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Jean Shipman


As of January 2020, Jean Shipman retired from her role at Elsevier and claims she is retired, despite still holding an adjunct faculty position in biomedical informatics with her former academic employer, the University of Utah. She is now embarking on her next chapter, which includes a cross-country move back east from Salt Lake City in early spring. Jean graciously shares her insights from a career which has spanned both the library and publisher sides of scholarly communications.

Please tell us a bit about yourself (e.g. hometown, current locale, course of study).

My hometown is a small one in south-central Pennsylvania called Orrstown. It has a population of around 300 individuals. My goal was to join an occupation that would require that I work in a large city. My mother worked as a civil servant in a nearby university library and loved it. My sister is a pharmacist. I combined the two fields I knew through them to become a medical or health sciences librarian. I really didn’t know much about other professions, as career counseling was lacking in my small town. Luckily, I have enjoyed my career of almost 40 years as a health sciences librarian, retiring after being a library director for 17 years at the Tompkins-McCaw Library at the Virginia Commonwealth University and the Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library at the University of Utah. I joined Elsevier the day after my official Utah retirement, so I guess one could say I failed retirement the first round. I was able to retain my home base outside of Salt Lake City while traveling extensively throughout the world for Elsevier. With my recent retirement, I will be relocating to Nellysford, VA, which is a part of the Wintergreen Resort west of Charlottesville. I will be trading Rocky Mountains scenery for views of the Appalachians.

Describe some of your most recent responsibilities.

The best description of my VP, Global Library Relations position with Elsevier was to be a conduit of communications between Elsevier and librarians. Elsevier “is an information and analytics company and one of the world’s major providers of scientific, technical, and medical information.” It is part of the RELX group. I was able to advocate for librarians and their relevant issues and practices with Elsevier personnel, and in return, engage in conversations about Elsevier’s solutions and initiatives with librarians. Not having sales as part of my responsibilities enabled me to talk openly with librarians about topics of importance to them. My role was a global one, so I got to meet individually with librarians throughout the world, as well as attend and present at a variety of conferences and events. I also partnered with a team of librarians from eight institutions within the U.S. Northeast to create a free online-training program called RDMLA – Research Data Management Librarian Academy, which is sponsored by Elsevier. 

What was your first scholarly publishing role? How did you get that job? What path led to your most recent position?

This is a difficult question as I have worked within both libraries and publishing. I feel I started in scholarly communications when I became a librarian, and with scholarly publishing when we started an institutional repository (IR) related to innovation at the University of Utah called e-channel. My official scholarly publishing employment though would be the years I worked for Elsevier. 

I got deeply involved with scholarly communications (SC) through two of my professional associations – the Medical Library Association (MLA) and the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL). I served on these associations’ SC committees, chairing the AAHSL one for several years. As part of that tenure, I also was a member of and then co-chaired the Chicago Collaborative (CC). AAHSL initiated the CC in 2008 in response to the intense conversations being held between publishers and librarians. The CC existed for ten years. I learned a lot through this experience – mainly, that publishers and librarians share the same constituency – the author. We need to work together to offer authors venues to distribute their research. I feel that the CC years expanded my horizons and made me aware of a lot of the hot SC topics, including open access (OA). I believe my role with the CC, the professional association SC committees, and my internal IR work made me a viable candidate for the VP, Global Library Relations position with Elsevier. I was willing to explore topics from many perspectives and was familiar with key initiatives related to SC and OA.

If there was a pivotal moment or key person in your career development, please describe briefly.

To answer this question, I give credit to the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP). I quickly started to realize I did not share the same ideology toward OA as most of my librarian colleagues. I knew OA had a purpose (especially public access as I also had an NNLM contract with the National Library of Medicine), but I did not feel OA was the answer to the library’s financial situation or to publishing itself. To get quality documentation of research, someone needs to expend funds as quality comes with a cost. I started attending SSP conferences when I was president-elect of MLA in 2006, and then joined in 2007 when I was MLA president. I have been attending the conferences ever since and have learned so much from many perspectives. I was changed in that I could no longer think just as a librarian, but I could see the issues being experienced by publishers and editors as well.

What tools, web sites, and organizations do you find most valuable for your career development?

In order to remain current with SC topics, I get entries pushed to me from The Scholarly Kitchen, LIBLICENSE-L, Clark& Esposito’s The Brief and Kent Anderson’s The Geyser. I also read my library professional association news and participate in webinars offered by these associations as well as publishers. Social media also tends to offer a lot of commentary.  I will continue to attend SSP conferences to remain current and connected to colleagues.

What are some of the surprises/obstacles that you’ve encountered during your career?

Again, tough question. I would say for my library years, the most challenging one, and also the most rewarding one, was welcoming a medical innovation center into the physical library space. This partnership included medical device competition team students, faculty, and support staff, as well as a medical therapeutic gaming lab. My job was to see how innovation and information could combine to effectively enhance each partner’s goals. One can read my edited book for details of this challenge –  Information and Innovation: A Natural Combination for Health Sciences Libraries. This sharing of space enabled me to grow professionally, as I had to learn about innovation theory, relevant regulations, and entrepreneurship. It also included a lot of politics that formulated the key obstacles. It changed my way of thinking, however, and I now approach life with wanting to remove pain points and create innovative solutions to problems that benefit as many people as possible.

What do you wish you knew more about?

At this stage in my life, how to make different kinds of cheese…but seriously, I do wish I knew more about quantum computing and artificial intelligence as both will have major impacts in the near future on how we work.

What advice would you give to people interested in a career in scholarly communications?

Simple – be open-minded, empathic, and passionate about what you do – no matter what it is. Explore topics from multiple perspectives, attend conferences outside of your immediate area of responsibility to get a global viewpoint (especially international meetings). Care about the person you are most likely to impact with your decisions and your solutions. Be sure to engage them in the process. I truly feel the next five years will be pivotal in how SC is created, managed, shared, and preserved. Let’s be kind to one another as we collectively explore the exciting potentials.