Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Standard Identifiers, Metrics and Processes in Journal Publishing: Mark Hester asks 'Aren't they a bit...dull?'

Why should we use standards? Identifiers, transaction processes, schemas, metrics and many other things in scholarly publishing have standards, or are developing them. Isn’t this a rather arduous and bureaucratic way of handling things? Are these things really there to make life easier or just another way of overcomplicating an already complex market, taking time away from the efforts of actually producing high quality content?

Here Mark Hester of Aries Systems delves into why we should care.

Aren’t standards a bit….dull?'

Standards? Just a bunch of numbers, right? With tedious documentation on how and where to use them? Why would I bother with those?

It’s not hard to see why you might think that, but also easy to see how this is misguided. Jumping straight into a document to read about standards is a little bit like reading the telephone directory when you have no intention of calling someone, or leafing through a Haynes manual when you’re not repairing a car.

An example of a standard from outside publishing might help – EAN-13. What is EAN-13 you might ask? You see examples of it daily – it is the standard for the barcodes we see on everything we buy in the supermarket. Retail staff don’t need to know how EAN-13 works, it is unlikely that they’ve read documentation on it, but they are all grateful that it does work when checking stocks, pricing items and working on the till and, in turn, so are their customers.

So I ignore standards: what’s the worst that can happen?

When I was a student in the early nineties, the departmental librarian had been using his own classification system for many years. Back then, it didn’t matter much – students got used to its quirks, visitors from other departments were rare, from other universities much rarer still. The people using the service understood it, and that was enough.

Imagine taking this approach in the online world - it would mean that your content would be less discoverable and also less usable. Online library catalogues wouldn’t work if everyone took the librarian from my alma mater’s approach! Not using DOIs means frustration for researchers who can’t click on the references and go straight to the articles, and a simple change to a URL means a broken link. If your content isn’t seen it affects your reputation, and in the case of a commercial publisher, your profits.

The benefit of standards will only increase as the ‘digital natives’ used to touch screen technology enter academia and the workplace – having to click more than once or search for more than a minute will lead them to go elsewhere.

How can standards enhance my working life and be good for my organization?

Rapid changes in scholarly publishing means that new applications are found for standards once they are in place. Adopting standards can ‘future proof’ your content and processes against changes that occur in the future.

A great example of this is the relentless adoption of gold open access. The publishing standards which enable Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink for OA to display different article processing charge policies to different users on the fly developed separately from one another – Ringgold for institutions, ORCID for identifying authors, and FundRef for funder identification. Brought together, however, their machine readability allows flexible APC pricing models and automated billing and payment processing, making life easier and saving time and money for both publishers and institutions.

The advantages can be psychological as well as practical – if authors, researchers and librarians see the ORCID or CrossRef logos displayed on your website, they will know that your organization is a serious player, one which will help them, one they can trust.

So what's next?

By now, I hope I’ve convinced you of the importance of standards. But if the prospect of researching the topic still fills you with a sense of dread, there's an upcoming seminar from ALPSP I'm helping to coordinate called Setting the Standard. It's being held in London on Wednesday 11 November and includes speakers from CrossRef, Ringgold, ORCID, COUNTER, Thomson Reuters, EDItEUR, Jisc and an institution. Everything you ever wanted to know about standards, but were too scared to ask.

I hope to see you there.

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