Buzz words abound in all businesses; certainly they have a prominent place in publishing. Some buzz words—content, metadata, discovery, analytics, for example—are perennial, always seeming to hover around the peripheries of publishing, creating a shadow, partly because of the weight they carry and partly because no one seems to know what to do with them.
For years, ebooks has been a buzz word. You could choose an adjective at random and it would fit the relationship that publishers have had with the word ebooks: scary, exciting, innovative, repressive, paranoid, overwhelming, cash cow! Other words come and go more frequently. MOOCs (technically not a word, I realize) popped up on the horizon a couple of years ago and publishers frenetically attempted to work out what MOOCs even meant. Now, that word seems far less prevalent; maybe it isn’t creating a shadow but is lurking in one?
Buzz words drew my attention recently when I attended the Library Publishing Forum in Kansas City. University libraries tasked with some form of publishing gathered to discuss their world; a few university presses attended in various capacities. Buzz words flitted in and out of the conference, from the presenters, naturally, but also from the audience in the many side conversations held throughout the two days on Twitter. Perhaps the most oft-used word in Kansas City was “collaboration.” Everyone, it seemed, wished to collaborate with someone else. Collaboration between libraries and their patrons, between libraries and professors or departments, between libraries and other libraries, between libraries and university presses all took their turn in the limelight. I was overwhelmed by the amount of collaboration. The conference was practically a hedonistic orgy of collaborative intent.
I’m a big fan of collaboration. I think that working with others is one of the keys to success. Trying to do everything on your own—whether as an individual or as a business—can only lead down dark paths of ignorance as one tries to learn everything but can succeed in simply never knowing quite enough. So, I’m all for collaborative efforts. At the University of Nebraska Press, we have an excellent set of relationships between our various departments to ensure (or at least strive for) the best possible paths to success are chosen. Within the marketing team we collaborate on projects and ideas every day. Naturally, we collaborate, as does every other university press, with our authors, searching for the most harmonious way to promote their books in conjunction with their own efforts and expertise.
So, a buzz word such as, collaborate, seems easy to comprehend and utilize. There are far fewer shadowy corners in which it can lurk and far fewer opportunities for it to create its own shadow. Everyone seems to want to collaborate so it would be natural for this buzz word to be embraced. As I sat in the conference hall listening to some intriguing and provocative presenters, I was struck, through the Twitter conversations I followed, those I participated in, and through the face-to-face discussions I had, with the idea that maybe the buzz word of the conference was actually manifesting itself as one of those weighty, shadowy buzz words with which no one is truly sure how to interact. Everyone professed a desire to collaborate, which in itself is an excellent thing, but after that profession there appeared to be some confusion about what it actually meant. Who should do the collaborating? How should the collaborating be conducted? Should someone instigate it or manage it or lead it? Is one party’s version of collaboration different to another’s? So many questions about what, in theory, appears a simple concept: let’s all get together and do something really good.
Leaving the conference, these thoughts percolated in my head. I think the takeaway (another good, old, buzz word) is that university libraries and university presses have much in which they can collaborate, in which they can produce even more impressive work through the cumulative expertise that they can bring to a project. I imagine that this nascent conference and organization is going to play a substantial role in the futures of both libraries and presses and that the organization may well be a facilitator in any collaboration that does develop. I also wondered, though, who is going to take the lead here? Who is going to move the buzz word of this conference from the shadows to center stage? I don’t profess to have an answer . . . in many ways that may be the case for all who attended. In fact, I’d argue that the best thing to come out of the gathering was that we all started a new discussion. We gathered together and, although concrete actions did not necessarily come forth, we collaborated. We collaborated simply in the act of thinking and being made to think. And that collaboration may be the best kind of all because it the basis for all that we do well.