated by an international commission. The initiative focuses exclusively on research output. Whether or not teaching at these universities is “excellent” remains undecided; the German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat) and the German Rectors’ Conference (Hochschulrektorenkonferenz) have both made it very clear they have no plans to establish an equivalent to the TEF.

The German “Universities of Excellence” are:

  • RWTH Aachen (Rheinisch Westfälisch Technische Hochschule)
  • “Berlin University Alliance” (including FU Berlin, Humboldt University Berlin, TU Berlin and Charité)
  • University of Bonn (Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität)
  • Technical University of Dresden
  • University of Hamburg
  • Heidelberg University (Ruprechts-Karls-Universität)
  • KIT – Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
  • University of Konstanz
  • LMU – Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich
  • Technical University of Munich
  • University of Tübingen (Eberhard-Karls-Universität).