Director, Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press
Please tell us a bit about yourself (e.g. hometown, current locale, course of study).
I am originally from St. Louis, Missouri. I attended the University of Missouri–Columbia, majoring in business at first then changing to English after my sophomore year. I’ve always loved books, and pursuing a career in publishing became my primary goal in my last two years of college. After graduation, I moved home and worked at a major bookstore chain then at an insurance company as a proofreader. It was obvious that St. Louis had limited publishing opportunities. I’d have to relocate if I wanted to make books my career. I spent much of my disposable cash sending resumes to every editorial assistant job I found in the Washington Post classifieds. I relocated to Maryland in 1998 with enough savings to live for three months, resigned to return to St. Louis and rethink my options if I couldn’t find a full-time job in those three months. Within weeks, I was hired as an editorial assistant in the journal production department of the Entomological Society of America. That was before journals started moving online in significant numbers, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn fundamental journal production skills before the shift.
Describe some of your current responsibilities, and what type of organization you belong to.
I currently work at the Smithsonian Institution. Most think of its museums on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., but the Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex. Hundreds of staff scientists, historians, and curators conduct research all around the world in a huge range of disciplines. As director of the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press (SISP), a small program dedicated to Smithsonian research, I manage publication for a small portion of the staff scholars’ research results. I am publisher, acquisitions editor, and production, rights, operations, personnel, and financial manager. As of mid-2013, I also lead implementation of the Institution’s “Plan for Increased Public Access to Results of Federally Funded Research,” in response to the U.S. government’s public access mandate.
What was your first scholarly publishing role? How did you get that job? What path led to your current position?
My first scholarly publishing role was as editorial assistant for the Entomological Society of America. I had mailed my resume to ESA weeks before I left St. Louis and had completely forgotten about answering the ad. I don’t know that I had any tangible skills to offer, aside from knowing proofreaders’ marks, but I hope the person who interviewed me saw drive and a solid work ethic combined with an earnest desire to be in publishing. ESA had an in-house production department, and I learned everything I could about journals. I knew that, eventually, book publishing was where I wanted to be, so when I had the chance, I moved in that direction, to Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group. I spent seven years at Rowman with some amazingly talented colleagues. I continued to learn and to take on responsibility. In my time at Rowman, I was the Editorial Production Department’s training supervisor, assistant managing editor, managing editor, and finally director, overseeing production staff in three offices. I left Rowman for Cadmus Communications, to gain experience in a different part of the industry. Cadmus was a well-established journal production company, and it was launching its first book division. The opportunity to build a book production program from scratch was rare and extremely appealing, and seeing the industry from the composition side would offer new skills. What I hadn’t realized before I made this move was that holding a printed book in my hands after months of guiding it through all the stages of production was an essential part of feeling accomplished in my job. After a year, I spotted an ad for a publications manager at the Smithsonian, another opportunity to build a new publishing program, and this time for an organization for which I had a lifelong appreciation.
If there was a pivotal moment or key person in your career development, please describe briefly.
A few years into my tenure at Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Susan Rockwell was hired as VP of Editorial Production. With hindsight, I believe Susan was a leader and mentor I encountered at exactly the right time in my career. She was a manager who valued staff members’ knowledge, recognized each person’s contributions as well as potential, and trusted our instincts. Most of all, Susan taught me that a leader should enthusiastically embrace change when the benefits outweigh the risks. There comes a time when significant process and policy changes are necessary, and neither has to turn morale and productivity upside-down. If you have the right people to effectively plan and execute, change can be immensely gratifying, and the rewards can be immediate. Working with Susan made me see many aspects of management in new ways, and we remain friends.
What tools, web sites and organizations do you find most valuable for your career development?
I am able to follow industry updates through blogs, substantive webinars, and industry magazines on a limited basis due to time constraints. Annual meetings (e.g., SSP, NMPS) are where I can break away from the daily demands of my position and engage with other industry professionals, learn what is new or trending, and develop important connections and relationships.
What are some of the surprises/obstacles that you’ve encountered during your career?
Resistance to change – from individuals and groups – has always been a major obstacle. That is magnified now, while transition is the way of the scholarly communications world. I continually must persuade stakeholders, vendors, staff, and customers of the benefits a particular change might bring for them, whether it’s using new technologies in place of outdated but comfortable ones, or slowing the pace of implementation of a new system until we have buy-in from the very scholars who we are asking to use it.
What do you wish you knew more about?
What advice would you give to people interested in a career in scholarly communications?
I’m a publisher, so I’ll focus there. Publishing is still a business where you have to earn your stripes. Work hard. No one will hand anything to you, and no one will assume you want to achieve more if you don’t make it known and back that up by showing that you’re capable.
Also, spell each word on your resumes and cover letters correctly, and if you know proofreaders’ marks, that is a specialized skill and should be on your resume.