SSP 2016 “Voice of the Customer” Roundtable

I attended SSP’s Meet the…(Librarian/Researcher/Student/Dean) Rountable Discussions this past week at SSP 2016 in Vancouver.   It was an informative session, and a new approach to a panel, at least to me. What did we hear from the panelists?

Rather than try and summarize – which would just homogenize distinct voices – I’m going to paraphrase the panelists’ views.


But first a word about the moderator’s innovative approach to a panel.

The moderator, Emilie Delquie of the Copyright Clearance Center, did a mashup of a traditional panel and speed dating.   It was fun to try a flipped format: there were seven panelists, and perhaps about twenty-five members of the audience.   As we entered the room, Emilie asked session attendees to sit at one of seven round.   Next, the panelists introduced themselves.   And then each of the seven panelists sat at one of the seven tables.   For the next ten minutes, each of us at a table asked questions and heard answers from the panelist then seated with us. And then the moderator called time, and the panelists got up to rotate on to another table.   It made us attendees all very active and engaged.  You couldn’t just be passive and let the moderator do all the question-posing.

While this approach wouldn’t work with three panelists and a hundred attendees, it did work quite well for a concurrent session!

A downside of the format is that I can’t summarize the full range of questions and answers around the room.   I can only summarize the Q&A that happened at my particular table. (Perhaps a refinement for the future would be for each table to nominate one comment from each speaker that was particularly remarkable, and share those around the room at a summation time.)


Our panelists covered a good range of types of users and customers. Most but not all were Canadian, and several were from Simon Fraser University:

  • The director of a mid-western US medical library
  • The director of a Canadian university library
  • An assistant professor who studies scholarly communication
  • An assistant professor who leads a masters program in publishing
  • An associate professor who is the director of a publishing program
  • A postdoc in biology
  • Two undergraduates who lead activities in STEM for students, including publishing a journal


From a postdoc in biology

Regarding the hoops to jump through when using subscribed resources from off campus: “it’s annoying.”   If the subscribed version isn’t available, the free version is preferred. I prefer the PDF, but then I can’t access supplemental information easily.

I use my laptop and I like Google Scholar a lot. Twitter is a great place to find where my peers are publishing something new. I follow scientists, sometimes using tweetdeck.

Journal brand? I don’t care where an article was published when I have the expertise to judge. But it matters where I publish.   I am trying to publish in full-OA journals, but I prefer the ones where my peers publish. I now put manuscripts on bioRxiv.

I prefer double-blind peer review, or open peer review; not in between.

From the director of a mid-western US medical library:

It is going to be harder to keep the Big Deals: their price will have to come down, and so far we have had good results from our negotiations. We haven’t gotten a budget increase in five years, so there isn’t new money to fund price increases.

New resources are recommended by several types of people, but editors and researchers who are starting up a new academic program are the big influencers.

Bundling of content resources (such as journals) from society publishers (“a little big deal”) is good, as long as there is some flexibility.

We are seeing academic departments chipping in together to pay for something such as a database.

From the director of a Canadian university library

The library administers a central OA fund for the university, so we can pay APCs for authors.   For some publishers like PLOS or BMC, we have a deposit account or a membership with a discounted rate.   Or with others, such as society journals, authors can pay with their credit card and submit a receipt for reimbursement. We limit it to $5,000/year/researcher, so that one author can’t deplete a large part of the fund (this almost happened!).

From an associate professor who is the director of a publishing program

The OA monograph “isn’t going to happen” because the scarcity of publishing slots at university presses is what leads to the prestige of having a work published. And the results lead to “real publications that made it in the market.”

“Ebooks are dead – in the sense that they are a disappointing version of what we could have. It would be better for things to live on the web, rather than live in sales channels [e.g., Amazon].” How do you have books that live on the web and are social and web-native? Social, findable, googleable. Can I send a tweet that points somebody to a particular paragraph? Social is more important than “interactive”. We import 19th century citation practices into our works. If we do more that is social, we will see audiences react.

Print books aren’t going away, but they will be harder to publish.

Different university presses are using different strategies: one major university press is building production capacity. Another is building digital acquisition capacity.

Preprints for books are an interesting idea: take a book and stick it online, watch the reaction and then publish it if there is interest.

From an assistant professor who leads a masters program in publishing

“Books? I find the chapters I write in books are not as widely read as articles I write.”

We will see more and more happening on article preprints: there is interest, and funders will see this as a better way to get discoverability and early use of the research they funded.

Students’ experience on the web shapes how they see content: everything is immediate; everything is available. When things don’t work that way, this doesn’t make any sense to them; it is an affront to them.

A large majority of new article content will be OA by 2025.

From two undergraduates who lead activities in STEM for students, including publishing a journal

We publish STEM Fellowship Journal, a twice-annual science journal that gives high school and college students a chance to publish. We have a philosophy of mentoring students to get their articles publishable.   We have found that there is a low focus on extracurricular research projects in high schools, and that students who get top prizes in their science fairs are not going to follow through to work on a publication.

And there you have a quick readout from the “roundtable”!

[In years past we would have called this a “voice of the customer” roundtable.  But that is probably outdated terminology now, since in a number of cases the customer is also a producer and supplier.]

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