A small blogging industry has built up around the upsides of isolation during the current pandemic . I don’t want to add to it here , except to remark that the cancellation of a number of publishing events has forced me into other channels , away from my usual haunts where industry colleagues assure each other that whatever happens in terms of change , subscription services , paywalls , impact factors and restricted copyright re-use will see them into retirement . And then it’s someone else’s problem . Since I have a constitutional requirement to keep reminding them that Change is not a measurable process : as soon as you produce a chart that maps it’s steady progress and have used it to reassure investors and stakeholders that they have nothing to fear in the short term , then you suddenly find the graph line around your neck and strangling you . Think Open Access and forget complacency . 

So this month and last I wasn’t at a book fair or even in  a bar loosely attached to a book fair . Instead I was listening to world experts like Richard Susskind talking about digital law courts last month , and in May it has been a joy to get to the Open Publishing Fest , organised by Adam Hyde . And of course I have enjoyed those Bob Stein sessions on the slow re-interpretation of the meaning of “ book” in a digital networked world . I never tire of the subject or it’s pioneers . But my real joy has been three sessions I attended on micro- publishing. In part this is they  were run by librarians and academics with genuine expertise hard won in practice . Partly because of the manner of the discourse – no participant left unthanked , every effort made to acknowledge the pioneering work of others . And partly because all of these professors or researchers or curation librarians were outstanding experts in publishing , running fully fledged and successful publishing operations within the academic world . I soon found that I had much to learn from them . 

MicroPublishing in this context means the publication of short , single experiment, peer reviewed OA articles , with DOIs and metadata to make them citable and discoverable. Typically this might be supplementary or ancillary material that might have been once grouped into a major research program report , delaying it and making it too dense or bulky . Or it might be work on reagents that has genuine scientific interest but, as an incidental finding , only clutters the main report . And MicroPublishing might be a first chance for a post grad or even a student doing lab support work to get their name onto a collaborative publication for the first time . And in all of this work of adding small pieces to the jigsaw and making sure they did not get lost or overlooked – curation is clearly at the heart of these efforts – I heard  nothing described in terms of workflows or process  that would not have been identical in a commercial environment . And that is important . There is a great deal of bogus hype around “ publishing expertise” . If you are clever enough to be a Professor of Genomics , then mastering publishing does not seem to be a huge intellectual challenge .And the digitally networked world has democratised all processes like publishing . We can all be publishers now – and we all are! 

But who are these MicroPublishing people? They are women and men of a similar type to those who I have written about for a decade when using Cell Signalling as an example . In this instance the field is data related to genomics , involving research institutions holding and curating data around MODs – Model Organism Databases . Many were members of the Alliance of Genomic Resources . WORMBase at Caltech were clearly influential with this group , especially in software development . The GOC -gene oncology consortium – has all these groups working together to create ontologies covering all the taxa involved: I noted FLYBase , XENBase and TAIR( Drosophila – fruit flies- frogs and mustard plants) amongst the participants , though no MODs for rats or mice . The one thing they have in common is collaboration around common needs . They have now re-invented themselves as fully fledged publishers of their own work and I left three sessions at Open Publishing Fest thinking that everyone who works in scholarly communications should be very attentive indeed to how they work and what they are doing . 

And we should be attentive not just because of the competitive element . I have a 30 year record of saying that the competitor to the information provider in a digital network is the user doing it for himself , and I am not altering that view now . But we really need to pay attention because this is where and how innovation takes place . This is where and how needs are discovered . If granularity , discoverability and speed to market are the critical issues here., then those are the issues that we must attend to , instead of packing articles with greater amounts of supplemental material , holding articles in peer review until they are “complete”  or using citations to game journal impact factors . Above all , we have to remember that scholarly communication  is communication by and for scholars . They will , and are , re-inventing it all the time . Rather than propagandising the virtues of “ traditional publishing “ commercial publishers should be forming relationships  that help change take place cost-effectively and at scale .

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