The ALPSP International Conference 2012: from a librarian’s perspective

Working in an industry that evolves as quickly as ours means that we need to be active in various conferences and seminars through the year. A few weeks ago, a number of the SAGE London team headed out to the Belfry hotel in the West Midlands to participate in the ALPSP International Conference. This annual event has become a major gathering for scholarly publishing, with some 120+ organizations representing the full publishing chain gathering to address key issues, look forwards and consider best practice.

Kicking off the conference, Tony Green, Head of Publishing at OECD commented: “isn’t change fun?” He went on to set the tone for the conference more broadly: how it’s now so much easier for us to connect authors to readers. Starting with a tour back through the last forty years of publishing and then moving on to explore new trends and opportunities, we engaged in discussions on the changing reader; new entrants to the market such as Mendeley; changing business models; data; and good business practice.

Rather than summarise all the sessions, we’d like to share with you the views of one attendee. We were joined at the conference by Dublin City University eResources Librarian, Stephen Buck. Stephen won our ALPSP librarian travel grant this year with an innovative entry exploring the need to have constructive dialogue with publishers. What follows below is his report on what he took away from the conference from, as he puts it, the other side! Facilitating more dialogue between libraries and publishers is something we’re committed to doing. As you can read below, there is so much more we can explore together.

You can also find summaries on the excellent ALPSP blog, starting from the opening plenary here. Videos and slides are also available.

The ALPSP International Conference 2012, by Stephen Buck

I feel like an imposter at this conference. I’m surprised the publishers are letting librarians attend at all. I’ve looked down the delegate list and there appear to be two other librarians out of a total of over two hundred delegates so its going to be interesting to see things from the ‘other side.’

Who knew publishers would allow themselves to be so openly criticised? Mary Waltham’s opening plenary dashed through 40 years of scholarly publishing history warts and all, mistakes made, people sued, opportunities missed or grasped too late, but she ends on a positive note. Lessons can be, and have been, learned.

While this isn’t the place to go through each presentation in detail without even referring to my notes I can give some outstanding memories of the conference. It was highlighted that there were three main themes running through the three days: new, change and open. It’s good to know that librarians aren’t the only professionals who feel under threat and that we are all constantly looking at ways to innovate, keep relevant and keep in business.

Arend Welmers fascinating talk on changing the organisation from within kept the delegates interested. It made me want to ask my finance department for their budgetary figures and to explain the accounting involved but sadly, when I got back to Dublin, more mundane tasks took precedent and this desire faded. I wouldn’t be sure what to do with the figures even if I did understand them but I may need to talk with Arend some more.

Before I came to the conference data-mining and text-mining were vague terms to me. I had skimmed a couple of journal articles but when those terms were used for some reason they made me think of the original Total Recall film with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thanks to Stefan Decker I understand it now at some superficial level. My job, as eresources and periodicals librarian at DCU doesn’t bring me into contact with researchers, our subject/liason librarians look after that, so Stefan’s example using, helpfully, the mass of information that exists about Ireland gives a good grounding of the concept. It is excellent news that the publishers en masse are cooperating to make data and text mining less of an obstacle for the researchers than it has been up to now.

I also learned that it is easier to sell dazzling BBC products then the Journal of Business Accounting (if such a journal exists) and if you start a presentation using rapidly edited clips of the best BBC shows, including Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Who and proceed to give out free box sets to the audience then your presentation will go down a treat. The publishers just have to work out a way of making their products and all linked services as exciting as those of the BBC. If they can do this there is no need to worry about economic downturns.

Of course it wouldn’t be possible to give this rapid impression of the conference without mentioning access. From a librarians point of view it would be great to have updated listings of all the Open Access journals they provide. Maybe the publishers don’t want to give these listing in case subscriptions may suffer. It is fascinating to hear the pros and cons of Gold and Green and Hybrid. I don’t feel qualified yet to make up my mind what’s best or have an educated opinion on where things will be in 5 years time. Obviously we librarians want as much access for our users with as little cost to us as possible. How this is going to develop is one of the most crucial questions for all sides of the debate.

I came back to my library from the Belfry energised and informed and a little sad that I’m not able to play golf. With many thanks to SAGE for the opportunity of attending the ALPSP and to Mithu for the hospitality. It is unlikely I will be able to attend next year but I will watch out for the presentations and attempt to keep myself and my colleagues informed.

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