The 2014 conference of the North American Serials Interest Group (NASIG) was a good one, from my point of view. A wide variety of topics and some very good keynote addresses gave me lots to chew on.

Since I started attending NASIG conferences 12 years ago, one of my favorite aspects has been the vendor involvement. NASIG is not just a librarians’ organization; subscription vendors and publishers are also encouraged to join, serve on committees, and be otherwise involved in the organization. Each conference usually includes sessions in which a vendor/publisher perspective is offered. I attended four such sessions this year, including “Vendor Lightning Talks,” a new conference feature in which six different content providers each took 5-7 minutes to tell what’s new with their products. I heard a panel of publishers (Nature, American Chemical Society, and IEEE) describe what they are doing in the Open Access arena, and a subscription vendor and a library consortium officer described their negotiation processes. My favorite vendor-related session was one in which a vendor sales rep, a consortium officer (the same from the previous presentation), and a librarian sat together on the stage and discussed a set of ethical questions (e.g., “Is it fair for a library to write an RFP so narrow that it is obviously customized to a specific vendor?” or “Is it fair for a vendor to go over the head of an acquisitions librarian if he/she says no?”). The probing into gray areas was a good exercise in seeing the other side’s point of view.

In other practical areas, I heard presentations about

  • results of an availability/usability study, in which students were able to successfully locate full text only 41% of the time, sometimes due to system errors, but in many cases, the students simply did not click on the right link, or missed key information that was presented on the screen;
  • survey results regarding methods of tracking perpetual access to online journals, which reminded me of the need to distinguish between post-cancellation access (usually on the publisher’s website) and archival access, meaning access when the publisher no longer provides it (often via Portico or LOCKSS)
  • updates on some emerging NISO standards – PESC, a communication standard for transmitting serial content; KBART, related to vendor knowledge bases; PIE-J, which has to do with how e-journals, especially title changes, are presented on vendor websites; ODI, for sharing metadata for discovery systems; and OAMI, a new metadata standard for open-access content, which includes the wonderful (IMO) feature of not referring to an item as “open access” but rather as “free-to-read” (yes/no).

What really made this year’s conference stand out for me was the amazing slate of “Vision session” (i.e. keynote) speakers. Katherine Skinner’s opening address on “Chance, Choice, & Change” made two particular impressions on me: (1) “Frontier” depends on your viewpoint-you may see empty space ready for development, but “empty” space is never truly empty, and there will often be people who see your pioneering as encroaching on their territory; (2) The cultural processes of production, distribution, and reception “always, always, always” depend on networks of people, not the lone genius.

Chris described Herbert Van de Sompel’s thought-provoking address very well. This address got me wondering to get the broader scholarly communication world to see the problem of “reference rot.”

In the closing keynote address, Jenica Rogers talked about how often she hears people say “I could never do what you did” (i.e. cancel the library’s ACS package), but she said she believes what they really mean is they would like to, but … (“but our faculty would riot”; “but I don’t want to rock the boat”; etc.). So Rogers presented a list of actions/habits that would help prepare us to make life’s tough decisions. Here is the list as I captured it:

  • Know thyself – know why you do the things you do
  • Claim and demonstrate your expertise & authority – know your reputation and how to leverage it
  • Gather data – evidence can shout when you can only whisper
  • Make friends
  • Start now, immediately
  • Find common ground – insisting that everybody else thinks X is important will only frustrate & annoy the people who don’t
  • Communicate effectively
  • Embrace serendipity
  • Evolve, even when it’s uncomfortable
  • Release fear – “Fear doesn’t make smart decisions, fear makes safe decisions.”