By Michael L. Gruenberg, Library Sales Consultant, USA
Publishing content in the scholarly ecosystem is a collaboration between the publisher and a global network of editors, authors, and reviewers who can ensure that stringent working practices are followed throughout every stage of the publishing process. Another key collaborator is librarians, who provide a vital channel for the dissemination of content published in books and journals. Tools and information can be supplied to facilitate that important partnership, but what other best practices should publishers follow to optimize their potential for making content available via the library? Read on to discover!
As I get on in years, I often think of the phrase, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” When I began my library sales career, I was given the task of selling print directories, which quickly morphed into selling public company documents on microfiche. The vehicle for document delivery soon thereafter became CDs, which eventually moved to online platforms – and that is a very brief history of document/data delivery to libraries from a publisher’s perspective.
Throughout the process of changing formats, the concept of the vendor/librarian relationship has always remained the same. The companies I had the privilege to represent had a product to sell and the library had a need to purchase that information in whatever format they deemed appropriate at the time. That was then and this is now. These days we talk in terms of “licensing” instead of “buying” – and this change comes with increased complexity. Some librarians have expressed concerns about licensing because of issues associated with this model as opposed to a strict buy/sell transaction, such as the lengthier negotiation process, ensured access in perpetuity, etc.
Simply put, no matter the terminology, it has always been and continues to be a buyer/seller relationship that drives the process. The task for the publisher is to consistently produce viable content and the way to increase patron access is to have data that researchers can rely upon as being peer-reviewed, original, and accurate. Furthermore, the content needs to be easily citable.
A publisher such as IOS Press provides services that elevate the quality, accessibility, and impact of research and collaborates with librarians to support the dissemination of that content reaching professors, researchers, and students. Both the library and the vendor are in concert by wanting to increase the productivity of the researchers at each university library. While formats may change, the goal of effective use of data always stays the same.
According to R. Davide Lankes in his book The Atlas of New Librarianship, released in 2011: “The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities” . He goes on to say that libraries should be spending their resources on “knowledge creation tools, not the results of knowledge creation.” The reality is that libraries are the primary “agents of change” and always lead the campus in this metamorphosis.
Best practices for publishers that strengthen the buyer/seller relationship
- Publish the highest quality content
For the publisher, simply stating that they are the preferred selling agents of their data to the library by providing world-class information is not enough. Every competing publisher will undoubtedly say the same thing. For every topic of specialization offered by every publisher, there are several competing companies claiming that their version is better and therefore should be the content of choice. Easy to say, but can the claim of being the best be verified? It becomes verified when that content is valued and actively used by world-class research institutions generating world-class research results.
For that to happen, publishers must ensure the integrity of all publications. Guaranteeing a high level of service and impeccable standards, reputable publishing houses will produce trustworthy content vetted through stringent peer review, following ethical procedures and policies, and will ensure coverage of their content by the major abstracting and indexing services.
- Data to be accessible and discoverable
A priority for all publishers is to ensure all content and metadata are structured in such a way that it can be seamlessly linked, tracked, discovered, and compatible with library systems. Through a firm commitment to innovation, publishers must work to implement best practices in emerging technology for applications in scholarly publishing, including machine-readable metadata, open science, and FAIR data principles (see more about IOS Press’ approach to innovation through its various initiatives here).
In this way the library can be confident its patrons have access to the latest reliable information and, conversely, the publisher can ensure its authors that their research output is included on the appropriate research platforms. An example of one such platform was developed by Ex Libris, a ProQuest company, when – in 2018 – it began a partnership with Lancaster University, University of Iowa, University of Miami, University of Oklahoma, and University of Sheffield to develop Ex Libris Esploro. As explained in a press release at that time, the aim of this platform was to increase the impact of academic research by maximizing its visibility, efficiency, and compliance with regulations and policies and to help institutions better correlate research output by capturing research objects and enriching their metadata, and measuring research impact through relevant key performance indicators.
- Make use of technological developments
Publishers continually work in an era of digital transformation, and it is imperative to develop and offer relevant content through workflow tools by incorporating the latest technological developments. This benefits all scholarly library users of digital content.
An example is the enhanced PDF reader on Elsevier’s ScienceDirect platform that was first piloted in 2017. With most researchers assessing and evaluating content on screen rather than in print, the company has instituted an ongoing initiative to optimize the online PDF reading experience for journal and book content.
- Processes to be transparent
Publishers need to not only be transparent in relation to the analytics, but also about precisely what user and usage data are being collected and how this will be used. The library community needs to trust that the vendors’ products will ultimately achieve the goals of the educational institution. In his 2016 book The Inevitable, author Kevin Kelly states: “The real magic will come as each word in each book is crosslinked, clustered, cited, extracted, indexed, analyzed, annotated, and woven deeper into the culture than ever before…In the new world of ebooks, every bit informs the other, every page reads all the other pages” .
The potential of this digital environment could not hold true if the data are faulty, which means that in addition to all this great technology, the underlying premise must be that if the data are validated (original, peer-reviewed, and verifiable), then it is worthy of consideration for library purchase/license. If the quality of the content is what it claims to be, then partnerships between the vendor and the library will increase and both parties will thrive
Licensing content to libraries
In sales, we live in a world that is transparent. That means that salespeople are given goals and objectives of how many units of the company’s products they are expected to sell each month. That means that salespeople in the information industry are judged on their ability to meet (and surpass) their monthly goals established by the company. If the company has products relevant to architecture, for example, the salesperson will concentrate their time calling on libraries that need that type of information. The librarians at these institutions undoubtedly know that they will receive requests to visit from salespeople representing the publications needed by faculty and students. With that in mind, both the librarian and the salesperson need to prepare themselves for the sales meeting. Both sides need to come to the table with a working knowledge of one another. The salesperson needs to be able to explain the strong points of the product they have come to sell, and the library needs to be prepared with questions to ascertain the viability of the product under consideration. And of course, price is the elephant in the room that cannot be ignored.
It is vital that, from a publisher’s perspective, the unique selling points of their titles are clearly communicated to the librarian to have any chance of being added to that library’s collection. In an already crowded scholarly publishing ecosystem, what would it take to persuade the library to subscribe/purchase? Well, the days of simple persuasion are long gone. Today’s methodology in finalizing such a deal is based on data: facts about the relevancy of the data and analytics showing how researchers are extracting significant facts from the data. A competent salesperson can show how other similar institutions are using the data successfully. And finally, all of this is set against a backdrop of shrinking budgets for libraries, which means that the issue of price is a key component of the process.
Supporting the partnership over the long term
Presenting and selling digital content to a library is the beginning step of the process between the publisher and the library. Once a product is sold, then the real work begins. In sales, the adage states: “It’s relatively easy to make the initial sale; however, it is far more difficult to keep the sale closed.” What that means is that in the library market, we are in an annuity business. That means every year the salesperson must contact the library to ascertain if they will renew the product for another year. The salesperson is “reselling” the product every year. To ensure that the renewal will be extended, the publisher needs to have contact with the library throughout the term of the license or subscription. Analyzing usage statistics to see if the digital content is being productively used, quarterly visits by the sales rep, providing explanatory literature, or offering training are some of the many ways the publisher must keep in contact with the library to ensure a smooth transition into the new license period or subscription year, thus establishing a “best practices” procedure.
When considering the technology and how publishers and libraries can create partnerships to build on that technology, understanding the reality of shrinking library budgets is vital, as is acknowledging that buying decisions at universities may take longer than either party wants since COVID-19 reared its ugly head. However, once again libraries have taken the lead in providing information access to their constituencies because of the progress already made in developing a virtual environment. This foundation meant that many libraries were well prepared to take on COVID-19 showing resilience to support online education.
Going into 2022, both the libraries and publishers are poised to continue their productive relationships that will increase access for the patrons of the library.
1. R. David Lankes, The Atlas of New Librarianship (2011; MIT Press).
2. Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future (2016; Viking Press).