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11 October 2017

Diverse, accessible, and inclusive: the future for scholarly publishing

Diversity, inclusion, and accessibility were at the top of the agenda yesterday afternoon at the annual pre-Frankfurt conference for publishers in the fields of science, technology, and medicine. In a panel session that asked how diversity could help improve scholarly research, Cambridge University Press’s Academic Managing Director Mandy Hill joined industry colleagues from Elsevier and Taylor & Francis, Howard University’s first female professor of Mechanical Engineering Sonya Smith, and panel chair, the Copyright Clearance Centre’s Tracey Armstrong.

Hill shared some of the actions that Cambridge has implemented including unconscious bias training for recruiters, and detailed analysis of who is being called for interview. She also argued for the need not only to recruit but to retain and develop a more diverse workforce, ensuring that those who take career breaks due to parenthood should be supported on their return to a fast-moving industry, and that women are as able to move upwards within the business as men.  Cambridge is not just looking at gender diversity; it is also looking at how it can shape its workforce to reflect the profile of the population as a whole.

Gemma Hersh of Elsevier agreed that the industry became less diverse the higher up you got. Leon Heward-Mills added that Taylor and Francis was moving away from internships, which tended to benefit a small group of people, towards a paid apprenticeship system, opening up experience within the industry beyond those who could afford to work for free.

In earlier sessions, speakers had offered valuable perspectives on both accessibility and the needs of researchers and publishers in the developing world. Jamie Axelrod, Director for Disability Resources at Northern Arizona University and President of the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD), talked the audience through the often painful processes involved in getting hold of accessible versions of books and articles for students with disabilities. Requests to publishers for such versions were mostly met with good intentions but sometimes poor delivery: they would happily deliver an accessible version, but it might take several months. In such cases, Axelrod’s team would often be forced to buy a print copy, cut it up and scan it, and then use special software to extract the text to make it accessible to blind or dyslexic users. Even when publishers made efforts to make their platforms accessible, these efforts could be hampered by poor implementation: Axelrod told a tale of one publisher’s suite of accessibility functionality being trapped behind a button that was itself inaccessible to the very users who needed it.

Axelrod was followed by Susan Murray of African Journals Online, who offered insights into the challenges faced by journals in the developing world, and shared a new approach to solve that sector’s credibility problem: the Journal Publishing Practices and Standards framework. Noting that many journals in the developing world struggled to gain respect because they did not conform to conventional industry practices, Murray explained that the framework aimed to assess journals’ adherence to standards, and to help guide them towards improvement. In so doing, it would also help build the journals’ credibility amongst researchers.

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