Rolling with the Times: PubFactory Team at 2016 Charleston Library Conference

Lots of exciting things happened at this year’s 2016 Charleston Library Conference:  “Roll with the Times, or the Times Roll Over You”. Not the least of which were two PubFactory organized events. 

Fitting with the theme, we hosted a Librarian Advisory Group meeting to support our publishers in making UI and UX decisions for their PubFactory platform that involve their most important customers – librarians and the research community.

At minimum, our goal was to sanity check/validate certain assumptions that we and our publishers have made regarding librarian preferences. However, our longer term and  primary objective for hosting the Librarian Advisory meeting was to kickoff an ongoing, direct dialogue with a variety of librarians including those coming from individual libraries as well as those involved in consortia models and covering the breadth of disciplines in STM and SSH research. “Leave no stone unturned / no question unasked” was the subtext for the meeting.

We received compelling feedback from the Advisory meeting that included 15+ librarians, 4 publishers, and 1 content aggregator. Stay tuned for our summary paper that will be publicly available in early December. For now a few highlights from the meeting Q&A:

Do Librarians prefer one online publishing platform over another, e.g. PubFactory, Literatum, or HighWire?

FEEDBACK:  Resolutely no, with one qualifier. There is an online platform that provides search capabilities across all content, which on the surface would appeal to librarians and researchers, but in reality the UX is viewed negatively because the features, functions, and capabilities across the content are inconsistent and the inconsistency creates a negative UX. The important takeaway for us as a platform developer is that if/when providing search across multiple publishers’ content, the consensus (from our sampling of librarians) is that the UX and all that it entails should be consistent otherwise it voids the value of cross-publisher search.

Usage stats show that Advanced Search is rarely used, so why keep it?

FEEDBACK:  Although platform usage stats show that only 1-2% of users make use of advanced search – this usage should not be discounted. The participating librarians were emphatic that the 1-2% usage of Advanced Search was by the most vocal users and removal of Advanced Search could have a significant business impact for these users. For publishers determined to simplify their UI/UX by eliminating Advanced Search, a compromise would be to hide the feature rather than eliminate it altogether. This would cause it to be hidden from the lay user, but still available for those important business users. This is the approach that Google has taken.

Do librarians prefer that all relevant content be shown in search results or only accessible content that the library subscribes to?

FEEDBACK:  The feedback on this was surprisingly conflicted – certain librarians felt strongly that all content should be presented in search results, in order that users can view the full corpus of relevant content whereas others felt strongly that only accessible content should be presented in order to create a better, less frustrating UX. Ultimately, librarians (not surprisingly) would like to customize this presentation as they do in their Discovery Services.

PubFactory Perspective – There is no technical reason that handing over customization to librarians can’t be done today, but it is a publisher decision – and rightfully so. If users can access content from search outside of the publisher’s platform, but not in search on the publisher’s platform, then the natural conclusion by users is that the publisher’s platform is not working as it should be and content is not discoverable.

Our suggestion – publishers make the most of PubFactory or other online publishing platforms to experiment with Free and Premium levels of content access a la Spotify. Establishing two (or more) distinct access levels could eliminate user frustration, preserve publisher revenue opportunities (if done right), and maximize discoverability. One possible way to structure Free vs Premium access is to define Free access as viewing permissions only and Premium allows for PDF download, Citation Exportation, access to Supplementary Materials, and all other value add features that publishers are continously adding to enrich their content. 

What is the biggest factor in why certain users have very different preferred reading experiences?

FEEDBACK:  Subject area and content type, not age or educational-level was the unanimous response.

More to come on the Library Advisory Group meeting. Stay tuned.

Shortly after the PubFactory Library Advisory meeting, we participated in a panel session, “What happens when content loses its traditional containers?”. In this session, the panel dove into the impact of digital delivery on the  content + container relationship  in terms of sales models, brand, content format, and content type. There was a lively discussion among the panelists and the audience that resulted in three key conclusions RE: where publishers and librarians reside in delivering and consuming content today and looking ahead, specifically:

  1. Selling models matter for all the reasons you’d expect and for another that probably should not have been surprising, but was. Library funding streams for journals and books are distinctly separate and potential budget issues may arise if/when publishers begin blending content types for sale – Open Access content being the exception and free of budget complications for libraries. 
  2. Moving away from and beyond content type silos is critical for publishers and their customers. This has been discussed for many years, but now publishers are executing on this initiative in large part to bring together all of their data and business intelligence into a single, unified system in order to fully control and make informed decisions about the functioning of their business.
  3. Content curation is increasingly important. The concept of creating guided user journeys through publisher’s content is taking hold and the challenge will be/is how to deliver this targeted, guided user journey efficiently.  

The 2016 Charleston Library Conference was one of the best that we’ve attended and we’re looking forward to next year’s conference already!

If you would like more detailed notes on the PubFactory Library Advisory meeting or the “What happens when content loses its traditional containers?” session, please contact Michelle Norell at

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