From economic challenges to efficiency and innovation

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Siân Harris reports on some of the trends in the industry and considers what we can expect from 2012

At the start of another year newspaper headlines around the world are filled with stories of ‘Eurozone crisis,’ ‘mounting debt,’ ‘government cuts’ and ‘double-dip recessions’. Of course, our industry is not immune to these external pressures. At the recent Online Information 2011 event, the topic of ‘stretched library budgets’ cropped up in many conversations. The industry is not standing still, however; such conversations with publishers swiftly moved on to ways to help libraries and researchers be more efficient, get more value and find information faster.

The research library has, of course, changed enormously in recent years. The most striking thing is the changing nature of the library resources, with electronic access taking a larger part of library budgets each year. Libraries have increasingly become virtual resources rather than physical locations. This has led to a greater need for libraries to ensure that their users recognise their role in information acquisition and know how to find the information that libraries have paid to subscribe to.

Change hasn’t stopped with the move from print to online either. Many e-journals, for example, have evolved from being simply electronic versions of print journals, organised as issues, delivered as PDFs and geared towards printing. Journals have begun to further exploit the power of the internet, including functionality such as linking, video and graphical abstracts, new information structures and formats, facilities to comment and share and other Web 2.0 developments.

One interesting issue is timeliness. A glance at some of the new journals in our product section (page 27) reveals the importance of publishing quickly. There has been a shift from publishing information as issues to publishing articles as they are ready and then bundling them as issues afterwards, especially with online-only titles.

Another important trend is that of publishers partnering with technology companies to do semantic enrichment. For example, at the Online exhibition, SAGE was discussing its SAGE Knowledge e-book and e-content platform that will launch later this year using technology from TEMIS. Similarly, James Howard, executive product manager at the BBC spoke at the conference about a new partnership with MarkLogic.

There was also plenty of discussion at Online Information about e-books. These became widespread later than e-journals and as such were launched with many of the latest e-journal and more general internet developments in mind. Many e-books still very closely resemble print books, although the new EPUB 3 format is likely to change this.

Different publishers have different attitudes to digital rights management (DRM) with e-books. Some offer no DRM and others offer a range of different conditions. This is a complicated issue for e-book aggregators and confusing for libraries and users. Another issue that was raised at Online was the issue of VAT, which is added to electronic resources in Europe but not print. This is a major challenge for purchasers of content and one that librarians and end users are eager for the European Union to address as soon as possible.

Going mobile

Related to the issue of e-books is the topic of mobile access and the past few months have seen many more announcements of scholarly apps. Like the developments in e-journals and e-books themselves, such apps are moving away from just being a mobile version of what is online to really using the power of mobile. More such developments should be possible with the new EPUB 3 specifications.

Another trend that should definitely be watched in 2012 is the role of data. Opening up and giving access to research data is still a thorny issue with many researchers – because of the potential risk of criticism and competition – and there are still issues about finding data and data formats. However, moves by funding bodies to require it to be deposited and efforts by DataCite to enable researchers to cite data using DOIs are starting to change this. Mining and other possibilities with data could transform the way that research is published and used.

There is also increasing interest in negative data – a research result that doesn’t have a traditional home. For example, the new SpringerPlus journal (see page 27) promises to encourage the publication of negative data.

Data developments go beyond research data too. Libraries and publishers have huge amounts of data that can be used in interesting ways and we are now seeing them start to open up data and code to new applications.

Many new concepts have emerged and developed over recent years. The financial climate is undoubtedly tough and the next year or so will be challenging for libraries and publishers but efforts to help researchers become more efficient promise to yield great innovation.