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Scientific Publishing

Scientific Publishing: What Does the Future Hold?
Lehigh Chapter

The Internet has allowed a tremendous growth in the sharing of scientific knowledge, but the costs of scientific publishing and barriers to access remain troublesome and contentious issues. New publishing models and institutional repositories attempt to address these issues but also raise new ones: How will the growth of online publishing be supported? Who will maintain the archives of science? How will information be shared across international and disciplinary boundaries? Does the public have the right to access results of publicly funded research? How will disciplinary societies survive if profitable subscription-funded publishing models fail or are discarded? Which models support and advance research? Who wins, who pays and who loses?

In November 2005, the Lehigh Chapter and University library co-sponsored a conference on current issues in scientific publishing-in particular the ongoing debate over "open access" (www.lehigh.edu/scipub). Steven Weintraub, Lehigh Chapter past president, evaluated this program in response to questions from the Sigma Xi Membership and Chapter Programs staff. Chapters interested in organizing a similar program can contact chapters@sigmaxi.org for information on speakers.

How will a Sigma Xi chapter benefit from hosting a conference like this? (What's the benefit to my chapter?)

Chapter programming should be items of interest and benefit to members, and the future of scientific publishing is certainly such an item. There is a collateral benefit of increasing chapter visibility (both on and off campus).

Suppose a chapter is interested, would a representative from that chapter need to attend/experience such a conference prior to hosting one at their home chapter?

No. We did it from scratch; so could anyone else.

How much time was required of those planning it?

It's hard to quantify the amount of time. The work was considerable, but was spread out among the organizers. It does need a lot of lead time. We first thought about such a conference about a year ago.

To what audience is this information most relevant? Who is most likely to benefit?

We advertised this conference as being of benefit to "students, faculty, researchers, scientists, engineers, librarians, publishers" and believe it is of benefit to all these audiences. In actual fact, the majority of the audience was librarians.

Can this information be packaged? Are there other existing resources for this material?

The presenters used PowerPoint, and all consented to have their presentations put up on our web site permanently. We videotaped all the talks. There is the possibility of digitizing the videotapes and having them available for download, or something similar. This is in the back of our minds, but we have no present plans to do so.

How did Lehigh go about recruiting panelists and promoting the conference?

Panelists: We wanted to have a spectrum of opinions/backgrounds from the panelists, and we chose the panel with that in mind. Our panel reflects that diversity: Rosalind Reid, Editor of American Scientist, for an overview; two Lehigh librarians; the Executive Director of a scientific society; a representative of a commercial publisher; a proponent of open access. Once we decided on that we relied mostly on personal contacts among the organizers to invite the particular speakers.
On-campus promotion: E-mail to our chapter members, periodic messages in the Lehigh events e-mail messages (sent to all faculty/students), posters around campus, mention in the Library and Technology Services newsletter.
Off-campus promotion: E-mail to chapter contacts of nearby chapters, entries in events newsletters of regional groups (of scientists, librarians, etc.) that might be interested, posters mailed to science departments and to Sigma Xi chapter representatives nearby (within 100-mile radius, roughly speaking).
Most of the audience was from off campus, so the off-campus publicity worked. I think the electronic publicity was most effective.

What are the space, facility, equipment and AV requirements?

One auditorium, equipped with a networked computer, computer projection equipment, and a microphone for speakers.

What is the optimal number of participants versus the minimum number required to make this worthwhile?

We had to guess in advance how many people would attend before we could choose a room. We had about 80 people pre-register and about 50 people attend. We would have been in trouble if we had many more than 100, for space limitations. This was a good-sized crowd, but I would have been disappointed if significantly fewer had showed up. It was also an active audience, with good participation in the question and answer periods following each talk.

What are the costs involved to attend the conference, to offer the conference and to recruit speakers?

We thought about charging a small fee to participate, but decided in the end not to do so; the mechanics of collecting money would have been complicated. Our expenses were travel and hotel bills for the speakers, lunch for the speakers, coffee and muffins/croissants for the participants, and paying a couple of graduate students to be on hand to take care of registration, etc. (We had online advance registration, which was not required, but we needed people to actually check the participants in.) We were fortunate in that most speakers only charged us for some of their expenses (for one reason or another). We don't have the final bills in yet, but I expect the total cost will be between $1,000 and $2,000. The Lehigh Chapter of Sigma Xi and Lehigh's Library and Technology Services (LTS) were cosponsors, and we will split the bill. The LTS share will come from university funds and the Sigma Xi share from our chapter treasury.

If you have questions or need assistance with this program, please contact chapters@sigmaxi.org.


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