What would Yogi say?

With Yogi Berra (1925-2015) much in the press this past week on the news of his death, I have been trying to come up with some koan-like “Yogi-isms” that would apply to information technology, or scholarly publishing.  It is a challenge; don’t worry, I won’t subject readers to my outtakes.(1)

But along similar lines — pithy, but not as entertaining as Yogi-isms — are the “55 Memorable Quotes from Disrupt SF 2015”  Disrupt SF is a meeting devoted to “debuting revolutionary startups, introducing game-changing technologies, and discussing what’s top of mind for the tech industry’s key innovators”.   As you can imagine, it is fertile ground for breathless, oracular pronouncements.   Some of which are true, or will become true.  And some of which have this Silicon Valley kind of hopefulness that leads you to want them to be true.  (Until you find out the company promising to change our relationship with each other is going to do that by delivering our takeout meals faster.)

Take a look over the 55 quotes, and see which ones you think you’d sign up for.  (Maybe make it a blind test: pick your favorites before you look at the name of the company the speaker represents, or what they do.)   And maybe the opposite: which ones do you think are just oracular pronouncements puffed up with hot air?  Or would lead to second order consequences you would just as soon avoid?  And which actually apply to scholarly publishing? (How is scholarly publishing like delivering takeout meals faster? perhaps this is a question for The Scholarly Kitchen‘s chefs?)

Paul Saffo is one of the technology industry’s best phrase-turners.  Paul consulted with me and Mike Keller during the early days of HighWire, and is often quoted in the media when a new technology appears, and the press needs to find a way to explain it.  Sometimes Paul comes close to Yogi Berra: Continue reading

Google’s Magic Carpet: the Value of ‘Gray Literature’

(This is the first in a series of posts exploring findings of HighWire’s researcher interviews. These interviews were conducted in 2012-2014, with over 60 researchers at Stanford and other leading institutions. The researchers were from all branches of scholarship.)

When we interviewed scholars about their “research workflow”, one of the first questions we asked was about discovery: how did they find the materials they needed to read on a research topic? The question was specifically about topical search, not ‘known-item’ search – how did they locate materials on a topic new to them, or check for new materials on a topic well-known to them?

At first we heard the answers we expected: they use Google Scholar, and often Web of Science. Depending on the field there were also search databases such as PubMed, SSRN or ADS mentioned.

The surprise to us was the frequency with which Google Web Search (i.e., google.com, not scholar.google.com) was mentioned. This was a surprise because these were scholars looking for scholarly content. So why were they looking in Google, when most all the research articles would be found in Scholar?

The answer came from one researcher who told us he was able to use Google “to clean around the edges of the carpet.”

Continue reading

The Digital Books Economy

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a series of talks conducted by the Book Industry Standards Group (BISG) and the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) where we discussed the growth of subscription models in the digital books market .

There is now a massive infusion of ebooks on the market, giving us access to reading anytime and anywhere. With social media, open source textbooks, e-libraries and multiple online ebook markets, we have access to an enormous collection of works by different authors on multiple devices that have opened up our world and made accessibility much quicker and cheaper. Most book publishers, scholarly and otherwise strongly believe that “Subscription is inevitable, digital book publishing is inevitable and this will be a positive impact in most market segments”.

As we move into an economy that is adopting digital content rapidly, it’s imperative to understand the various subscription models in play, and determine which ones apply to the access and acquisition of ebooks. Digital movies and music have led this space with subscriber platforms like Netflix and Spotify. As an example, in the movie life cycle purchases become frictionless and cheaper as a movie transitions from the theater, to premium cable to subscribers like Netflix and eventually basic cable. Similar subscription models for ebooks have been considered but it comes with its own set of challenges. While a user can consume a large volume of songs, and movies within a fixed period of time, the book reading cycle is more indeterminate and can span long hours or days. There is also a strong competing factor with news, social media and blogs like Facebook, Medium and Buzzfeed, where users can access shorter reads for free and a growing open access ebooks market.

As a result, we see startups like Total Boox who have a model wherein they charge users based on the proportion of the ebook read and compensate publishers accordingly; And consulting firms like Informed Strategies who bring libraries to work together to collectively fund books, especially scholarly books, thereby giving their patrons access to a wide variety of content while staying within their budgets.

For digital ebook platforms and publishers, it is important to understand how users consume content, and determine the wide variety of channels through which they gain access to it, in order to provide them with a differentiated purchasing experience. It is also important to understand how the content can be segmented to reach the widest possible audience, thereby ensuring that revenue can be attained with volume sales or rentals.

As we think about these, what are some of the challenges that you as publishers and librarians encounter as you build and design your subscription services ? How do you see the ebook subscription models evolving as you draw parallels with the digital movie and music industry ?

You can access all the presentations at the NISO / BISG forum by clicking here.

Amrita Thakur

Senior Product Manager
HighWire Press

Why better security requires better UX

The current state of internet security, which requires everyone to juggle multiple passwords and logons, makes password-protected systems inherently insecure. This recent post on Techcrunch, worth reading for its amusing meme alone perhaps, might be attackable on technical grounds – and indeed, it gets heavily whaled on in the comments field – but makes an important point. Continue reading

SSP’s Libraries Focus Group

Two library events this summer – plus librarian interviews – have provided an updated perspective on what’s happening at the intersection of library, technology, research and publishing. There are a lot of moving parts in the research ecosystem, and librarians are acting as consultants on changing research tools and services. In this role libraries are closer than ever to the researchers and their research process themselves – those creating new knowledge. This of course is “upstream” from their role providing access, dissemination, preservation and gateway services to the readers of primary and secondary materials.   Being involved with both the producers and the consumers of knowledge creates a cycle that is familiar to publishers, so it is natural that libraries will begin to have some of the same roles that publishers do.

Some had predicted that the libraries would become the academic equivalent of the university procurement office: negotiating deals for content delivered through campus-wide licenses.   While that is part of the role of the library, it doesn’t circumscribe the domain much – though this role got emphasized with all the discussion of “the serials crisis”.   The activity of the library “upstream” from content delivery is leading HighWire to re-form its Library Advisory Council this fall.

SSP’s librarian focus group session was recently held in Chicago. Four senior librarians participated – Maria Bonn, Michael Levine-Clark, Rick Burke, and Joy Kirchner (detail on their roles is at the end of this post) — with good Q&A with the audience; the session was well moderated by Sara Rouhi.

Rather than try to sum up the one-day event to one or two themes, I’ll let the librarians speak for themselves about key topics. Each of the reported items below is my paraphrase of a statement of one of the four librarians who were members of the panel.

Q: Where do libraries fit into scholarly communications today?

Libraries are now becoming more involved in research activities, not just handling the end product of research.

Scholars are now ‘considering their communication options’, not just publishing manuscripts. This gets into online data sets, annotation, audio, deep hyperlinking, etc.   The library is involved in educating about and providing these services.

Researchers ‘typically know how to get grants and where to publish in their field; they don’t know what is going on at the margins’ of scholarly communication. I.e., changing tools and resources.

There was significant discussion about a small but much increasing number of requests for text & data mining. Several of the panelists reported this. This was an eye-opener for me: I participate in CrossRef’s Text & Data Mining work group, and while much progress has been made on the technology, we were hearing little broad interest from researchers. But perhaps this is about to change!

The time-scale/cycle to investigate, learn and use a technology (like Text & Data Mining) has to be a quick one for use in student or teacher projects, because of the short semester or quarter period.

Data – and data curation as a library specialty – was discussed following on the Text & Data Mining topic.   ‘Data is a new kind of scholarship – data is a kind of content.’ I think we are seeing this in digital humanities work, with the challenge that each case seems unique leading to technical challenges in publishing and preservation.

Q: How are libraries helping with assessment?

Traditional measures of library activity – ‘gate count’, ‘reference transactions’, ‘journal usage’ and ‘cost per use’ – don’t have much meaning at all for assessment. They don’t link well to outcome measures – student graduation, retention, etc. Perhaps because of privacy concerns, libraries don’t link specific use with outcomes (e.g., are students who use journals more likely to graduate on time?).

Use of some discovery services is going down.   This may be appropriate. E.g., as more current content is available, perhaps use of archives should decline.

The library is being asked to assist faculty in finding metrics to help with their dossiers.

Q: Is COUNTER – now over a decade old – still ‘fit for purpose’?

With so many ebooks online now, ‘COUNTER book usage reporting is lacking’ in information that would give you a sense of the use of works.

Q: Do libraries add subscriptions to journals?

Best to quote this directly: “We don’t proactively subscribe to new journals; it has to be a request from a faculty member; the request has to come from the person directly. The reality is that we have to cancel something to start something new. New journals are harder than journals that are established.”

Q: How do libraries work as campus educators?

There was a broad spectrum of areas in which individual libraries had undertaken campus community education: how to pitch a book proposal; how to be an editor; how to use citation and alt metrics; how to use the institutional repository.

There was a good discussion of the necessity of partnering inside the institution to understand and afford some new tools. SciVal, ORCID, Altmetrics were examples. There wasn’t an obvious “home” (to pay) for some of these tools.   If the library wants a role it has to invest; but there is disagreement on this with some saying that the library shouldn’t take something on if it can’t afford it.

Q: What about discovery of OA content?

Library tasks – such as cataloging and preservation — that are triggered by or linked to purchase decisions don’t treat OA content. And publishers might be cautious in including their OA content in materials (such as MaRC records or KBART lists) that they send to libraries, since libraries might mistakenly think they had paid for them. So library-driven discovery services might be including all the content the library has paid for, but not all it has access to.


  • Maria Bonn, Senior Lecturer, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois
  • Michael Levine-Clark, Associate Dean for Scholarly Communication and Collections Services at the University of Denver Libraries
  • Rick Burke, Executive Director, SCELC
  • Joy Kirchner, University Librarian, York University
  • The panel was moderated by Sara Rouhi, Product Sales Manager, Altmetric LLP and member of the SSP Education Committee