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Sylvia Hunter

Editorial Manager, Journals

Sylvia HunterFirst, tell us a bit about yourself (hometown, current locale, family, hobbies, community involvement?)

I’m a faculty brat, originally from Calgary, Alberta, and have lived in Toronto (world’s most multicultural city!) for the past 20 years. I have a husband who collects Silver Age comics and a 11-year-old daughter who often has to be told to put the book away and turn out the light. Outside of work, I read as much as possible, sing in two choirs, knit, and work on my synagogue’s Hebrew School steering committee. I also write fantasy novels (the first one’s coming out in fall 2014 from Ace, a fantasy imprint of Random Penguin 😉 ) and bake things to feed to my colleagues. Because our publishing operation, like many, runs primarily on chocolate and baked goods.

Describe some of your responsibilities, and how you or your organization fit into the scholarly communications web.

I am the Editorial Manager, Journals, at University of Toronto Press, which is (shameless plug) Canada’s oldest and largest English-language scholarly publisher, founded in 1901, with 2 book publishing divisions, a journal publishing division, a distribution division that handles our own books and those of a long list of other publishers, and a retail division that runs a number of campus bookstores and other campus stores (on the U of T campus and elsewhere). We fit into the scholarly ecosystem in a number of ways, but our main focus remains on curating and disseminating scholarly knowledge.

I’m slightly atypical of the SSP constituency in hailing from a publisher that focuses primarily on the humanities and social sciences. But I have worked primarily with journals for most of my career, and HSS journals do have a lot of the same concerns as STEM journals … if generally on a smaller scale!

What career path led to your current position?

I flunked out of IB calculus in grade 11 and revised my career plan from medical school to … something else. I ended up doing a BA in English and French Lit, which is one of those degrees about which everyone you  meet asks you, “So, what are you going to do with that?” Strangely enough, publishing was not an answer that ever occurred to me! But in June 1996, a couple of months after classes ended in my last year of university, I got a tip from a friend about a job at UTP, which he wasn’t applying for himself because you had to be bilingual. So I started my career as editorial assistant to two scholarly journals, handling all the admin work associated with peer review, book reviews, and putting issues together; reporting to two sets of editors and their boards; arranging meetings (I even planned a wine-and-cheese party!); and lots and lots of proofreading. It was a different world back then: submissions arrived and were sent for review by snail mail; papers were “blinded” with liquid paper, stick-on labels, and a photocopier; journals were published only in print; and I checked my email twice a day using an external dial-up modem!

From there I moved into copy-editing journals and handling permissions, and then, over the next few years, to supervising a second copy editor and the person now doing my original job. Our division has grown from half a dozen people in 1996 to 15 (plus interns and contract staff) today, as we’ve taken on more client journals, expanded the services we offer to them (and to our subscribers, readers, and authors), and branched out into some totally new business areas.

Most recently, I’ve taken on responsibility for UTP’s new XML workflow hub, which provides services to our 30+ journals, our two book-publishing divisions, and external publisher clients. It’s an exciting voyage into largely uncharted waters, but also a natural continuation of the journey we started in 1999, when we began playing around with this interesting new thing called SGML for online publication. When I think about how we did things back when I started working in journal publishing, though, it’s hard to believe how much has changed!

Where do you see scholarly communications heading, and what new directions interest you most?

I honestly have no idea where, ultimately, this is all heading, and whenever I’m tempted to think I do, I crack open a back issue of the Journal of Scholarly Publishing and read about where people thought electronic publishing was heading ten or fifteen or twenty years ago (hint: they got some things right, but a lot wrong). It’s long been said of science fiction that any futuristic vision tells you more about the time and place of its creation than about the future itself. One thing I do think we can expect, at least in the immediate future, is continued demand for more interactive content, and that’s definitely an exciting area for me. It also seems, at the moment, that Open Access is not going away, and we are all going to have to come up with ways of dealing with that. I am personally most excited about the way new technologies — both for print and for e-publishing — are increasingly allowing authors to support their texts with colour images, audio, video, interactive activities, and full data sets.

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

Well, when I started working in publishing I certainly had no idea that I would end up needing to understand XML! 🙂 There have been lots of surprises — starting with the fact that I never did go back to grad school as planned, and am still here 17 years later — but I’ve been lucky to meet very few obstacles and to have worked, and continue to work, with an amazing group of people.

What advice would you give to people interested in a career in scholarly communications? What new roles or opportunities do you see emerging in the field?

This is hardly a new insight, but I think my number one piece of advice would be: Try new things. Try lots of new things, and learn as much as you can from the ones that don’t work out. In fact, learn as much as you can, full stop. If you don’t have some commitment to lifelong learning, this is not the career for you!

I may be wrong, but I think there’s a lot of opportunity for people who can combine a “techie” skill set with a base of more traditional publishing knowledge and skills — things don’t always work out so well when the editorial department and the production department are speaking different languages, and the more products and formats we produce, the more Production needs to understand what Editorial wants and the more Editorial needs to understand what Production can and can’t achieve.