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News & Press: Amnet Thought Leader Series

Professional Development in Publishing: It Never Ends

Friday, October 5, 2018   (1 Comments)
Posted by: John Tagler

Regardless of the business you’re in, the need for industry knowledge and continuous training is increasing at exponential rates. In the publishing world, the traditional avenues for training continue to exist, but fortunately there are many alternatives available to keep you in step with evolving and emerging areas. Also, training is no longer for junior staff. It is for everyone, at all levels.

My discussion focuses on scholarly publishing, since it’s where I spent more than 40 years of my career, mostly in the STM sphere. Rapid developments are occurring in many diverse areas of the industry (e.g., technology, intellectual property, ethics, peer review, open science, pricing, online piracy, metadata, author and institutional disambiguation, predatory journals, blockchain technology, fake news, reproducibility, and access to research data).

Compounding the challenge is the need to provide education for people at various stages of their careers— from beginners to those in mid-career to long-term professionals, all of whom need to keep up with changes in the publishing landscape. To achieve programming and professional development goals, this requires finding a delicate balance between serving audiences at different levels of experience and addressing critical topics in an evolving ecosystem.

Traditionally, there have been two major avenues available: internal training through an employer and self-motivated, independent education ranging from online training to degree-granting programs. Often it is most effective when an employer develops its own training or brings in third-party trainers to specifically design programs for its staff. While optimal, this can also have mixed results.

I recall sitting through supposedly customized sales training sessions where we were trying to learn about selling to research libraries by using case studies about selling tractors. But at least the company deserves credit for making the effort and there usually something to be gleaned from the examples.

 As the competitive market for training continues to grow, there are more customized programs for both in-person and online training that employers can obtain. Many educational publishers are jumping into this emerging market as they already have expertise in professional training, and with a bit of introspection they recognize the growing corporate need for staff development.

The second approach is to attend external training programs. Aside from degree- or certification-granting programs, this can be a bit tricky. Often the programs offered outside the publishing sphere are quite generic and may not have a great deal to offer on an individual level. During a couple of periods when librarian-publisher relations were particularly tense, I took several communications courses from prominent management organizations.

While the programs were interesting and well-presented, the prospects of trying to deal with an oil spill or nuclear plant disaster or book an author on the Today Show were different communications challenges from what was common in our industry. It is all a matter of perspective.

Fortunately, professional societies in the scholarly publishing world have embraced their training and professional development roles. Societies have a long history of professional training, but in the past few years the programs have expanded and diversified. The popularity of webinars has expanded access to larger audiences across a wider landscape. It’s no longer necessary to convene people in a single room, and with the economies that webinars offer, it’s possible to develop more specialized programs that are offered on a more frequent basis.

A look at the SSP roster shows a variety of programs. For example, the recent session on “New Directions in Strategy, Technology and Community” addressed how publishers, librarians, and researchers can develop new approaches and technologies to meet emerging research and communication challenges. Or a forthcoming webinar, The Future of Publisher Independence in a Consolidated Scholarly Ecosystem,” shows the interconnectivity of the different players in the scholarly communication chain. An unmistakable sign of the growing international sensibility of the industry is SSP’s program at the Frankfurt Book Fair entitledGlobal Excellent and Diversity Workshop,” which features representatives from Latin America, Africa, and Asia discussing success stories from their regions in the areas of scholarship, publishing, metrics, innovation, and outreach.

Numerous associations offer programs including annual conferences, seminars, webinars and workshops. The Council of Science Editors, National Federation of Advanced Information Services, International Society of Managing and Technical Editors, NASIG, and The Charleston Conference offer both hands-on training as well as issues-driven programs. The Association of STM Publishers (STM), OASPA, and ALPSP, which are European-based, offer programs in North America (some via webinar and some in person) and STM has a North American conference each spring. OASPA offers a nicely balanced mix of programs in Europe and North America. Increasingly, associations are scheduling one or two days of pre-conference workshops and professional development programs in advance of their annual conferences. The Book Industry Study Group offers three dozen learning opportunities every year, with two-thirds available as online, time-shifted webinars.

It is often difficult to persuade salespeople that library and publishing conferences have more to offer than just staffing an exhibit booth. While many of the sessions at these conferences are very “inside baseball” and focus on specific topics like cataloging or standards, they offer an excellent learning opportunity since sales, marketing and communications are at the nexus of the publishers, librarians, and researchers inhabit, as each plays an integral role in the research workflow.

Conference programs provide an excellent opportunity to hear leaders from the publishing and library communities speak, and they also offer the opportunity mix with customers and new colleagues. Also, what better way to learn about your competitors? On the flip side, if an invitation to speak arises, grab it. It may be harrowing the first few times out but the more you do it, the easier it gets. One of the best ways to learn about a topic is to research it, prepare a presentation, and be ready to defend what you’ve presented. And the visibility can help your career as well.

The number of institutions granting various types of degrees in publishing has grown (e.g., is a good resource). Several colleges and universities offer either associate’s or bachelor’s degrees in publishing and there are quite a few master’s programs as well. In addition, some universities offer four-to-six-week intensive certification-granting programs.

Of course, there are more options available through online education. In my observation, most of the college and university programs focus on trade and book publishing, so it’s necessary to do careful research to find programs that delve into scholarly publishing.

In the past five years, I lectured on journal publishing at the Denver University Publishing Institute, a four-week certificate-granting summer program. Each year 90 to 100 students were enrolled, and it was gratifying to observe an enthusiastic group of young and middle-aged students—some with publishing experience and others with their newly minted bachelor’s degrees—embrace the prospect of a career in publishing. The publishing industry may have evolved from print to digital, the modes of accessing content have changed drastically, and the reality is very different from the world portrayed on Younger, but the quest for sharing knowledge, information, and sheer enjoyment remains alive and healthy.

Speaking of certification, those interested in scholarly publishing should consider a Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential. Since such a large portion of research publishing falls within the domain of professional associations, knowledge beyond the parameters of publishing can open many different opportunities to career advancement. Publishing is often a cornerstone of many professional societies’ revenue streams, and what better qualification to advance in the organization than to have association management certification?

Before closing, I want to touch on a delicate topic. Since I joined the world of executive recruitment at the beginning of 2018, I have realized something obvious that never crossed my mind before. In placing people in the scholarly publishing industry, particularly in higher-level positions, the vast majority hold bachelor’s degrees and very often a graduate degree as well. On occasion, however, I have encountered candidates who never finished their undergraduate degrees.

Often, they have completed a substantial number of courses at one or more institutions but never took that final step to obtain a college diploma. Frequently, they have moved upwards in their organizations through hard work and accomplishment. However, when they want to take a next step professionally and move elsewhere, the lack of a degree is often a deal breaker. So, my advice to anyone in this situation is to close the circle and obtain that important piece of paper.

As this piece goes to press, I want to point readers to a new report from the Workplace Equity Project. Showing the results of a 2018 survey, the report presents an analysis of the responses from 1,182 participants across six continents. The survey data highlight the imbalances in workplace experiences, depending on age, ethnicity, gender, and geographic location. While it does not directly deal with professional development, it is part of the fabric of the scholarly publishing workplace and points to an area that will only have increased relevance in the industry. It is interesting and revealing reading. A nod of appreciation is due to Emerald Publishing, which was a partner in this international research effort.

This article is brought to you through a partnership with Amnet, a technology-led provider of services and solutions, catering to the needs of businesses for content transformation, design, and accessibility. The points of view expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the perspectives of Amnet or of BISG.


John Tagler is Vice President of Bert Davis Executive Search, a division of Howard-Sloan Search.


Barbara Ford says...
Posted Thursday, October 11, 2018
Thank you, John, for the excellent overview on opportunities for professional development in scholarly publishing. The only one I noticed missing was the relatively new Mentorship Program offered by the Society for Scholarly Publishing. As a member of the test cohort, I can whole-heartedly recommend it as another great way to continue one's professional development as mentoring is definitely a two-way process. Whether you are a mentee or a mentor, you will certainly gain from the experience.


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