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Dealing with mission impossible – a publishing case study

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) disseminates scientific information in the interdisciplinary fields of geophysics.  With over 60,000 members worldwide, the AGU publishes books, research journals, newspapers and other scientific periodicals.

In 2012 the AGU announced a publishing partnership with Wiley.  And in September 2012 Freddie Quek, Director of Engineering for Wiley, was given four months to integrate the AGU content onto a single Wiley platform.  He shared his story of coping with this ‘mission impossible’ with delegates at the Association of Subscription Agents conference in London.


By 2nd January 2013

  • Start revenue earning
  • Ensure systems ready to support entire content chain
  • Ensure system works in a familiar way for all AGU customers
  • Give AGU customers access to all licensed content


  • 17 systems to check
  • Non-standard content formats (one publication had no page numbers; one journal had seven parts – three of which had sub-parts)
  • Over 700 special sections of content
  • What to do about unique identifiers; new ISSNs required
  • Unknown unknowns!
  • Ensuring discoverability
  • Development to start before all requirement were clear

What worked

  • Creation of a 60 day plan
  • Number one priority across the organisation – 52 people on the team
  • Sense of commitment, urgency and importance of the project
  • Rapid decision making at all levels
  • Team effort by everyone and a can-do attitude
  • Strong business lead and close cooperation

Lessons learned

  • Focus on people over process
  • Embrace the challenge
  • Break some rules
  • Be brave
  • Use your best people

Many of us will be asked to take on ‘impossible missions’ at work.  Freddie’s best advice?  Deal with it!

Digital natives, digital immigrants and the information professional

It is now over ten years since Mark Prensky coined the terms ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’ and called for changes in education and teaching to reflect the new digital landscape.  The terms were easy to understand.  We all knew whether we were natives or immigrants by our use of the word ‘digital’ as a prefix (as in “I have a new digital camera”).

In the years since Prensky published his paper, new labels (e.g. Gen Y/millennials) have emerged for the younger generations entering education and the workforce.  We have discussed how to support them and how to get the best out of them.  But just how useful are these labels and what is the role of the information professional in ensuring that our users can use digital technologies to maximum effect?

This topic was tackled at the first NetIKX event of 2013.  Karen Blakeman and Graham Coult explored current research and trends in information behaviours and sparked discussions about the changing role of the information professional.

Forget the labels

Just because they were brought up with some of these technologies, this does not make the ‘younger generation’ experts.  According to David Griffiths, we should not… “confuse tech savvy, tethering to mobile technology and an intimate relationship with Facebook, with transferable knowledge and skills around social networking and communication.”

Karen reminded us that, irrespective of the technologies available to us at the time, we all needed to be guided in information searching and research techniques.   Young people are image driven and interested in original sources, she explained but need support in filtering and evaluating what they find.

We must also keep in mind that the internet is NOT available to everyone and that in these economically challenged times, many younger people do not have access to the internet at home, while local library resources are also being squeezed.  Digital exclusion is still a major issue.

This explosion of content and tools should, in theory, open up opportunities for information professionals to offer guidance, filtering and curation to users as trusted intermediaries.   The challenge is to convince others that our services are financially and socially valuable.

Find out more about NetIKX here.

Karen Blakeman’s slideshow presentation is available here.


Portrait of the tablet user

A new study of over 2,500 tablet users in the US (produced by the Online Publishers Association (OPA) and Frank N Magid Associates) makes interesting reading.

Tablet ownership explosion

  • 74 million US users have a tablet device – this constitutes a 31% adoption rate (up from 12% in 2011)
  • Adoption rate is expected to hit 47% by Q2 in 2013
  • 58% of tablet users are ‘very satisfied’ with their device

Embedded use

  • 74% of table owners use them every day
  • On average users are spending 13.9 hours with their tablets.
  • 32% are using two screens for 3.1 hours per day.

Main tablet activities

  • 94% cite accessing content/information is their main tablet activity
  • Other key activities include accessing email, news, weather and entertainment content

Paid content and advertising

  • 61% of tablet users have purchased content in the past year.
  • The tablet app market is estimated at $2.6 billion for 2012 (almost doubled figures for 2011)
  • 38% of tablet users have made purchases after seeing tablet advertising

You can access the full report here.

Read more analysis of the report on TheNextWeb

Supermarkets sweep into digital content

Supermarkets are already key players when it comes to selling ‘physical’ books, movies and music.  Now they are increasingly moving into the online entertainment space.  Two news stories this week highlight the digital content strategies of the big supermarkets as they jockey for position in what is a growing market for ‘non-physical’ content.

As part of its strategy to become ‘a key player in the digital entertainment market’, the supermarket Sainsbury has announced it has bought HMV’s stake in the digital book retailer and social network Anobii, meaning it now owns 64% of the business.

Anobii enables its 600,000 users to research and read ebooks on a range of devices.   It is the social media element of the service which Sainsbury believes differentiates Anobii from other ebook retailers such as Amazon and Apple.

Meanwhile, Tesco has announced it is buying the music streaming service We7 which offers personalised online radio services to subscribers.  Tesco already has a stake in the movie/TV streaming service Blinkbox.  It offers streaming services to its Clubcard members, part of a growing trend of offering ‘merged’ physical and digital’ content to customers.

Students – leading the way or falling behind?

Two interesting pieces of research look at how students are interacting with digital information and e-resources.

A recent CourseSmart survey finds that more students are bringing laptops to class than a print textbook.  Only 5% said that a print textbook was the most important item in their bag.  90% of respondents said that the use of digital devices, e-readers etc helps them to save study time.  68% estimate they are saving at least two hours a day by using technology.

On average, students are using three devices per day – and 40% of them claim they can’t go for more than ten minutes without using some form of digital technology.

Easybib, a service which creates citations, has analysed the websites that students use most frequently – and discovered that four of the top ten are user generated sites including YouTube, and Wikipedia.

Easybib has created an infographic (available here) which shows the key role of librarians in helping develop students information literacy skills.  The company will also work with the American Library Association to spread awareness of the importance of digital/information literacy.

UK government – agile and digital by default

The UK has a tradition of excellence in public services.  However, this has not always translated into excellent online services.  The UK government is now pursuing a ‘digital first’ and ‘digital by default’ agenda which aims to design and deliver world class digital public services.

Mike Bracken is the Executive Director for the UK Government’s Digital Service, responsible for delivering ‘customer first’ digital services.  Speaking at the ‘Agenda Setters’ stream of seminars at this year’s Internet World event, he described how a transformed, agile approach to design and development is opening up online government services. is the new single site for government services (replacing  Currently in beta, the site provides simple, clear and fast answers and is designed with external users in mind.  An example of this customer focus can be seen in the contrasting treatment of the same information – in this case about public holidays in the UK.

On, this information is displayed in a table – the information is correct, it is simply not easy on the eye.  The new site answers the key question that most people searching for bank holiday information want answered – When is the next bank holiday?  It is a simple, yet revolutionary approach to delivering truly customer first information.

Key elements and principles of

  • Digital first and digital by design
  • Users first!  The users ‘trump’ the government department(s) in all decisions
  • Digital services NOT websites
  • Less information – much of the ‘marginal’ information currently available on will not be transferred onto Gov.UK
  • Quick tasks and answers – for example, by answering four simple questions you can discover your maternity entitlements
  • Understand the user journey – 90% of users will come into the site via search engines, not via expensive ‘home pages’
  • Devices and mobile  - the content is designed for mobile delivery
  • Agile development – small teams are involved in iterative development.  These are not massive, long term IT projects  This approach means you can ‘fail in increments’ and do something about it
  • Learn from experience
  • Build a trusted network of partners – a contrast with previously strained relationships with large external providers.  Work with world class digital businesses

Today, the government has announced a new advisory board to help drive the next stage of Digital by Default.  Leading figures from academia, industry and retail will help the government deliver its digital transformation agenda.


Wikipedia – spread the love

Wikipedia has announced it is testing a new way of sharing accolades for content.

In a blog post, the organisation outlines how important positive feedback is to contributors and editors.  78% of contributors stated that they are more likely to contribute in the future if others are complimentary about their efforts.

Wikipedia calls the ‘Wikilove’ initiative ‘an experiment in appreciation’.  It simplifies the feedback process and enables users to send barnstars or other (even customised) symbols of appreciation.


International usability and website design

Usability guru Jakob Nielsen shares the findings of usability studies conducted in Australia, China and the UAE.  The tests covered websites, intranets and mobile apps/sites.  His key findings and recommendations include:

  • Headlines and links are REALLY important.  Irrespective of the ‘direction’ of reading (left to right languages/ or right to left), all users focus attention on the first few words.  Interest quickly wanes.
  • Multilingual search is ideal. At the very least make allowances for both British and US English.  Be kind to poor spellers.
  • Everyone needs an internationalised site.  But be aware of local differences.  Australian users favoured a domain.  Arab users were more likely to trust international sites.  Localised sites can be used to target specific, important, regional markets.


Personal archiving for literary greats

How will the literary researchers of the future be able to understand the thought processes of great authors?  With handwritten manuscripts, the authors notations, edits and revisions are captured on the page, which can themselves be captured digitally.  A page of Jane Austen’s mansucript for Persuasion for example, shows how she worked to refine the language and tone of her work.

The sale to the British Library of the archive the poet Wendy Cope included personal items such as school reports and 40,000 emails.  The poet had ‘displayed an archival consciousness’ and her wide ranging and rich archive will be catalogued and made available to researchers.

Meanwhile, BBC Radio 4 this week broadcast Tales from the Digital Archive, featuring an interview with the British Library’s first Curator of Digital Mansuscripts.  The programme explores how technology, far from cutting researchers off from the creative process, can actually become part of the archive itself.  At Emory University in the US, the computers on which Salman Rushdie wrote his bestsellers are held in an archive where they are as valued as highly as any leather-bound hand-written manuscript. 

Perhaps there are career opportunities for information and archive specialists to work alongside great authors and help them to maintain their creative archives!

And as a postscript, the marvellous website Letters of Note publishes a covering letter from 14-year old Stephen King who sent one of his stories for consideration by Spaceman Magazine in 1961.  The story was rejected…

What do students REALLY want?

In an interesting blog post, Stephen Abram considers the findings of a recent (US) research report.  The original research was conducted by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) and asked US college students about their format preferences for textbooks.  BISG found that ‘nearly 75% of students…say they prefer textbooks in printed rather than etext form’.  Reasons cited for this preference included the potential resale value of the books and its ‘permanence’.

About 12% of the students surveyed said the prefer etexts to printed texts because of lower cost and portability while 11% preferred to rent textbooks.

Stephen Abram’s interpretation is slightly different.  The survey was conducted before what he terms the ‘explosion’ of affordable tablets and e-readers in the consumer market which will almost certainly impact the uptake and acceptability of etexts.  He also feels that students considered a ‘polarised’ view (either print OR etext) when in fact a hybrid model that combines e-texts with books would be much more likely. 

Abram also states that it is often difficult for people who are surveyed to compare a situation they know (in this case text books) and an ‘imagined future state’.   The e-text space is evolving with textbooks and library research services beginning to integrate.  The space should be watched closely, says Abram.