Friday 13 February 2015

The Future of Reference Publishing

David Hughes from Wiley
Reference publishing has undergone a truly profound change in the last decade, from an almost exclusively print-based business to one where online delivery has become the norm, with regular updating, live integrated cross-references, multiple concurrent users, intelligent use of colour and increasing functionality.

David Hughes, Editorial Director for Major Works at John Wiley and Sons, outlined the challenges publishers face to ensure reference is to retain its place as an important gateway to knowledge and learning. The Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry was first printed in 1914 in the German edition. The first English language print edition was in 1985. It was first online in 2000 and the seventh print edition was published in 2011 (40 print volumes, 30,000 pages).

Online is now the driving force behind the project. It is updated six times a year and they introduce new initiatives (for example the 'smart article', shorter versions to entice people in). Online is the new norm for reference publishing now. They publish high quality, fantastic reference content, and do exciting and clever things they couldn't do in print. But is that enough for their librarian and end user customers? No. The main challenge for reference today is to ensure the use of reference mains relevant and important to a new generation of librarians, educators, students and researchers.

One challenge is that of free content, specifically, Wikipedia. It's not going away, everyone uses it. For many purposes it is good enough for what is needed. They need to articulate what makes their content better and more relevant.

Usage is a deciding factor for librarians. If they don't see products being used, they won't buy it. As a result, more thought has to be given about the pain points for end users to encourage usage. They need to articulate and enhance its value. Reference doesn't exist in a vacuum, and is not an end in itself. It is used more widely with other resources. End users need to see improved outcomes in their daily work whether finding information quickly or improved references in an end of term paper or research project. They need confidence in the content. Where does it come from, who from, is it up to date?

They have analysed and researched the student workflow for the Blackwell's Encyclopedia of Sociology. The key parts where reference came into play was when they get background information and narrow the topic down and then when they move on to research via the university library database. In the former, they want to make sense of the topic, play with keywords, feel confident in the subject. It has provided insight into how to improve the reference product: fitting into the workflows of end users is critical.

Wiley StatsRef: Statistics Reference Online was developed to be an dynamic online reference resource for the global statistics community, covering fundamentals and applications areas. They used Wiley's rich statistics reference portfolio as a starting point, carefully editorially curate and enhance the content to develop a product much greater than the sum of its parts. It was launched in 2014 with more than 6,000 articles with a bespoke taxonomy to help users have a logical and straightforward way to browsing through the content. They plan to grown and enhance by regularly adding new and updated articles, add whole new topic areas and develop new functionalities e.g. to enable users to interact with charts and data.

For the future, they will develop a bespoke new platform for reference publishing to host all major reference works to make it easier and more intuitive to use, more discoverable and to enhance the collections. These elements go hand in hand with user needs and individual collection development.

Hughes feels confident about the future of reference content. High quality is crucial, but not enough. We need to address end user workflow requirements and to be differentiated from freely available content.

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