Reaching further 'to promote equity'

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Simone Taylor

AIP Publishing's Simone Taylor talks digital books, inclusion, long-distance walking and gluten-free baking

Tell us a little about your background and qualifications…

I am a materials scientist by training, with a doctorate in magnetic ceramics for applications in electronics. An interest in presenting research results led me to a career in scientific publishing. I started out as a production editor on engineering journals, moving quickly into materials science where I wrote news and features for newsletters and magazines, and published market reports for practitioners in the industry. These skills came in handy when I worked in technology transfer at the National Physical Laboratory in the UK.

I later moved back into publishing, working on acquisitions and business development, publishing books, journals, newsletters, and magazines, and building and managing partnerships with scholarly societies. I have an interest in helping authors, particularly those in under-resourced parts of the world, get their work published, and in ensuring that those results are accessible to the people who would make the best use of them.

What led you to join AIP Publishing?

In 2018, AIP Publishing’s leadership team started on a path to diversify its product offering and develop a books program. The organisation needed someone to launch that program and my profile fitted the bill: a background in materials science, experience in launching new products, and experience in books publishing.

Tell us about your involvement in AIP Publishing’s digital books programme?

My responsibility was to lead the launch of that program, building an entire team and developing the supporting infrastructure. The books we publish for research scientists, practitioners, and educators in physics and the physical sciences are designed to do two things:

1. Enable our readers to keep abreast of new developments in their areas of expertise; and
2. Provide foundational information to readers who need to access background information quickly to allow them to switch to a new domain.  

We provide a high degree of editorial, design and composition input to support our authors, offering comprehensive language editing, content restructuring and figure redrawing.  Since our launch in September 2020 we have published just over half of our inaugural collection of 40 titles due at the end of this year. Our program is digital first, and books are fully citable as soon as they are published on Scitation, our publishing platform that also hosts our journals and conference proceedings. This offers interoperability across all product types on the platform, providing essential functionality for the books that currently exists for journals: navigational tabs, Crossref links on reference lists, easily downloadable and citable illustrations, indexing, chapter-level DOIs, and hyperlinks to referenced content as appropriate.

Librarians who own our collections can expect simultaneous access and unlimited downloads to those books for multiple users. Our books are published concurrently in full-text html, epub, and pdf, offering a range of options and comprehensive analytics for readers and authors. And of course, anyone who prefers to read in print can buy a copy.

One of the unique services we provide is to make historical texts that were previously only published in print, available in fully digitised formats for current readers. We have a publishing partnership with the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), and as part of that collaboration we’ve published full text html editions of its backlist on Scitation. Books that were only ever available in print now have equations rendered in MathML! Early indications are that our readers value these options.

What’s the biggest issue facing the scholarly communications industry at present?

It is essential that we continue to develop transformative, affordable business models that library budgets can accommodate, given the uncertainty wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic. The move towards a more open publishing structure, driving a shift in focus to the author, will require a sustained level of investment in technology to maintain a robust digital infrastructure at a time when library budgets are under pressure. 

Systems, processes, and services – traditionally designed for institutions predominantly in developed countries – must be adapted to provide targeted services for the individual, globally. And this work starts earlier than the traditional submission route. Publishers need to cultivate authors and research communities while they are still working on their projects, providing repositories, pre-print servers and content platforms for researchers to store their ‘not-yet-ready’ or pre-publication work, which could then become a source of high-quality content when it is time for rigorous peer review. 

A shift in focus comes into play for metrics as well: author/article-level metrics compared with journal-level metrics, for instance. In addition, the speed of publication, the support mechanisms in place, and the administrative burden of paying for services will all define how customers assess a publisher’s value.

The key challenge lies at the confluence of all these factors: infrastructure, authors, readers, and analytics that will help authors assess the value of the services they receive and readers the quality of the content on offer.

In parallel, the Covid-19 pandemic has left very many people struggling in its wake, and coupled with the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, has shone an unrelenting light on systemic inequities in our society. Our own industry has not escaped the glare. Our workforce is not demographically reflective of the wider population, and our leadership does not reflect the demographic breakdown of its own workforce. 

It is important that we work to deliver more equitable outcomes in compensation and opportunities for career advancement for underrepresented groups in our own workforce, as well as in the author-, customer-, supplier-bases we serve, and with whom we interact. Our newly-formed DEI committee at AIP Publishing is currently developing its strategy for outreach and training and will be ready to communicate organisation-wide plans by the end of the summer. We have been focusing in great depth on DEI and on culture and organisational strategy.

We are actively working to bring the principles and priorities of all of these tracks together. Ensuring open, equitable, inclusive, and global approaches in all that we do features prominently in our discussions. At AIP Publishing, we believe that it is crucial that we embrace this as an intrinsic value of who we are as an organisation, creating a safe space that allows us to hear, listen to and respond to the voices of our underrepresented colleagues.

Many a case has been made for the requirement of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the global workforce from the legal, ethical, and business perspectives. Alix Vance, CEO at AIP Publishing articulates a succinct call to action when she says: 'We do not promote DEI because it conveys business benefits (although it does), we do so because it is imperative to our humanity and connectedness. We look forward to being recognised as an organisation that leans forward and reaches further to promote equity and as one that welcomes all conversations that help us understand and respond to the diverse perspectives of our colleagues and community. 

'This is true for us and for our parent organisation, AIP. Together we are committed to advancing new, forward-looking and more inclusive initiatives for the broader physical sciences community.'   

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris has noted that President Joe Biden 'had the audacity' to select her, a woman of colour, as his running mate. To advance representation in our industry we need to be able to emulate that audacious courage, to allow us to advocate for, sponsor, and invest in colleagues from underrepresented groups to give them the opportunities and support they need to lead our industry into a progressive future.

Fast-forward 10 years – how do you think the industry will have changed?

One of the lessons of the pandemic has been the need for remote access to data, information, and systems. Technologies and business models that improve global accessibility will continue to define the publishing landscape and its success. The next 10 years will see a concerted move towards open research as the industry seeks to deliver transparency, reproducibility, and reusability in how research is conducted, reported. and accessed.

In addition, emerging machine learning technologies that provide copy-editing and language editing services for authors will become more prevalent, freeing up publishers to deliver more focused resources for a global base of authors and readers. 

We will continue to focus on opportunities for partnering with colleagues in China and will also look for opportunities in emerging regions such as India and tropical Africa: currently we have relatively limited interaction with Africa outside of its more temperate climate zones!

Our success will be determined by how effectively we can respond to and embrace those changes.

Do you have any hobbies or interests you want to tell us about?

Since 2019, I have served on the Board of my local Shelter that provides food and housing for our guests who need those services, where I chair its development committee. 

In recent years I have managed to combine my affinity for long walks with an interest in fundraising: for breast cancer charities, first with Avon (walking 39.3 miles over two days) and most recently with Susan G Komen, walking 60 miles over three days. All events were in California: Santa Barbara and San Diego, with beautiful scenery, wonderful weather, and supportive crowds, making each venture an inspiring, exhilarating experience. 

It’s an indulgence to live just across the river from the treasure of arts and culture that is New York City. Bereft of my favorite haunts during the Covid lockdown, I took advantage of the time to hone my skills in gluten-free baking. Now, whether or not that whole concept is counter-intuitive is a topic for an entirely different conversation!

Interview by Tim Gillett