The Researcher to Reader 2017 conference happened last week (February 20th and 21st 2017) at the British Medical Association and thanks to Digital Science I was lucky enough to be able to attend.

This two day conference brought together over 150 researchers, publishers, librarians and others involved in the academic communication chain to discuss the latest trends and issues and how the various groups can work together to ensure the best research is getting out into the world and shared with those who need it.  As a researcher I was definitely in the minority (publishers made up more than 50% of the attendees) but coming from a STEM field it was refreshing to be at a conference with a 50:50 gender balance in the attendees.

The conference started with a rousing keynote speech from Mark Allin, President & CEO, John Wiley & Sons, calling on the publishing community to do more to help researchers share their work across the globe, reminding us that research doesn’t exist in a political vacuum.  With everyone suitably charged up (from the keynote and the earlier coffee) it was time to break out into our workshop groups.  Five workshops had been organised, each discussing a different challenge currently affecting the academic and scholarly publishing sphere.  I had signed up to workshop B, Alternative Research Output, organised and run by Felix Evert and Rob Johnson.  Scholarly papers are not the other thing generated in the course of conducting research and this is increasingly being recognised by publishers and funding bodies.  But it’s not always clear what these alternative outputs are (at least not to those who aren’t intimately acquainted with each specialisation in the academy) or how they might be shared.  Over the course of three workshop sessions we discussed what might count as a non-traditional output (images, maps, software, datasets etc.), why these might be of interest to a variety of audiences, why researchers might be reluctant to share, why they should be encouraged to do so and because this was ultimately a conference with a significant business stake in academic research, how these alternative outputs can be shared and who and how should they be paid for?

A major issue that seemed to crop up in just about every item on the conferences agenda was Open Access.  Rick Anderson from the University of Utah discussed the present state of Open Access and how the gold and green current model which supplements library subscriptions is not sustainable.  There needs to be a major change in the way in which libraries pay for content and publishers sell it and in his opinion this change is coming whether we like it or not!  These thoughts were further expanded upon in the first panel discussion of the conference, “It’s not easy being Green”.  Lead by Alicia Wise we heard about how the CHORUS initiative is working in the US to help universities and research organisations comply with OA funder directives, how in Japan the Green OA model is not being taken up by researchers and how the Smithsonian Institute and University of Florida libraries are coping with the OA demands now put on them.  The panel all seemed to agree that OA is a good and necessary thing but that implementing it is still a work in progress.  From my point of view it was especially interesting to hear that a number of the difficulties libraries and institution research offices have with OA compliance comes from their own researchers being inconsistent!  This was a very US focused panel but much of what they had to say did seem to be applicable here in the UK  and elsewhere and it certainly generated many thoughts for discussion within the room.

Other presentations focused on monograph and scholarly book publications (Michael Jubb and Richard Fisher), library user experience (Graham Walton and Laura Montgomery) and research assessment (Stephen Curry), ensuring all aspects of the chain of communication that links the researcher to the reader were covered.

The Researcher to Reader conference was certainly a fully packed schedule.  I was one of only a handful of researchers there and even though I did have to subtly Google a few unfamiliar terms and acronyms during the presentations it was an engaging and thoroughly enjoyable conference.  Within academic research, publishers are not always viewed in the most positive terms, but it was reassuring to meet with a hall full of people who were all focused on making sure that scholarly publishers were doing everything they could to make the job of communicating our research as easy as possible.  I would definitely recommend this conference next year to any researchers out there interested in seeing how your hard work gets out there to the people you hope will read and use it.

Dr Jennifer Harris is a postdoctoral researcher at Birkbeck University of London.  Her work involves using imaging spectroscopy to explore the surface of Mars.