An interview with Ruth Jones
Interview by: Margaret Adolphus
Ruth Jones is head of Publisher Relations and Product Development at the British Library. Before joining the library, she was general manager of Extenza e-Publishing (now part of Atypon Inc.) which provides e-journal hosting services for the scholarly journal publisher community. Previously, she was sales and marketing director at Thomson Learning EMEA. Ruth has extensive scholarly and professional publishing experience, primarily in the STM arena.
Margaret Adolphus conducted this interview with Ruth on December 4th 2007 at the Online Information conference in London.
Ruth, you now work for a library but you have also worked in publishing, poacher turned gamekeeper one might say, although perhaps that should be the other way around! Do you think, though, that the roles of publisher and librarian are getting closer?
Yes, I think they are, in that publishers take content and deliver it to market, and librarians take content and bring it to market – there is not a lot of difference and the skills are very similar. At the British Library, we are always talking about our mission – which is what publishers are constantly doing. There is a lot of fluidity between the roles, but not enough exchange.
Can you describe your role?
It’s quite an amorphous one, and tends to change! Currently it has two components, product development and publisher relations. I manage a team of product developers, whose role is to come up with ideas and take them through the product development cycle: making the business case, moving into operations, making sure that the user’s requirements are met, and so on.
A recent example of new product development is the UK Research Reserve, whereby little used print copies of old journals can be stored both within a central holding at the British Library and in a distributed holding across the research library sector, thereby saving space across the sector. We’ve also been considering how best we can serve corporate libraries, other than by document supply, and looking into how we can expand our e-science and STM collections by a connecting strategy to the underlying datasets. In October 2007, we launched the first tranche of the digitization of our extensive newspaper collection, which is currently available to HE/FE institutions and will be made public in 2008. A recent example of the Library begining to build new services is in the area of outsourcing: we are piloting UK Research Reserve, whereby little used print copies of old journals can be stored both within a central holding at the British Library and in a distributed holding across the research library sector, thereby saving space across the sector. We’ve also been considering how best we can serve corporate libraries, other than by document supply, and looking into how we can expand our e-science and STM collections by a connecting strategy to the underlying datasets.
The publisher relations side is about licensing content in, but also about licensing content out. For example, our picture library reports to me and whenever we hire out a picture, we charge a fee dependent on whether it is high or low resolution. Essentially this part of the job is about copyright compliance which is highly complex, especially in a digital age when the sheer variety of licenses and their implementation can make compliance difficult.
I am leading the British Library’s initiative to get journal e-content archived in digital form. This is in line with the policy of the British Library to preserve knowledge and act as a conservation centre. Archiving content in digital form is about preserving content, and ensuring that it can be accessed, disseminated and viewed. The principles are the same as for physical conservation, which is about how you maintain content in its current form, without anyone tampering with it.
What are the particular responsibilities of a major national library in responding to Web 2.0?
There are five key themes in Web 2.0: participation, no borders, easy access, integrated access, and rich interpretation. We are trying to make sure that our material is accessible to the widest public in a form that is usable and makes sense. Like any library, we can no longer rely on people coming into our physical space in person to look at the collection that is housed in our building. This is what all our initiatives are about: giving wider access to our materials by going out into the community and enabling people to look at our resources digitally in their own homes and offices, on their desktops or laptops. To do this, we are keen to reach people where they are; we are developing a presence on the "social web" – for example, You Tube and Second Life.
Web 2.0 technology also enables the user to contribute their views to our content, and we are looking at ways of doing this, for example people might be able to provide Amazon-style ratings for an item in the catalogue.
Access should be simple, and we want to make it as easy as possible for people to navigate our content, with standard interfaces for the different content types, e.g. newspapers, audio, books etc. Our website should provide an overview of all our content, online or offline, and a single search point. We have updated the interface so that it’s much cleaner, with a single search box, which gives you the option of searching in the catalogue, on the BL website, a journal article, etc. Our objective is to make sure that everything can easily be discovered:
Screenshot showing the main search page of the British Library website
We are also providing some context for the collections – each category has extensive information, including a list of databases available in the reading room. Once they’ve accessed the resources, we want to provide as rich an interpretation as possible to replicate (and go beyond!) a physical visit. For example, you can "turn the pages":
Image depicted is from Classic of Botanical Illustration, Elizabeth Blackwell's Herbal, accessed from http://www.bl.uk
Screenshot of "Turning the Pages" function
The difference with us is one of sheer size, and the fact that expectations are so much higher. We are the custodians of the published output of the UK, and we need to make sure that it’s available, and that all sorts of people can be researchers, and the person who is trying to research their family history has just as much right to be called that as does someone carrying out university based research.
Part of the British Library’s strategic plan is to develop a digital infrastructure for research, in conjunction with partners. Can you describe some of your initiatives here, in particular Virtual Research Environment and the National Digital Library?
The Virtual Research Environment is a collaboration with Microsoft, and it links in with one of our strategic priorities, to play a leading role in helping define and create the UK’s electronic research infrastructure. Known as the Researchers Information Center, it’s a service that is designed to reflect the increasingly cooperative trend of research by facilitating collaboration. It’s currently at the prototype stage, and we will provide tools and services which will help make research easier and more efficient, and deal with the "pain points". The welcome screen has alerts personalized to the user so that the researcher can quickly see what’s new. They can access documents for all projects they are involved and they will also have a private space for their own proposals, bookmarks, publications, etc.
Screenshot showing Researchers Information Center welcome page
The navigation will have an intuitive interface and there will be tools to search and discover, obtain funding (lists of funding opportunities, proposal templates and examples of successful proposals), experiment, and disseminate results (version management, bibliography, wikis and blogs).
Screenshot showing Researchers Information Center interface
The National Digital Library (NDL) is a pioneer programme to provide storage, preservation and access to the nation’s digital content. It will store material that is "born digital", both items in our own collection and also websites and e-journals that have been collected as part of our voluntary deposit programme. What the NDL also does is to expose serials information to digital scholar, and enable people to crawl the catalogue. We are also working with Google to make sure that this works.
You have worked for much of your career in publishing. Do you see the trend to open access, author pays, etc. as a threat to publishers?
Providing the model works, it needn’t threaten either side. A resource should be easy to catalogue, link and find, and all that needs to happen seamlessly, but it must be paid for, and there is a recognition of that. The challenges are to make clear what is available, that the licensing should be at article and not a title level, and that the right version, i.e. the final one, should be the version of record.
Most libraries are used to working with multiple business models; we at the British Library are agnostic on business models but we recognize that the creation must be paid for, and that there should be a balance between fee and free. There is more of a problem with grey literature – it can be a challenge managing large amounts of information like that.
Screenshots of Virtual Research Environment courtesy of Ruth Jones.