Thoughts about #LPForum19

What follows are some thoughts and impressions about the conference I’m attending, the Library Publishing Forum (#LPForum19). They aren’t fully formed as I am still digesting many aspects of what I heard and observed, so take them as they are.

First, some general observations.

As a first-time attendee, I expected to feel a bit of an outsider and that was certainly the case. There are a few people here whom I know, but not well. This is not meant as a criticism but rather a reality of how I experienced the event. If I delve deeper into library publishing and choose to attend the Library Publishing Forum again in future, I will likely establish more connections and friendships. One reason I enjoy NASIG conferences, by comparison, is because of the personal relationships I’ve developed with many regular attendees over nearly three decades.

The location of #LPForum19 was a huge draw for me, as was its timing. Vancouver is one of the best cities to visit in the world, surrounded by natural beauty and mild climate, and the last time I was here was for the NASIG annual conference at the University of British Columbia way back in 1994. A short time ago, I was informed that I unexpectedly had professional development funds available to spend. When I checked airfare, hotel, and other expenses, this event and its associated costs fit just about perfectly within the amount I had to spend. The timing seemed great, too, coming after the last class of the semester at Wheaton and before I started teaching my next course at the iSchool at Illinois. (At least, when I planned the trip about three weeks ago, it seemed good timing, although it actually turned out to be bad timing for reasons that are no fault of the conference.)

#LPForum19 is a small conference — that’s neither good nor bad. My rough guess is it has about 200 attendees, mainly from North America. There was someone from as far away as South Africa, though, and there were six vendor exhibitors. Registration cost is reasonable, with generous amounts of good quality food and beverages provided and a nice reception at an interesting nearby venue. The location of the meeting spaces (at Simon Fraser University Harbour Centre) is well chosen although the setup of some of the meeting rooms is not flexible enough or customizable to what speakers desired. Also, several sessions lack enough seating for attendees. Generally, though, standard pieces of conference infrastructure work very well including A/V, WiFi, etc.

Topics and speakers are not especially outstanding or bad — meaning, this conference is similar to other conferences I’ve attended in its basic approach and format to delivering content and facilitating conversations on topics of interest to attendees.

One minor, negative comment is about the fact that #LPForum19 chose a single social media outlet — Twitter — as its main way to deliver news, information, conference presentation slides, and streaming of sessions. I understand why Twitter is a desirable venue but it is limiting since believe it or not, there are people like me who do not use it or any other popular social media platform (Facebook, Instagram, etc.). Kudos to conference organizers, though, for streaming several sessions for free via Periscope.

Next, some comments on various sessions.

#LPForum19 organizers selected a great keynote speaker, Dr. Arianna Becerril-García, co-founder and Executive Director of Redalyc.org (Network of Scientific Journals from Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain and Portugal). She talked about “Community-driven infrastructures leveraged with Semantic Web and Linked Open Data: A strategy for sustainability, visibility and discoverability of scholarly publishing in Open Access.” It was good to have a perspective from Latin America, an area that is underrepresented in major North American library conferences. Among other things, she stimulated our thinking about property/ownership of intellectual property, open access sustainability, how research assessment is conducted, and barriers around participation and cost for intellectual output. Dr. Becerril-García strongly advocated against pervasive control of intellectual outputs and dissemination by corporations, arguing for stronger control by governments and academic institutions. Latin America walks the walk by having created a structure where science belongs to academic institutions and not large commercial publishers like Elsevier. It was an informative and inspiring talk.

Another interesting and popular session was on improving journal publishing. “What We Can Learn from the Online Graveyard of Inactive Undergraduate Student Journals” — the first presentation in this session — provided some depressing estimates on the numbers of student journals that are inactive or dead, and gave advice on how to handle them. One of the takeaways for me was the imperative to have a memorandum of understanding or service agreement in place when hosting journals. We don’t have this and I think we should. The next presentation was about journal UX. The presenter said “You cannot NOT have UX” — good point. He provided several tips to improve journal UX including making sure that journal interfaces are mobile ready. He also listed ways to assess journal UX by benchmarking with other journal sites, using automated testing tools, and doing user testing. He advised that all of the above be done at any time. The third presentation was on “The Weaknesses of Automated Taxonomy, A Case Study”. I found it fascinating. Librarians at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign talked about the example of the journal, Ethnomusicology, and how it is presented and accessible with JSTOR. JSTOR does quite a bit of automated taxonomy processing based on article content to assign subject descriptors. The presenters talked about how that automated taxonomy assignment impacts discoverability and use of the journal overall, and their attempts to work with JSTOR to influence and improve on that process, sometimes with unexpected consequences.

There were many other good sessions as well. For example, Kevin Hawkins from the University of North Texas gave an interesting talk on “Building a Trusted Framework for Coordinating OA Monograph Usage Data” and Juan Pablo Alperin of the Public Knowledge Project (PKP) at Simon Fraser — the creators/maintainers of the Open Journal system (OJS), which we use — talked about “Open, Free, and Easy Altmetrics through Community-Owned and Operated Infrastructure.” He discussed creation of Paperbuzz.org and a new OJS plugin to display article-level altmetrics for OJS-hosted journals. One of the interesting things he mentioned was how unexpectedly challenging it is to rely upon DOIs to facilitate collection of altmetrics from various social media platforms. This is due to problems with DOIs themselves but also many other factors, not least of which is variance in how social media platforms allow others to connect to their use data.

I was intrigued by the session entitled “Do They Teach That in Library School?: Educational Preparation for Scholarly Communication Work in Libraries,” and was glad to participate in small group discussions that session presenters facilitated. A couple of interesting takeaways (to me, anyway): 1.) the presenters and perhaps most of the attendees in this popular session were either unfamiliar with or at least did not mention the good work NASIG did recently to create Core Competencies for Scholarly Communication Librarians; and 2.) discussions around how to integrate and raise the profile for classes on scholarly communication (scholcomm) in LIS programs sound strikingly similar to my experience with trying to get a class started on teaching e-resources management several years ago. A lot of the well-of-course-we-should-do-this talk used exactly the same kinds of arguments that I applied/apply for e-resources management, e.g. “Well, every student in LIS programs needs to understand scholcomm because it affects just about everything we do.” I came away thinking that this was a bit of reinvention of the proverbial wheel. And on that same topic, what I found interesting is how little people in the session seemed to correlate scholcomm with e-resources management, technical services, and other LIS areas. (Even the fact that this is a conference on library publishing and library publishing ≠ scholcomm, it may be considered one part of it only, seemed to be missed in the overall conversation.) There seemed to be a flavor of “well, it’s obviously its own, distinct thing and it is very important” when I do not think it is so clear or obvious at all to everyone. I heartily support development of teaching around scholarly communication — don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here — but I think some may not fully realize or see how scholcomm overlaps or relates to many other areas of librarianship. I also came away wondering if those who are so enthusiastically pushing for the importance of scholcomm in LIS programs clearly understand how diffuse scholcomm really is, that it is not always as clear cut to everyone else as they themselves see it. In other words, part of the challenge here is one of definition, since scholcomm means different things to different people. I hope I am being fair in my assessment but am happy to be corrected if not. Another thing I recall was one of the presenters mentioning that the conversation around scholcomm is too focused on or driven by R1 institutions. Smaller institutions need to be part of the conversation, too, and I thought this was a great point.

I also posted an album of trip photos, and the featured image for this post from those photos is of the Haida artist, Bill Reid, sitting on his famous sculpture, “Raven and the First Men,” taken at the Bill Reid Gallery for Northwest Coast Art. (I remember seeing the original sculpture in the University of British Columbia’s stunning Museum of Anthropology where the 1994 NASIG conference reception was held.) #LPForum19 was a very worthwhile conference to attend. It’s too soon to say whether I’ll attend a future one, mainly because I’ve been given higher priorities in my work for now than library publishing, but I’m certainly open to the possibility.

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