Home   »  

History of SSP

SSP is largely the product of many delightful, energetic, and visionary people who saw the need for a society that included people involved in scholarly communication in all disciplines. Some of SSP’s founders have written brief and engaging accounts of the Society’s beginnings: Mark Carroll, A. F. (Fred) Spilhaus, Jr., “Recollections: SSP — The Neolithic Era” Barbara E. Meyers, “The Society for Scholarly Publishing”


How SSP Started

by Mark Carroll
Past President, SSP

The Society for Scholarly Publishing, the sturdy sapling under whose growing branches we now gather for the third time, had its roots in two separate, interrelated movements. It did not come about, as some have theorized, as the result of some cosmic ‘big bang,’ but rather was the logical outgrowth of two antecedent activities. The first was the Association for Scientific Journals, and the second, the Innovation Guide project of the National Science Foundation.

The first flowering of the Association of Scientific Journals took place in May, 1973, at the Commodore Hotel in New York City. It was organized under the auspices of the Professional Communication Group of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, which provided nourishment and financial support. There were 157 in attendance for the program chaired by one James M. Lufkin, who was assisted by George Schindler (who had suggested the conference in the first place), Woody Gannett, Art Herschman, Charles Roland, and Fred Spilhaus, each of whom served as a session chair. John Phillips of RCA was the program chair. Among the general topics discussed were editorial management, economics and production alternatives, and social implications. There was talk of future meetings, a possible newsletter, and even, spoken as a well relished jest, of course, even perhaps, a journal.

ASJ Proceedings Published

The first tangible result of the conference was the appearance of Volume 1, Number 1, of the Association for Scientific Journal Editors, Publishers & Users Newsletter. The editor, J.M. Lufkin, circulated it to all who attended the conference and supplied them with an attendee roster. He declared that all attendees were automatically members of the Association, and he won their hearts and minds by announcing that ‘there will be no membership dues, and no charge for the Newsletter, at least for the foreseeable future.’

In September, 1973, the conference record was published as a volume in the IEEE Transactions in Professional Communication. Editor Lufkin’s preface deserves quoting in its entirety for two reasons: it is brief, and it is full of portents. He wrote:

‘The conference represented by this record was remarkable in at least two respects. It brought together editors and publishers from engineering and engineering-related sciences on one hand, and those from the biological and social sciences on the other. It also joined in discussion the editors and publishers on one hand, and the users –librarians and information scientists—on the other. The informal exchanges alone from these unusual encounters was enough to justify the conference for many of those who attended.

If the bridges we have built in this way between these quite different ‘subcultures’ of science are strong enough to last, we may look forward to some important new traffic in ideas. And to judge by the spirited three-hour debate (transcribed in this record) we have made a good beginning.’

Planning for a second conference, to be held in 1975, began soon after, with the authorization of the IEEE. It was at this time that the newsletter editor announced in his organ the ‘If the Association gets official, or organized, or starts to incur expenses, the editor will resign.’ Charles W.N. Thompson of Northwestern served as program chair for the 1975 meeting, which was held in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The proceedings were again published by the IEEE, with the aid of a grant from the National Science Foundation, which was also to assist the 1977 meeting publication. Lee Burchinal of the NSF was the keynote speaker at Cherry Hill, on the subject, ‘Microform and Electronic Publication: Emerging Bases for Scientific Communication.’

Meanwhile, Elsewhere

Before proceeding to that third meeting. Let us leave ASJ to rest comfortably while we consider the other strand of our lineage, the Innovation Guide Project. The NSF devised the Innovation Project, more formally known as ‘Improving the Dissemination of Scientific and Technical Innovation,’ to gather and distribute information on printing and publishing procedures of value to the scientific and technical journal community. Two contractors, chosen from among many bidders, conducted inquiries among those concerned. The inquiry was to lead to a planning guide that would help publishers, editors, and others responsible for communicating scientific and technical information, ‘to adopt innovative concepts and techniques to enhance the services they provide, reduce the cost of their operation, or both,’ in the words of an early query letter. The letter continued: ‘Please understand that by ‘innovation’ we do not necessarily mean the leading edge of technology. Rather, we construe it to mean anything that has not yet becomes standard practice. Quite often, what is considered prosaic by one organization will be considered novel by another. We have found, for example, some rather conventional marketing techniques to be quite ‘innovative’ when applied to scientific and technical information.’

The principal purpose of the exercise was to prepare a planning guide. This was undertaken by the Capital Systems Group, an independent management services organization in Rockville, Maryland. A technical advisory panel was formed to review project design, identify content, and advise staff. Later a user advisory panel was formed to review and arm-wrestle about content.

The first version of the Guide, a loose-leaf compilation of articles, was issued in 1975. It was widely circulated for comment and contributions, and its appearance was duly noted in the ASJ Newsletter in March, 1976. (There is certain circularity to this account, for I have discovered, not surprisingly, materials from the ASJ conference records in the Guide’s research files.)

For the next two years, Capital Systems worked with a third party, termed a general advisory panel, that met periodically to deal with the final version of the Guide, which was issued in 1978.

My one regret about the whole process was that no mechanisms were devised to update it in a regular basis. It remains today on the shelves of the participants and a small group of recipients as a summary of the innovations of some five years ago. It is no longer available in its original form, but the national Technical Information Service sells it in microform and paper, and it is one of their all time best sellers.

Meanwhile, dialogue continued solely about the possibility of a new organization devoted solely to scholarly publishing, in whatever medium, in whatever discipline, in whatever context or country. Indeed, the user advisory panel of the guide, a synergistic assemblage that included some who could properly be labeled ‘humanists,’ fervently felt that some means should be concocted so that they might continue their productive deliberations.

And lo, it happened.

A New Organization?

Encouraged by the momentum and interest generated by the Innovation Project, John Strawhorn, who was its principal investigator, and Fred Spilhaus, a member of both the user and the advisory panels, with the advice and assistance of Judy Holoviak, drew up a prospectus, complete with budget and membership projections. This was circulated to a number of publishers, and to officers of editing and publishing units. It was to become the basis for an informal workshop at the third meeting of the ASJ, to whose activities we now turn.

ASJ’s third meeting was held in Reston, Virginia, in may 1977, and it is remarkable for several reasons, among them the fact that the program chair and committee were the same as the previous meeting’s, they having been dragooned or volunteering to repeat their previous success.

It was also at Reston that the word ‘humanities’ appeared for the first time in the title of an ASJ paper, having been brought into the tent by R.H. Lineback’s paper on ‘Journal Quality in the Humanities.’ There was talk of a fourth meeting in 1979.

The fourth ASJ meeting did not come to pass. Mr. Lufkin was assigned to different duty by his employer, and was chained to the galley in Minneapolis. But the Reston workshop discussion of a new society led to a revised prospectus, circulated in the winter and spring of 1977-78. This version was complete with by-laws, which history records as having been confected in a Greek restaurant in downtown Washington. Historical accounts differ as to whether the accompanying house wine was red, white, or both/

As might be expected, reactions differed, and were eloquently expressed. One four-page letter stressed that the concept was ‘unworkable,’ and used precedents from the PLO-Israeli conflict to prove the point. The weight of the reactions, however, was on the favorable side, and a small working gathering was convened on 16 June 1978 at Anita DeVivo’s apartment for further deliberation.

After good food and wine, good talk, serious discussion and a considerable amount of irreverent comment, it was moved and seconded that there be established by those present a Society for Scholarly Publishing. The motion carried unanimously, and those present –Robert Day, Anita DeVivo, Elizabeth Pake, Brigette Huybrechts, Barbara Meyers, Fred Spilhaus, John Strawhorn, Seldon Tarrant, and you narrator voted themselves the first Board of Directors, pro tem (which turned out to be a good long tem). Officers were elected according to a slate prepared by a self-appointed nominating committee chaired by Fred Spilhaus. Bob Day was the first to pay dues. Subsequently, we were duly incorporated, certified a tax-exempt organization, and set about planning for our first meeting, held in Boston in June of 1979, with Woody Gannett as program chair.

It was there that Jim Lufkin, sometimes know as ‘P.O.F.’ or ‘Perceptive Organizational Facilitator’ or some such, received the Society’s first award, declaring him the ‘Godfather’ of the SSP. And it was there that the incumbent president pro tem, and the first elected president, used the Society’s first and only official gavel.

Help From many Quarters

It was a long journey to Boston and beyond, and a great many people and organization helped us along the way. All those people, many of whom became members, who had played so many different roles over the years, remind me of a Boston colleague’s characterization of the kinds of people who wear many different hats, giving the impression of the Soldier’s Chorus from Faust, where ‘the same few soldiers march on and off the stage to create the illusion of an army.’

We drew strength and talent from our membership. In addition to the endorsements of our sustaining members, we benefited early on from the contributions of goods and services by Edwards Brothers, the Byrd Press, CadmusMack, and the Evans Press. IEEE and the American Chemical Society lent logistical support. For the first two years, the American Geophysical Union supplied the secretariat, space, an address, and a whole lot more, and it continues to harbor us and provide supporting services. The National Science Foundation graciously permitted a one-time announcement of the Society’s formation in the final communication of the Innovation Project. The editor of Scholarly Publishing, and others, made mailing lists available.

It is not possible to list all who should be singled out, and I expect that I shall be excoriated for omissions. I hope that the definitive history of our society, done as an M.A. or Ph.D. thesis, will harmonize the various versions of its genesis and growth. It has been extremely rewarding for me to have been drawn into this surging sea of talent, now eddying around the Pacific shores. May we all have smooth sailing in the future, for we’re all in the same boat.

Mark Carroll has been Chief of the Professional Publications division of the national park Service since 1972. Prior to that he was at Yale University Press (1951-1956) and Harvard University Press (1956-1972), the last four years as Director. He was a member of the Association of American Publishers copyright delegation to Russia in 1970. He has a 1911 printing press in his basement.


SSP – The Neolithic Era

by Fred Spilhaus
Past President, SSP

SSP has many roots, which are deeply buried, as with any strong tree. Two that are reasonably visible include the IEEE meetings on scientific journals and the NSF-supported “Innovation” project. My contribution to the “history” takes off from these, and highlights the role of four key players, whom I would characterize as the Spark Plug, the Idea Man, the Planner, and the Executor.

The Spark Plug

The idea of forming a society for scholarly publishing popped into my head as a result of a comment by Jack Goellner (Director, Johns Hopkins University Press) at a meeting of the advisory committee to an NSF-funded project on innovation in scientific communication. Jack suggested that the scholarly publishing community needed a lobbying organization of its own to represent its particular interests before Congress. A priority issue of the time was the implementation of major revision of the U.S. copyright law. But other legislation and regulation were bound to affect our sector. Thus, the Spark had ignited an idea.

The Idea Man

Being prone to expansiveness, I immediately saw that the need was not just for lobbying. To be effective in supporting the scholarly enterprise, we who traditionally dealt with the organization of information needed to broaden our constituency to include all of those involved in the process. I followed Jack’s comment with a suggestion that we might consider a broad-based society. It was the end of a long day, and after some idle chat the advisory committee members went their separate ways.

The Planner

Still excited about the “idea,” I mentioned it to Judy Holoviak (even then Director of Publications at AGU), who had been taking a course in association management. As the final exam for the course, she had written a paper on founding a new association. Now, we had another piece of the puzzle: the plan.

The Executor

The final piece fell into place when John Strawhorn called and said that his boss was giving John some time to develop this idea with me. John was a manager on the innovation project at Aspen Systems, which had the NSF contract. Over the next several months, John, Judy, and I developed the prospectus for SSP and a plan to gain community support.

The first step was an informal IEEE-sponsored session at the 1997 Conference on scientific journals in Reston, Virginia. With the encouragement of the participants in that session we had our marketing order.

Everything was ready to go: bylaws written, initial officers selected, and a well-balanced board representing all segments identified but not confirmed. A kick-off meeting was called to roll out the concept. We had not reckoned on the effect of a little wine and a lot of enthusiasm on our plans. We left that gathering with the proposed officers duly anointed, but a very different board — one more heavily weighted to the sciences and to journals than planned or desired. (The society struggled to broaden the base for many years.)

Much of the rest of the development of SSP can be traced through the minutes of the Executive Committee and Board. During the first years the day-to-day administration of the society was done by me on a voluntary basis with Judy Holoviak’s support as Assistant Secretary-Treasurer. My administrative assistant at AGU was really the lynch-pin. We also handled the logistics of meetings.

When the first board was elected by the membership, the society had about 1,000 members and $50,000 in the bank – with dues of only $20. SSP was an instant success.


The Society for Scholarly Publishing

Barbara E. Meyers
Past President, SSP

Scholarly Publishing, April 1979, pages 271-274
© University of Toronto Press, reproduced with permission

A new organization, building on past associations,
has been started to close the gaps in communication
between professionals in all areas of scholarly publishing.

The community of professionals engaged in scholarly publishing is currently examining a new organization which has been established in its name. The Society for Scholarly Publishing speaks to, and one hopes for, all those involved in the production and use of scholarly works — whether in commercial, academic, societal, or governmental settings. We share many problems and interests. We can learn a great deal from each other. But in the past most of our information exchanges have been, of necessity, informal and restricted. Communication among professionals in the various areas has been fragmentary, and diverse in direction. There has not been one unified organization to sponsor meetings and publish information geared towards the interests of the community as a whole.

The Society for Scholarly Publishing builds on the histories and intents of past groups within the scholarly publishing community. It is based, in part at least, on attempts to continue and expand the activities of two groups that have been dissolved, the Association for Scientific Journals (fostered by George Schindler, John Phillips, Charlie Thompson, Jim Lufkin, and others) and the Innovation Guide Project.

The first of these was predicated on the belief that communication and interaction among professionals could bring about a heightened awareness and sensitivity to important issues and problems of the day. The ASJ existed from 1973 to 1977. It was informal in structure, based on a network of people who knew each other and who were actively involved in the daily operations of publishing. Under the aegis of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the ASJ carried out its mission primarily through biennial conferences and a sporadic but highly informative newsletter. It did bring segments of the community together, but it was not enough.

The Innovation Guide Project was a more formal activity, funded from 1974 to 1978 by the U.S. National Science Foundation, and conducted by Capital Systems Group, Inc. Its major purpose was to carry out research into, and inform the community about, the latest techniques, methods, and technologies available for use in achieving greater efficiency and effectiveness in publishing operations and in solving problems in those areas. It did this mainly through consulting/referral services and its looseleaf publication Improving the Dissemination of Scientific and Technical Information: A Practitioner’s Guide to Innovation. An interdisciplinary advisory panel provided feedback from the community and direction for research. The project’s activities were severely limited, however. It dealt primarily with journal publishing in the technical and scientific disciplines.

Both these groups realized that they were covering only a portion of the types and forms of scholarly publication, and when the organizations ceased to exist the people involved in them sought to continue the exchange of information. Thus, like its predecessors, the new society has communications, research, and interaction among professionals as its raisons d’etre. It seeks to provide forums and facilities to assist authors, publishers, manufacturers, distributors, and users of materials in every area of scholarly knowledge in finding out what their counterparts are doing. In all this, it intends to complement and supplement the activities of currently existing groups.

The society can serve as a catalyst for such activities for several reasons. First, it has been planned towards benefiting the individual member, as opposed to many existing organizations which allow an individual access only through his or her employer’s affiliation. Second, it is interdisciplinary in nature; it will examine the problems and interests of publishing professionals in all areas of science, engineering, the arts, and the humanities. Third, it is multifaceted. It is gearing its activities to increase communication across all functional areas within scholarly publishing, from the initial research and writing to the end use by readers. Thus, the society welcomes abstracters and indexers, administrators, authors, booksellers, circulation and promotion managers, compositors, editors, graphic artists, information scientists, librarians, printers, production managers, publishers, and reviewers. In short, the scope of the SSP encompasses all individuals interested in the future well-being of scholarly publishing.

As mentioned earlier, the society recognizes the important roles played by existing organizations in each of these functional areas. Its intent is to serve as an avenue for timely, productive, and meaningful communication among these diverse elements. To each group, the SSP offers an opportunity to engage in forums with professional counterparts in other disciplines. It will also provide a mechanism for each group to meet with professionals from areas which impinge on their own activities and upon which they have an effect.