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Knowledgespeak Exclusive: An interview with Marty Kahn, CEO, ProQuest LLC and Sharlene Tilley, Director of International Marketing, ProQuest LLC - 12 Oct 2010

Q

Knowledgespeak: Hello! We would like to welcome Marty Kahn CEO of ProQuest and Sharlene Tilley, Director of International Marketing here today for a knowledgespeak interview. Thank you for coming Marty and Sharlene. Thanks for joining. First and foremost very briefly if you could tell us about yourself and your perspective of your position at ProQuest

A

Marty: Great, thank you very much. I have been the CEO of ProQuest now for over three and a half years, from the time that Cambridge Scientific Abstracts and ProQuest Information and Learning came together in February of 2007. Since then, ProQuest has expanded with several important acquisitions such as WebFeat, Refworks, Dialog and Bowker. We have made several smaller acquisitions this year as well, such as IBSS, which was an important bibliographic database out of the London School of Economics and Political Science and ProQuest will take over the production of the International Bibliography of Art (IBA) from the The Getty Research Institute. My background is many years in the information industry, with a number of companies that serve the medical, scientific, technical, business and humanities markets.


Q

Knowledgespeak: In your opinion how have external changes such as library budget constraints and new technologies affected publishers and in what ways has the internet affected the way secondary or bibliographic databases are packaged and used for research?

A

Marty: Due to the global recession, the last two have been especially difficult on library budgets. We were mindful even before that happened that library budgets were facing increasing pressures to serve increasingly demanding sets of patrons, with a variety of print and electronic materials, in a very effective way for the users and a cost efficient way on behalf of their organizations. When the global recession hit at the end of 2008, it exacerbated the problems enormously. But it did not really change what we were trying to do. It just made what we were trying to do more necessary. We have been focusing on developing products and tools so that libraries can get the highest possible value out of the services that they are purchasing on behalf of their patrons. So, it is a whole suite of products that ProQuest has brought out--which we will detail a little bit further in our conversation-- that are all around the theme of creating more value for users for what they are already purchasing - both from ProQuest and our Serial Solutions unit and that which they are purchasing from third parties. We also have continued to bring out new database products, but probably even more than new products, because of the global recession, what we have been doing is enriching the products that we already have. So, basically we have been giving people a lot more for the same amount of money. We hope that this has allowed them to serve their patrons better than they were before.

Do you want to add anything on that Sharlene?

Sharlene: I would say that the impact the recession has had is to affect not only the demand side but the supply side in the library space; with pressured library budgets, all library suppliers have carefully selected what they invest in and put out in the market at this time.


Q

Knowledgespeak: In what ways has the internet affected the secondary or bibliographic databases and are they packaged and used for research processes, so what is your opinion on how that’s evolved and changed?

A

Marty: Well, the Internet has changed a lot, especially in terms of user expectations. When we focus on A&I databases in particular, we actually continue to see -- irrespective of the internet -- that there is enormous value in A&I databases. And the fact that we have expanded our presence is an indication of how we feel about it. We also have been engaged over the last several years with a very substantial program to enhance our A&I products and that is through our deep indexing-- the charts and tables and graphs that are inside of journal articles. It has been a major commitment of our organization. We have done this both with machine indexing and human indexing; we have taken a lot of care so that the objects in effect -- the illustrations and graphs and tables -- are now part of A&I databases as well. We do think that for the very serious researcher, who really needs a comprehensive view of a subject area, there is still absolutely no substitute for a very good, curated, well-organised A&I database. And the Internet has really not changed that at all. We will continue to enhance and develop and invest in A&I as well as Full Text databases --both of which we will make searchable in a single platform.


Q

Knowledgespeak: ProQuest has ranked 17th in the 2010 Information Week 500 listing of the nation’s most innovative users of business technology. How has technology changed the fundamentals of the aggregation business? What according to you are the roles of traditional aggregation in the open web world?

A

Marty: We were very flattered to be recognized by Information Week. We actually advanced a number of places from last year, to now be in the top 20 of all information companies. It is a very rarefied group that we are in, along with some of the most innovative healthcare and technology companies in the United States. I think that the reason we have been singled out by them is because we are really trying to bring fundamental technology investments to bear in the information industry. For instance, our discovery layer product Summon was a purpose-built product to allow web-scale discovery across all of libraries’ holdings -- their journals, and their books -- both electronic and print. We have made big primary investments in our new platform for ProQuest, which we are just rolling out now and we built into those platforms investments that allow true collaboration; where we can have the users contributing, not just using. We consider all of the mobile applications to be just table stakes and we are making sure that we are fully enabled to take full advantage of mobile technology. We have also invested in basics, in all of these new products. For example, they are truly multilingual-- not just multilingual user interfaces -- but multilevel database storage, search and the ability to offer translation. And this is an ongoing part of the business, part of the commitment to make sure that the technologies of the 21st century are fully represented in our products. As a result, we have been in a deep investment cycle as a company. We have invested a great deal of money, time and our intellectual effort to try to get something that will be really appropriate for users going into the second decade of this century.

The deep indexing, which is the going into the indexing of the tables and charts, graphs, and illustrations within our published materials is something that we are not doing casually. We are doing millions and millions of objects of these materials on a regular basis and bringing these in, so that they can be fully discoverable with the ProQuest platform.

It is not only technology, but the scale of the scholarly and research undertakings on a worldwide basis which has made aggregation far from something which is of declining importance to a thing of greater importance. Libraries need to serve much broader roots than they ever did before because important materials can show up in unexpected journals and other unexpected sources. The sheer scale of materials being valuable materials that are on the open web, as well as materials that are being published means that a true aggregation product needs to look at all of that and bring it into one place, so that it will all be easily discoverable but vetted for quality and available to institutions around the world. So we actually think that the aggregation looked at in its broadest manifestation is going to be of greater and greater importance and we are eager to work with publishers to make sure that all of their materials can be discovered by many different users and many different markets.


Q

Knowledgespeak: Thanks for that. Next question, talks about the initiatives, what initiatives has ProQuest taken to improve the overall search functionalities of A&I databases, what are the technological innovations you foresee in abstracting and indexing areas for better technology discovery or do you see these types of products being replaced by more sophisticated search functionality of primary literature?

A

Marty: It is a very good question. We are doing two things that may seem to be hedging our bets, but we do see them as being highly supportive. We are deeply committed and have been the pioneers of coming out with a serious discovery product. This discovery product which was purpose -built for this, and is not in any way an addition to ProQuest’s platform is Serial Solution’s Summon product. This discovery product searches across all the materials; the library has audio-visual materials, book products, journal products, proprietary holdings and brings the findings back. But it also searches and, importantly, will do discovery in A&I databases and uses them to get a complete look at a subject area... whatever the researcher is looking at. But particularly in our new ProQuest platform which we are also bringing out, we are continuing to design to optimize the use of the very high quality ontologies and taxonomies, which we are continuing to invest in. We use some of these from our third party partners, from whom we license A&I databases, and make sure that the use of those taxonomies is visible and can be utilized for enhanced discovery. Our Dialog service has many of the world’s leading bibliographic databases as part of its suite of services. We bought Dialog and are investing in modernizing Dialog exactly so that those critical materials can be found for very serious researchers, ensuring comprehensive and complete discovery.

Sharlene: We mentioned earlier that we have invested in IBSS and IBA; I think that this demonstrates the commitment to continue investing in A&I.


Q

Knowledgespeak: Thank you, all really good points though. How does the Summon service compare with other major providers of web scale discovery services--WorldCat Local, EBSCO Discovery Service, and ExLibris-- how would you like to respond to that question?

A

Marty: We could not be more excited about Summon because we really think that Summon addresses a critical problem the libraries are facing: Libraries need fast, reliable and complete discovery of all of the libraries holdings for users who have no detailed knowledge when they begin the search of what databases to look in or even what type of material the results maybe. We purpose-built this discovery service to look at all the holdings. This is web scale: Summon was designed, as Google is, to be able to index vast amounts of material. What we have done is to build a single unified index where we bring in all of the materials that libraries may have made available, including all of the library’s proprietary holdings. The other services that have suggested they are providing the same service are either much more catalogue-focused because of their origins and they do very good jobs but they are very focused on OPACS and book holdings. And that includes our own service Aquabrowser, which is a product we are very proud of; it is very appropriate for public libraries in particular and it highlights catalogues and it highlights the libraries’ private collections. All competitors have tried to build a web-scale product, but they are really just built as an extension of their hosted solution.

We are also going to be offering Extended Search to the proprietary ProQuest platform; we are very excited about that. But we are not pretending that is a true web-scale discovery layer. Summon product is not in any way built on top of or targeted towards ProQuest hosted materials. It looks at all of the library’s materials with a neutral relevance ranking and it brings back the materials and points the user to those materials--whatever they are, including all of our competitors. And we do think that this is the right positioning, that this is what libraries really want and that is what they should be investing in. When a user is within ProQuest materials, we think that our new platform will provide a superior user experience, to be able to view materials therein, to collaborate around those materials, to prepare those materials for publication to have a rich--in many cases curated--experience of finding other relevant articles and source materials. The ProQuest platform is different from the discovery layer product, Summon.


Q

Knowledgespeak: Excellent. Thanks very much. Our last question for today touches on something I think you mentioned earlier, mobile contact, our publishers today of course are increasingly making content available in mobile format. What does mobile technology mean for the future of publishing and specifically for your organization - ProQuest.

A

Marty: Like everyone may say, mobile is clearly going to be the future. It is going to be wonderful to all the untethered. We know that many people physically go into libraries and then sit and use their mobile devices while within the library walls


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