Society for Scholarly Publishing 2019 Conference

SUP Digital Production Associate Jasmine Mulliken presented on a panel along with colleagues at Michigan Publishing and CLOCKSS to discuss the challenges of interactive publications.

SSP conference banner from the event website.

The kind of work we’re doing—innovating scholarly publishing for the web—puts us on the cusp of various fields of study. And that means the conferences we end up attending cover a really wide, and comparatively weird, spectrum. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been to two very different conferences with rather exciting and unexpected overlap and am just beginning yet another meeting this week. So as not to get too far behind in documenting all these events, I start here with a report of our group’s participation in the first of the summer conference marathon: SSP 2019.

The Society for Scholarly Publishing held its annual meeting May 28-31 in San Diego. Stanford University Press was represented on two panels there. On one panel, unrelated to the digital initiative itself yet just as cutting-edge, Press Director Alan Harvey talked about SUP’s use of “Yewno’s Artificial Intelligence technology to optimize the metadata around a portion of SUP’s collection.” The following day I joined colleagues from Michigan Publishing and C/LOCKSS on a panel about the need and opportunity for updated preservation features for interactive scholarly works and enhanced ebooks. The panel I was on included presentations from myself (SUP Digital Production Associate), Jason Colman(University of Michigan, Senior Associate Librarians, and Director, Michigan Publishing Services), and Alexandra Ohlson (Manager, Applied Preservation Services, LOCKSS Program, Stanford University). The panel was organized and moderated by Craig Van Dyck (Executive Director, CLOCKSS Archive), who brought us all together months ago to ensure a smooth and complementary discussion. To one extent, the panel addressed some of the underlying motivations behind the new Andrew W. Mellon grant spearheaded by NYU. The panel included just a small sampling of the publishers and preservationists participating in the Mellon-funded initiative, which saw its kickoff meeting also at the conference venue. Both the meeting and the panel were well attended and very thought provoking. The conference session saw a large room filled with publishers and others in the scholarly communications field and industry asking questions and tweeting encouraging comments.

While a scholarly publishing meeting may seem like the most relevant place to discuss the challenges of digital scholarly publishing initiatives, it can also be a bit, well, challenging. Our program at SUP is often considered a very “edge” case, and the reception of those who end up attending our presentations range from skeptical to amazed to confused to inspired. Add to that edge-dom the subject of preservation, and it’s rather commendable that folks will stay all the way through the necessary technical talk, let alone ask very compelling questions during the final Q&A.

The panel, entitled “Interactive Scholarly Works and Enhanced eBooks: Challenges and Emerging Solutions” was originally scheduled for a 60-minute slot but during program development was promoted to a 90-minute session. Fortunately, the extra time gave each of us the chance to build up a bit more context in our presentations for a more general audience before we delved into some of the more technical issues that we just couldn’t ignore in a session about the challenges of publishing these interactive digital works. Though the topic at large was challenges, for the two publishers, it was tough to avoid going a little too far for comfort down the rabbit hole of persistence and longevity of the publications we’re producing. This all led naturally, though, to the final presentation by Alexandra Ohlson from the perspective of preservation services for publishers.

The conclusion we presented is simply that publishing enhanced ebooks and interactive scholarly works requires publishers to focus on some new problems not present in the realm of traditional journals and monographs. From business modeling to distribution to cataloging to audience analytics to persistence, these new formats require evolving skillsets within the presses and creative collaboration with existing and yet to be determined partners whose tools and services are also being tested by these emerging formats. Our panel presented the issue for our colleagues in scholarly publishing, and in all it seemed well-received and thought-provoking, even though at times a bit more technical than some were comfortable with. I’m sure all of us participating in this new NYU-led endeavor are looking forward to continuing to present our progress over the next year as testing begins in earnest.

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