October Ivins has been an SSP member since 1989 and is an SSP Past President (2008-2009). She has been involved in many committees, including Membership, Education, Marketing, and Awards committees. Will Wakeling is also a long-time member who served on the board and was instrumental in the development of the Travel Grant Program – the precursor to the Fellowship Program.
October and Will are also happily married, retired, and living in Italy. SSP Past President, and friend, Sue Kesner, sat down (virtually) to speak with them about why it was important for them both to be involved with SSP, the beginnings of the Fellowship program, and why they supported the Generations Fund.
Sue: Can you tell me how each of you became involved in scholarly communications? When and how?
October: I grew up wanting to be a teacher. But that’s kind of funny because once I started working in libraries, as a student in college, I realized that libraries were a real source of continuity, [being from a] military family that moved around. So, when I had the chance to work in a library after graduating from college, I felt like I found my own people. I found my real community. What you do in libraries is so much more interesting than just checking out the books and shelving them. There’s so much more to it.
Will: My story is very similar. A lifelong librarian, always interested in collecting. As far back as I can remember, in my professional career, one of the greatest joys was those visits from some of the traveling representatives from journal and book agents who would come to the library, and we’d discuss acquisitions and the shape of the collection. These were people that always intrigued me. And working with faculty as well over the years gave me a real insight into that nexus between the scholar, the publisher, the vendor, and the library—all the parts of that interactive chain of scholarly knowledge.
Sue: As we talk about scholarly communications, we know that SSP’s membership is much larger than just people in publishing. It’s vendors, it’s who you mentioned, Will. And it certainly includes librarians who, in our last user survey of The Scholarly Kitchen, we learned comprise the second-largest group of people that are regular readers of the Kitchen.
Will: That doesn’t surprise me at all. A source like the Kitchen, which is high-quality and written by people in the know, is one of the places you would be bound to go to as a librarian.
Sue: October, you were once President of SSP. I think you’ve held other positions at SSP, which you can please mention. Will, I’d like to hear about your work with the travel grants program, back in the day.
October: My first exposure to SSP was as a speaker, and I became a member but not an active member for some time. And then once I moved to Boston, I was on the Education Committee, that was my first role. And the chair couldn’t attend the board meeting. So, Judy Luther told the board, “October is here in the hotel, let me call her and see if she’ll come down and represent the committee.” And I did! They were so welcoming and so appreciative. I thought I’d just say my little bit and then be dismissed, and they were like, “No, stay! Join the discussion.” And I ended up volunteering to write a policy for them.
My co-chair on Education, Lois Smith, continued when I eventually moved over to found the Marketing Committee, which I loved, and it was desperately needed. SSP was much smaller then and did not have as big of a footprint as it does now. From that, I went on to have two terms as a board member and then the President-Elect, President, and Past President.
Will: I joined SSP at October’s instigation when I was still working in Birmingham at the University of Birmingham as the deputy librarian for collections there, and then when I moved to Northeastern University in Boston, I carried on being a regular member. And I think it must have been 2007 or thereabouts that you, Sue, invited me to join the Professional Development Committee, as I think it was called then. That was one year after SSP had trial launched some travel grants that Amy Brand had initiated and actually put together the program for the first iteration of it. And I suspect that you asked the committee if anybody was interested in taking this on. I had some excellent conversations with Amy and we set off in 2007 with the second round of applications from early-career and from student librarians seeking to fill the 10 places that SSP felt able to fund. And we carried on from then.
Sue: That is true. Amy Brand, I think it was while I was president, we gave her a carte blanche to go out and she wrote the program. She solicited the funding….funded it, she did everything. She was at CrossRef then and now is head of MIT Press.
Will: We had some years where we had 70 or 80 applicants for the 10 places, and we tried to spread them evenly over time, between young up-and-coming librarians and early-career publishers and people involved in the industry. And it was fascinating to see the breadth of people we had, we almost always had more than a handful of overseas candidates who we would be able to accommodate one way or another. We had some interesting discussions amongst the group from within the Professional Development Committee who volunteered to vet the applications because that was heavy-duty stuff, reading 60 or 70 applications and giving them the care and attention that they deserve when people have written essays on some quite profound issues.
Sue: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you’re making the early Fellowship Program sound a little oversimplified for the audience. In fact, you were reading the applications, you were selecting people, you were assigning members of SSP as mentors. October, you were involved, too?
October: Yes, Will chaired the selection process and I came into it to help match the successful candidates with mentors, because I’d been in SSP longer. I didn’t determine it, but I made suggestions to him. And then Will and I both played the role of cleanup batter. If some of the people we asked to be mentors turned us down, or couldn’t make it at the last minute, then we would fill in and serve as mentors.
Will: It’s wonderful to see how this mentoring aspect got established thereafter, over time, into the business of SSP, because some long-term relationships were established that way. Some of those mentor and mentee relationships were sustained over years after the actual conference.
Sue: The program became more institutionalized and more formalized. And has grown pretty substantially, which takes us back to your generous contribution and the importance of the Generations Fund As you know, I’m on the committee, and we are reaching out not only to organizations but to alumni like yourselves, to see if they’d be willing to support this important effort. And you both kindly were among those that chose to generously support it. Tell me, why did you decide to?
Will: In my former life, when I was Dean of Libraries at Northeastern, I used to spend maybe a third of my time on what was rather euphemistically called “development work.” Talking with alumni, helping the university to raise funds. So, I got a very good insight into the good that could be done with even small amounts of money. And that was the most interesting part in a way. When you’re raising funds to achieve ends, there’s a sort of pyramid where you have a small number of very wealthy donors who are willing to help you with a big leg up, and then you have a lot of people giving smaller amounts, which, when you total it all up, still allows you to do good and important things. So, when we came to think about the Generations Fund, we didn’t think we were going to be the biggest donor to the fund, by any means. But I think we appreciated that even a small amount—and even better if it’s not a small amount—could be doing some good in an area where we had a strong commitment, and where we’d seen the benefits that could accrue so, it wasn’t that difficult to work out what to do.
October: And, you know, I had been active in other organizations before SSP. In fact, the UKSG and its child, NASIG, were the organizations that Will and I were at when we met each other. But SSP has done so much for me personally and given me opportunities. Rick Bowes, who was President-Elect at the time, recruited me to work for his dot-com in Boston, just exactly at the time I needed to leave my doctoral program and find a job, and Will had been offered a job in Boston. That was directly from SSP. That’s how I met Rick.
And SSP focuses on individual memberships, so the membership stays with the person, even if the job changes. So, you can be fired and still be active in SSP.
It can help you find your next job. And for me, having gone from librarian to graduate student to dot-com executive to consultant, SSP followed me through all of those roles. And if it didn’t open doors for me, it gave me common cause with a lot of the people I needed to communicate with.
Will: I can anticipate your next question, which is how this leads to the next generation of SSP members and so on. We feel this is something we can do to help that next generation, having been so close to the action with the travel grants and fellowships and mentoring and so forth. We do honestly believe that there’s some good that can come from our contribution here.
Sue: And I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but don’t you have a child who’s involved in scholarly communication?
Will: That is true, my son is a faculty member in the School of Information Science in Australia at the Charles Sturt University and spends a lot of his time investigating a lot of the issues that are foremost with the society at the moment—open access and the whole set of issues to do with access to information.
October: And he has been a speaker with SSP.
Will: So, the Generations Fund has a very particular meaning for us.
Sue: Although we’ve talked about the Generations Fund supporting mentorship and fellowship programs, we have broadened the description to include diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. Do either of you have any thoughts about that, the importance of DEIA and SSP?
Will: SSP led the field in this. We never put together a roster of travel grant winners that we hadn’t considered very thoroughly in terms of the diversity of the candidates. For instance, we were always really concerned about the gender balance between them, because it was very easy to miss the boat, in terms of the opportunities that should be offered there. So, I’d like to think that we actually were quite early in the game when it came to SSP’s sensitivity and awareness.
October: I was looking at the new core values, and it works two ways. SSP gives people such opportunities, which is so important. And those new members, their vitality and innovation and enthusiasm, that’s what fuels SSP. That’s where future leaders come from. So, it’s casting the net widely, to bring in people who maybe wouldn’t have thought of scholarly communications as their first choice but want to try it out and see what they can learn. And their contributions to the field and to SSP are just invaluable. SSP couldn’t advance without that.
Will: I can almost visualize the long and fascinating session that the board and members must have gone through when you thrashed out the values. It’s fascinating to dwell on one or two of them. These days, I think the whole issue of adaptability is really important, especially when we’re dealing with so much disinformation and misinformation in the world in general.
October: I was going to say, I couldn’t have done better myself. They are wonderful and adaptability was the one that that really rose to the top for me because for some time now, watching the mergers and acquisitions in the industry and the de-professionalization in libraries—the kinds of work that Will and I used to do—I have really worried about the career paths for young people and career changers. For becoming adaptable—SSP, that’s your place.
Sue: There is probably a long discussion we could have about these core values, but I think you’ve hit on a lot of important points. I want to wind up by asking you what you would each tell someone, if one of those old friends of yours said, “Should I be making a gift to the Generations Fund?” what would you say? Besides—I hope—you’d say “Yes!”
Will: That’s a good question. I’d say, “Yeah. Don’t let the grass grow under your feet. If you can’t give a lot, give a small amount many times.” It’s not once, it’s not like the puppy for Christmas. It’s something that you can keep on giving. That’s an important thing to remember.
October: And I would say, “If SSP has been important to you and remains important, you can’t find a better way to help SSP continue to succeed.”
Sue: Well, you two are incredible ambassadors for SSP, the Generations Fund, and retirees in so many categories. I’m so impressed and continue to be impressed and adore you both, as you know.
Join October, Will, and Sue with your gift today to the Generations Fund!