Patti Davis thinks of her job as publisher for Emerald Publishing in terms of a mission.
“We have a mission to publish research that is applicable to the real world,” she says. “More and more, society is looking for research that is real for their experience, helpful for their day to day life, and their work life.”
It’s an area where Davis sees challenges. Speaking at a recent conference in South Carolina, she cited a study from International Journal of Operations & Production Management, where senior researchers were asked to read samples of the most downloaded research articles. Turns out they were of very little use.
The problem? In Davis’ estimation, obtuse writing, written from the “Ivory tower.”
“We have to make sure the research is important, and that what’s being published is valid and solid, well written, and something that people are actually looking for,” she says. “That becomes more and more a part of the role of the publisher.”
And the key to publishing research that’s applicable to the real world? Librarians, of course.
“Librarians have historically been the gatekeepers,” says Davis, “and they’ve continued to serve that role for scholars and students. They can provide feedback on how their customers are looking for research and what they’re doing to get the info they need.”
Davis—who’s responsible for the journals in Emerald Publishing’s operations, logistics, and quality collection, whose research serves business, society, public policy, and education—points out that it’s also true that solid, usable research is important when librarians are considering how to apply their annual budgets to journal subscriptions.
“Librarians are on the front line—especially to niche, underrepresented fields, and they can lead people to small journals, like the Journal of Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Management, for example, not ranked, but very valuable.”
With more than 15 years of experience both in books and journals publishing—she’s worked at Rowman & Littlefield Publishers and University Press of America—Davis has seen many changes in journal publishing.
“The writing is getting better,” she says. “It’s not shrouded in academic-ese. Compared to ten or twenty years ago, it’s now easier to understand the research through the articles being written and it makes it easier for librarians to tell which of their constituencies are most suited for their own research. It’s all about plain language.”
With the migration to digital—another sea change she’s witnessed over the course of her career—research has also gotten easier to cross-reference. “Migration to digital is a wonderful thing,” she says. “It’s one of the best things that’s happened in the past twenty years. Access is great, especially when people can read content on phones or iPads, when they have a few minutes in the carpool waiting for their kids, to get the latest research.”
This digital migration has not been without unintended consequences, of course. “Just because something is easily available doesn’t make it true,” she says. “We’ve recently seen [fake-news events] that are frightening. There are lists of predatory journals out there that librarians have helped put together. Their role will be changing, but all of our roles will change.”
Like most journal publishers, Davis is also seeing authors looking for faster times to print. “Because we’ve gone to the point where everything is instantaneous, they’re looking to get through peer review in three months instead of six. It was fairly standard to take two years to publish. Now they want six months.”
Davis recalls that when she was first in grad school, “you went to the library and saw what had been published. A few years later, you’d go through your university’s portal and look through the database. Now, students are going directly to Google or Google Scholar and looking for their keywords. That will be the standard from now on.”
What does the new ecosystem mean for publishers and librarians? “We’re going to have to fight for discoverability,” she says. “We’ll have to be responding to the way students and scholars look for research, and understand how important keywords and abstracts and titles are in getting discovered.”
Even access to the materials in Davis’ favorite library, The Library of Congress, has changed. “I used to live in Washington and I loved going there and sitting at those big oak tables with a big pile of books with a bunch of other researchers and looking at books that weren’t readily available at most other libraries.”
Today, many of those books are available in digital form. “Yes,” she says, “the old ways will continue to be pushed aside.”