Sorry for being so late with this. April and May just ate my life. I know it’s no excuse, but it’s what I’ve got. Now, on to the post.
Late last March, NASIG sent me to the UKSG Conference in Glasgow, Scotland as the president and official representative of NASIG. UKSG is the older sister organization in the United Kingdom on which NASIG was based at its founding, and much like the governments of the US and UK, NASIG and UKSG have a “special relationship.” Since I will be doing a lunch and learn presentation with Mary Beth and Mary S. in July on the experience of traveling abroad for a conference, I will save the more fun stories of traveling for that event. With this post, I’ll stick more to the content of the conference, by talking about a few of the sessions that interested me.
I sang for my supper at the opening session of the conference, bringing greetings from NASIG to the attendees of UKSG (about 1,000 librarians, publishers and vendors). Just after the opening session, we heard a fascinating talk by Geoffrey Bilder of CrossRef, called “The Four Strawmen of the Scholarpocalypse.” Bilder talked about how the scholarly system incentivizes lots of publishing by scholars, not necessarily increased quality. The number of citations a publication receives has become more important than how good it actually is. The pressure to publish more has led to an explosion in the amount of material published in each discipline, which leads to scholars doing more shallow reading in their research. Bilder argued that the current tenure system is counter-productive, because putting people under pressure doesn’t make them work smarter, it makes them try to figure out how to get by in the system. Bilder argued that distorted incentives and rewards in the scholarly publishing system causes “smart people to do dumb things for smart reasons” (which may be my single favorite quotation from a conference presentation ever).
Another really interesting session I attended was “Two of Us: Library/Press Collaboration” by Andrew Barker and Anthony Cond, both of University of Liverpool, Barker from the library and Cond from the University of Liverpool Press. The two speakers received a grant to explore making open access electronic text books available to students. The first step was Barker and Cond had to recruit academics at Liverpool who were willing to write the text books. They had to strenuously court and also pay a professor from the School of Management to write an “Essentials of Financial Management” text book, but they were able to talk a history professor into creating a guide for using primary sources just out of the goodness of his heart. In both cases, they tried to take advantage of the fact that the books were electronic resources, by making them interactive with videos and links. After the books were written, the UP did the editing and preparation of the publication files. The Library will handle the technical end of mounting the files and making them available, as well as handling their maintenance. The material should be available late this year. Overall, it sounded like a fascinating collaboration between a university library and a university press.
The conversations I had with British colleagues were also extremely interesting and gave me a better picture of the differences between our systems of higher education. The UK is way way farther ahead of the US on matters of Open Access, but they have government mandates (instituted by a Conservative government of all things!) that place many stringent OA requirements on scholars. Also, private institutions of higher learning are extremely rare in the UK, unlike here in the US. Another interesting fact was that there are relatively few library-related conferences in the UK (unlike the US where new library conferences seem to spring up like topsy), and there is no equivalent of ALA, so what conferences there are tend to have pretty high attendance. And the model of librarians as faculty does not exist in the UK, so our experiences in the faculty system sound very foreign to them.
In closing, I’ll say that Glasgow is a fantastic city, and that the UKSG folks were wonderful hosts. Plus, the experience of attending a conference in a foreign country was pretty amazing and I would highly recommend it, if you get the chance.