Industry-Sponsored Professional Development

Back in March, I attended an “e-book summit” in Boston that was sponsored by Springer.  Springer did a fantastic job of putting together a program of topics and speakers who touched on various aspects of e-book access and management. They included plenty of time for discussion and brainstorming among the attendees.  The best part? Attendance was free.

Programs like this strike me as a win-win for librarians and commercial industry professionals, provided they meet or exceed the high standard Springer set.  In the current economy, many of us face limited or non-existent travel budgets, yet we still want and need to do professional development activities.  Publishers and vendors, meanwhile, need to conduct focus groups and other market research activities to avoid costly missteps in their product development and content offerings.

What made the e-book summit so successful?

  • Several organizations were represented among the speaker line-up, including another e-book provider (ebrary –  who carries Springer content as well as many other publishers’). It wasn’t an all Springer, all day event.
  • The topic was one Springer clearly wanted librarian feedback on, but also one that librarians wanted to talk to each other about: How are you handling Vendor X’s pricing model? What are you doing about catalog records? Should there be an e-book A to Z list? We weren’t just there for the free lunch!
  • The mix of formats – single speaker, panel, discussion – plus lunch and a reception gave the day the feel of a mini-conference. Learning, brainstorming, networking: all without leaving town.
  • By framing the day as a summit, Springer signaled that they understood the unsettled nature of e-books, and the content demonstrated that indeed they “got it.”

I imagine that Springer more than made up the costs of the program with the feedback they got through the open discussion and brainstorming that took place.  At the same time, they successfully walked a fine line,  asking some of their librarian customers to present at the summit, but keeping the content neutral enough that attendees didn’t leave feeling subjected to a day-long sales pitch.

I haven’t seen a lot of programs like this, but I bet they’d be pretty popular, as the Springer summit was. Sure, vendors will continue to recruit development partners and conduct smaller selected focus groups, but pick a hot topic, order lunch, and open the doors and you will probably find the investment worthwhile.