The publishing platform business is constantly evolving, with home-grown technologies and commercial solutions continuously developing new capabilities to better serve authors and researchers. As a result, publishers occasionally migrate journals, books and other content from one delivery platform to another, a process considered by many to be something of a perilous minefield. However, good progress is now being made to bring publishers, platform providers and librarians together, to better understand the varying, and often disparate, perspectives of each of these communities and minimize disruption experienced by end users
Thanks to the great work being carried out by the NISO Content Platform Migration Working Group, the industry is now moving towards a more empathetic way of working, whereby all the different stakeholder challenges are being addressed and standardized ‘best practice’ recommendations to help navigate migrations more effectively are being developed.
In March, KGL PubFactory’s very own Tom Beyer took part in a virtual panel discussion at the Electronic Resources and Libraries (ER&L) Annual Conference 2021 entitled “How We Work Together: Improving the Content Platform Migration Process”, alongside some of our friends and colleagues in the NISO Working Group. The session explored the current state of platform migrations from the viewpoint and experiences of a major university press, an academic library and the content platform provider perspective, while showcasing some of the recommendations and deliverables of the NISO Working Group. Here are five key lessons we gleaned from the session:
A myriad of migrations
Many of us have experienced the odd sleepless night while in the throes of a complex platform migration, but nobody has to endure more than librarians. Kimberly Steinle, Library Relations and Sales Manager at Duke University Press, revealed the results of a poll at the top of the session, which discovered that while publishers commonly conduct a single platform migration every five to 10 years, and platform providers typically roll them out at a rate of five to 10 per year, librarians frequently process upwards of 10 migrations, and growing, every year.
Improving the librarian experience
With this in mind, Xiaoyan Song, Electronic Resources Librarian at North Carolina State University Libraries, provided some valuable tips on how we can make the migration experience better for librarians. She said: “Looking back at past migrations there are a number of ways we feel the experience could have been improved. Firstly, plenty of advance notice and an activity timeline would really help us to plan ahead in terms of allocating resource and prioritizing workloads. Secondly, a direct point of contact at the publisher is always beneficial to help us clarify aspects of the migration and answer any questions. We also love working with checklists listing actions to tick off, which we find really makes the process smoother. And finally, timing is everything, so when planning a migration try to avoid peak usage periods and instead schedule the switch-over during the summer when library usage is at its lowest.”
Having spearheaded several platform migrations at Duke University Press herself, Steinle knows that during platform migrations it is inevitable that things don’t always go according to plan. She commented: “While you will do everything you can to have a smooth migration, something is going to go wrong – whether it’s big or little, it happens. Having a plan in place so we could make decisions quickly, take action and communicate with our customers, was really important for us during this process.”
To overlap or not overlap
The content platform provider’s role during the migration process is often fraught with technical challenges which need to be overcome as files and data, often in varying formats, pass between platform providers. According to KGL PubFactory’s Tom Beyer, one of the key considerations is whether or not new and old publishing platforms should run concurrently for a period of time, or ‘overlap’. He stated: “In normal software projects you would generally want to overlap the two systems until you are really certain that the new system is doing all the things that the old system could do. Ideally, from a platform provider perspective, we would like as much overlap time as possible, but this is not always possible as you are essentially asking publishers and librarians to do everything twice. So, there is a lot of pressure on platform providers like us to not overlap for very long, if at all, as much as it would make our lives easier.”
Closing the communications loop
And last but not least, one of the issues which was identified right from the very beginning of the creation of the NISO Working Group was the fact that there are significant gaps in communication within the migration ecosystem. Steinle said: “While publishers and platform providers traditionally work very closely together across a project, there is often very little communication between librarians and the platform providers and there is actually a lot that both of those groups can learn from each other.” On the same topic, Beyer concluded: “One of the really positive things about this Working Group is that the folks that we don’t always have close contact with are librarians and it was really great to work together and see things from their perspective – I learned a lot.”
In the spirit of good communication, the NISO Content Platform Migration Working Group has now published a draft of its deliverables – consisting of its recommendations, checklists for publishers, vendors and libraries and a glossary of key terms – which is now open for public comment (until April 23). To view the group’s recommendation and comment or provide feedback, visit www.niso.org/standards-committees/content-platform-migrations.