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SSP meeting ticks all the boxes

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When the sun comes out in Vancouver, the city positively glitters – and appropriately enough the SSP's 38th Annual Meeting, made up of academic publishing's brightest things, was blessed with perfect weather.

This year's theme was Crossing Boundaries: New Horizons in Scholarly Communication; with publishers, librarians, researchers and vendors brought together to discuss, debate and learn with the purpose of advancing scholarly communications.

There were some superb plenaries and discussion sessions, a wide range of companies in the exhibitor marketplace, loads of networking events, all set against a backdrop of the city's glittering waterfront and surrounding forests and mountains.

For Research Information, the only downside was a severe lack of print magazines to hand out to delegates – more about that later!

After Melanie Dolechek, SSP's first full-time executive director, opened the conference, the first plenary tackled the subject of mentorship within the scholarly publishing industry. Setting the scene, moderator David Thew pointed out that the SSP's Fellowship Programme was launched this year to big demand, with more than 100 fellowship applications for just 12 places.

All four speakers – Jean Shipman of the University of Utah, Ann Michael of Delta Think, Meredith Adinolfi of Cell Press, and Nick Dormer of Wiley – praised the benefits of mentorship and spoke eloquently about how it had been a critical component of their development.

Adinolfi recalled: 'My entire publishing career so far has been with one company. Mentorship has played an important role for me. At any level, people have more to learn and gain, and everyone has something that they can teach to other people.'

Given the clear support for mentorship from speakers, it was noteworthy that very few audience members raised their hands when asked if they are part of a formal mentor programme.

The audience raised several interesting points. One delegate asked whether mentorship programmes should only be aimed at 'high-flyers' (the speakers generally disagreed), while another pointed out that the advance of technology in recent decades has led to a 'disconnect' between bosses and employees.

The second day saw motivational speaker David Kidder talk about The Startup Playbook; his recent publication, which espouses the view that entrepreneurial spirit isn't – and should not be – restricted to startups but can be embraced by enterprises of any size in the publishing industry.

Other sessions attended took in subject areas as diverse as marketing, persistent identifiers, altmetrics, and discovery.

For many, the conference highlight was a presentation from the venerable Margaret Ann Armour, who spoke on the need to encourage diversity within the publishing industry.

While there has been progress in increasing the diversity of people in STEM fields, women are still in a minority – especially in physical and mathematical sciences and engineering, and also in decision-making and leadership roles.

Armour, of the University of Alberta but a native of Scotland, spoke passionately about underlying attitudes and stereotypes at play ... as well as subconscious biases that affect many. She called for a sense of role modelling to increase diversity in publishing, and said that workplaces need to become inclusive and respectful to all (while admitting that this is easier to say than to carry out).

Stating that these systemic biases affect our decision making and performance evaluations, Armour called for action in the publishing industry: 'I'm white-haired now, I'm running out of patience and it's time to make things change! I look forward to a day when companies show a much more democratic way of running their business.'

A prolonged standing ovation showed that SSP delegates clearly took Armour to their hearts, while drawing inspiration from her impressive words.

One particularly interesting session on the third day was entitled: Levelling the Playing Field, and was dedicated to convincing publishers to give access to their publications to developing countries under preferential terms and conditions.

Moderated by Ann Okerson of INASP, speakers David Marshall of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Kamran Naim of Annual Reviews, and Ann Snoeyenbos of John Hopkins University Press outlined the many advantages of making content available to the developing world, as well as some of the inevitable challenges associated with doing so.

All three speakers sung the praises of working with INASP, which provides advice on pricing and protecting the author's IP, as well as providing an intermediary service to connect to librarians, scholars and governments. Naim pointed out that, within nine months of starting a relationship with INASP, he had launched access to 100,000 journals in Pakistan.

Socially, the SSP meeting provided a fantastic opportunity to network, and to connect with old and new colleagues. A speed-networking event kicked things off, while there were several superb drinks receptions (one of which featured a photo-booth. Ahem).

The event closed with a scavenger hunt in nearby Stanley Park, which allowed delegates to get out and about while taking in the glorious local countryside.

Special praise should go to the organising committee of SSP, especially executive director Melanie Dolechek, SSP president Ann Michael, president-elect Rick Anderson, and co-ordinator Jennifer Lanphere, for making us feel so welcome and putting together such a professional and informative event. Here's to next year in Boston, Massachussetts!

Now… about those magazines. Research Information had put together a special issue focusing on the similarities and differences between the publishing industries in North America, complete with a Vancouver-themed cover, with contributions from a range of industry figures. The aim was for every delegate to have a copy – but that was scuppered, largely by the vagaries of the Canadian customs system. Luckily, a digital version is online at http://content.yudu.com/web/tzly/0A3zqtx/RIJUNJUL16/html/index.html . Furthermore, you can subscribe to the magazine for free at https://www.researchinformation.info/subscribe