Academic Publishing, Learning from Libraries, Libraries

Changing sides: From Publisher to Library

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.
Three weeks ago, we spoke to Tash Edmonds, who left her job as a librarian to join ProQuest. This week, we spoke to someone who used to work for Cambridge University Press and moved from the UK to Sweden to become a librarian.

Jonathan McCrow

  • Please give us your name and describe your role.

Jonathan McCrow
License Coordinator – Librarian
Licenssamordnare – Bibliotekarie
Stockholm University Library

  • What makes your library a special place to work?

At Stockholm University we all work in diverse working groups in order to meet the needs of our patrons and to support the university. My working group is the Licensing Group – looking after all e-resource acquisition and Open Access. I, fortunately, get to work within a small team of very experienced librarians with a wealth of knowledge for me to slowly steal, bit by bit.
Within the license group, we aim to meet our Media Plan strategy as best we can. A strategy that we treat as our standards guideline – laid out by the library director and steering committee. With a straight-forward strategy focussing on patron and usage-driven acquisition, we have a clear pathway and game plan as to how we will meet our users’ needs with regards to academic resources. This, of course, doesn’t fend off the usual challenges acquisition teams typically face – budget restraints, inflexible sales models, etc. – but it does give us reasoning and focus.

  • Why did you choose to become / what do you enjoy about being a librarian?

Brexit. If the UK had not voted for us to leave the European Union, then I would not have applied to Information Science MSc courses in Europe – wishing to squeeze in some last-minute free studying as an EU citizen. Without one thing leading to another, I would not have studied for a librarianship master’s degree and I would not have ended up in Stockholm, Sweden.
The work I now do as a librarian has been a true eye-opener. Although there were many practices on this side of the fence that I have always known about, it has been a joy to watch them in motion. With the knowledge and experience I garnered in Academic Publishing I now get to discuss the industry of academic research/publishing without any blinkers on – this is quite refreshing.

  • What was your responsibility when you worked in publishing?

During my years working in academic publishing, I have almost exclusively worked in e-resource sales. The years spent selling e-resources in the Nordics were a particular highlight for me, as I got to meet many nice librarians and visit many gorgeous libraries.
Following my years as a sales rep, I worked as the development manager for the journals team – sat in between the sales teams and the journals editorial teams. Half of my work was assisting sales teams globally with transitions to new sales models. The other half of my work was to assist the editorial teams with the management of the academic journals from a sales and financial point of view. With so much change going on, it was imperative the two teams had a bridging employee to direct conversations and link working practices together.
My work with journals was extensive – as was the sales work for ebooks, with a strong focus on Evidence-Based Acquisition. Working with a varied set of different tasks and slightly different fields of interest gave me a nice balance to keep me interested and on my toes.

  • How does your experience of working in publishing help you in your current role?

My years of following the journal editorial and production processes allowed me the good fortune of learning all the general intricacies of journal publishing, plus many irregular matters. Trying as we are to transition to a world of Open Access publishing, we in my working group are tasked with assisting researchers as they attempt to author their articles as Open Access. My previous experiences with journals publishing and knowledge of Open Access has given me a real boost in this field, allowing me to assist our authors as best I can.

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

Working for an academic institution feels quite different from working for a commercial publisher. Not to suggest things are more relaxed working in a library, but there sure are fewer people rushing and whizzing around – darting from one meeting to the next. We are of course kept extremely busy, working within similar cycles as academic publishers and sales teams – tied almost strictly to the terms of the academic year. Even during the ‘quiet’ months over summer outside of the academic year, we still had plenty of work to do to prepare for the new term starting in September. I remember doing similar things and waiting for the new term to start when I was working for a publishing company – not much has changed in that respect.

  • What are the particular challenges you face as a librarian?

In very similar fashion to publishers, we on the library side have to keep ourselves up to date with so many different aspects of scholarly communications. It is not just Open Access – although this does top the bill. The management of our catalogues and acquisition portfolios really does keep us busy, as we are expected to keep abreast of model changes and the different approaches publishers have. More so when adjustments to how e-resources are offered changes in one way or another – especially when we are not informed until after the fact. When it comes to data and information sharing, we all need to make improvements and streamline our information channels.

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

Librarians are cool. Never forget it. Librarians in Sweden more so than all the others – with all further librarians worldwide coming a close second.

Academic Publishing, Digital Publishing, Libraries

How to make your publications more discoverable: tips from Lone Ramy Katberg, Special Adviser to Aalborg University Library and the Royal Danish Library

In today’s academic library world, there are scores if not hundreds of companies offering every possible kind of solution for cataloguing, displaying and making the library’s holdings discoverable.  However, some of these are very expensive; and, as Lone Ramy Katberg, Special Adviser to Aalborg University Library and the Royal Danish Library points out, few will work unless publishers prepare carefully first.  Here are some tips from Lone on how to make publications more discoverable.  They are even more pertinent this week, which is Open Access Week.

Be distinctive 

Lone says it is a good idea to choose titles that stand out. Adopting the identical title other publishers have also used – e.g., Economics – will only work if the author is very famous in his or her discipline.  Subtitles are sometimes crucial: they are an easy way of directing content expectation. If the title covers some new or unusual ground, creating the right metadata becomes all-important.

Bibliographical descriptors must be accurate, but at the same time not “drown in detail”; e.g., Life in Cyberspace – is it about social media, cybercrime, psychology?

Think in buzzwords

Crafting the correct metadata to underpin a snazzy or challenging title is key. The short description or blurb, especially its first two lines, is also very important. There can’t be too many keywords listed, as long as they are a true reflection of the content.

My Google does not look like your Google

Google uses a lot of knowledge about the user individual when displaying search results.  This is information it derives from gmail, bookmarks and interactions.  Consequently, the list of articles a user gets from searches differs according to that user’s behaviour. The language used by the searcher also makes a huge difference to the search results. 

Google is easy, but is it enough?

Libraries have gone full circle in their approach to Google.  At first, librarians discouraged students and academics from using it; after some years, they realised that, in order to achieve maximum discoverability, their holdings had to appear on Google.  But is Google enough?  No, it is not… Google fathomed this quite early on and introduced Google Scholar to the market.

Google Scholar

Google Scholar was launched in 2004. If you feed “Dolly” into the Google search engine, you come up with information about a sheep and not a country-and-western singer: from the outset, academia was and still is its focus. But what is included in it and what is not is still a big issue.  It is by no means comprehensive.

Library systems and workflows

In an academic library setting there are two ways of being found.

  1. Via a link resolver which discovers via basic metadata – title, author and ISBN.
  2. By direct indexing, where you let your content be indexed by the provider.

If a publisher does not use link resolvers, although the publications may be indexed in Google Scholar, Web of Science, and so on, libraries can’t connect the reference to the content if no direct URL is provided. Addressing this issue is especially important for publishers wishing to make Open Access content discoverable, because otherwise libraries can’t switch on access and display the content as available.

Direct linking/indexing

There are several off-the-shelf discovery systems now available.  Each has its drawbacks: in some, the hierarchy of display order seems illogical, some are difficult for consortia to use, some seem to favour certain publishers over others.  In addition, these are add-ons and not necessarily an integrated part of the library system environment.  Nevertheless, unless publishers are brave enough and have sufficient resources to take on a great deal of discovery work themselves, working with third party discovery system providers may at present be the only practical way forward to maximise discovery.

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!

(Edit 7 November 2019: You may also be interested in our interview with Jonathan McCrow, whom we asked the same questions. He made the move the other way: he left his job with an Academic Publisher to become a Librarian)

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!

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.

Learning from Libraries, Libraries, Students

Learning from Libraries – Stress-busting Steven

Universities are now much more aware of the need to support students who are feeling stressed by work pressures and exams.  Librarians, of course, tend to see more of the anguish than academics, who only encounter students occasionally during the examination period. One of the more imaginative and empathetic ways that has been developed to help alleviate stress is to introduce a therapy dog to the library, to provide “animal assisted wellness”.  In 2017 MacOdrum Library at Carleton University (Ontario, Canada) appointed Uncle Steven, a dog named after his first foster carer’s uncle, to be the stress-buster-in-chief at the university. 

Uncle Steven was a rescue dog, a Basset hound saved by the Edmonton Basset Rescue Society from a “puppy mill”.  For seven years he had been kept in a crate and used as a breeding hound.  He had never been in a house or car and did not like to be near men. 

His original foster carer was unable to continue to look after him because she already had two babies and two dogs to look after.  He was therefore adopted by John Vendel and his wife Erika Banski, both of whom are librarians. 

Uncle Steven visited the MacOdrum Library for an hour and a half twice a week during the exam season.  His services were appreciated by university staff and students alike, who played with him and talked to him and found him a very effective therapy dog.  Apparently there is a scientific reason for the remarkable success these dogs are able to achieve: humans release a de-stressing hormone when petting an animal.  10 or 15 minutes spent with Uncle Steven were therefore very effective for calming students (and staff!) and motivating them to take a positive attitude towards their work. John Vendel said that the benefits were two-way: Uncle Steven had been so neglected as a young dog that he was now enjoying the attention and lapping it up. The students who petted him unanimously agreed that he had helped to calm them and make them more cheerful.  John said that he “seemed to know” how anxious students were feeling.

Here is a picture of John with Uncle Steven.  Sadly, Uncle Steven passed away in April this year.  To mark all the good work he had done, at a ceremony in the President’s office his owners, Erika  and John received a “posthumous distinction” award.  Erika is on the left of the photo, wearing a red dress; John is standing next to the President, who is holding the certificate.

Libraries, Pedagogical Resources, Students, Universities

NSS results 2019 and Learning Resources

On Wednesday, the Office for Students published the results of this year’s National Student Survey.

Each year, the NSS results spark discussions about their usefulness and whether or not they actually reflect the performance of a university overall. And every year, universities and service providers keenly await their results and national media celebrates their “winners”.
What we do know is that universities take a great deal of notice of their NSS results and often changes in teaching happen with a view on improving NSS results. This – along with increased tuition fees and student expectations – is one of the factors that contribute to the image of the “student as a customer”.

The NSS data is one of the most important metrics for the TEF, and many Student Unions, who are en large opposed to the way the TEF measures Teaching Excellence, have initiated NSS boycotts in order to invalidate results. The University of Cambridge is one of them, and has been successful for three years in a row. Once again, the response rate for Cambridge has been below the threshold of 50% required for data to be meaningful enough to be published, which means that it will again be unable to participate in the TEF.

But how did those universities do who did get a high enough response rate?

Overall, it can be said that Scottish and Welsh universities have received better feedback from their students than English ones. To the question “Overall, I’m satisfied with the quality of the course”, the University of St. Andrews received the highest number of students agreeing (95.49%). In the top 10 there are 3 Scottish (St. Andrews, Dundee and the Robert Gordon University) and 2 Welsh universities (Aberystwyth, who came second, and Swansea). The Universities of Loughborough, Keele and York top the list of English institutions.

However, these are views on the overall course, and we were particularly interested in section 6 of the NSS, which deals with Learning Resources specifically, including library resources, but also IT infrastructure and access to subject-specific equipment. Of particular interest to us was question 19 – “The library resources (e.g. books, online services and learning spaces) have supported my learning well.”

Looking at this question, students at St. Mary’s University College Belfast were the most appreciative (93.22% agreed with this statement), followed by the University of Leeds (92.85%) and the University of Dundee (92.7%). It is also interesting to see here that 19.12% of students at the University of Reading disagreed with the statement – by far the highest number of students unsatisfied with library resources; while students at Heriot-Watt and Wrexham Glyndwr University were not particularly happy either (around 10% disagreed at each).

It is difficult to come to conclusions when looking at the broad figures, which of course include all subject areas. David Kernohan of WonkHE has helpfully tried to break down the figures by subjects; looking again at question 19 through his lens, it may come as no surprise that students of specialist subjects like Minerals Technology, Computer Games and Animation, Complementary and Alternative Medicine or Drama are particularly dissatisfied with their library resources. However, subjects like Archaeology, Classics and History are also listed high on the dissatisfaction scale, and publishers and librarians should certainly take such mixed results on board. More surprising, maybe, is that students of Nursing, Microbiology and Dentistry are especially happy with their library resources.

Readers of this blog may be amused to discover that overall course dissatisfaction is particularly prevalent with students in Polymer Studies and… Publishing!