Currently, conference organizers at OSU have few tools for building conference websites, accepting and reviewing submissions, and posting the scholarship online. To help address this gap, the publishing program was tasked by library leadership with investigating the possibility of providing conference publishing services to the campus community.  This post shares the results of our pilot project and our plans for going forward.

Our partner

For our pilot project, we partnered with the Center for the Study and Teaching of Writing on their Writing Matters in a Changing World (WMCW) conference. On February 2nd, 2013, 150 people gathered in the Ohio Union to discuss the ways in which writing is changing in response to changes in technology. The conference attracted a mix of local and regional participants and was, by all measures, a great success.

We worked with the organizers to create a website for the conference that was used for publicity, communicating with attendees, and registration. Our goal was primarily to evaluate the OCS software platform and the work involved in creating and supporting a conference website, but we also planned to archive the conference scholarship. During the course of planning the event, however, the organizers decided that they did not wish to collect the presentations because of the informal nature of the conference.

The software

The Libraries are a sponsor of the Public Knowledge Project (PKP), and have been using Open Journal Systems (OJS) for years to publish journals, so PKP’s  Open Conference Systems (OCS) seemed a natural choice for our pilot project. OCS is designed to host multiple conference websites, each with at least one ‘scheduled instance’ of the conference. Each scheduled instance site can be used to accept submissions, register attendees, and communicate a variety of information about the conference. The submission, review, editing, and publishing workflows in OCS are similar to those in OJS, but since our partners chose to accept and manage submissions via email, we didn’t have a chance to test them fully. We did make use of the registration function, however, and the organizers commented on more than one occasion that the website gave the conference a more professional look than it would have had otherwise.

Time invested

Creating and supporting the conference website, including creating a site design and customizing some aspects of the software, took approximately 20 hours total. Our publishing production coordinator, Laura Seeger, did the bulk of the work. I mainly popped in for partner meetings and the occasional bit of troubleshooting. The time invested by our IT staff was negligible, and mostly consisted of installing the software on staging and production servers and granting administrative privileges to us. Most of our support time was spent helping users and organizers reset passwords and manage registrations. If the organizers had been using the site for submissions, we most likely would have had more technical support to do.

The survey

To make sure that the program we design takes into account the range of needs on campus, we distributed a nine-question online survey in February. The survey was aimed at faculty, staff, and students on campus who have organized a conference, and asked for information about their conference and their thoughts on what conference websites should do. We collected over a hundred responses from across the university, and they showed a huge variety in practice and perception.

Aside from some basic functions of conference websites (e.g. providing logistical information about the conference and allowing attendees to register), the answers to all of the questions were mixed. The conferences are large and small; some charge registration fees and some don’t; some ask presenters to submit abstracts, while others ask for papers or other formats; some want to make the conference scholarship openly available, but many don’t; some respondents wanted to include social media functions on their conference sites, others felt it was a waste of time.

We tried ‘slicing’ the data various ways in hopes of identifying a subset of respondents who expressed needs consistent with each other, or with our program goals. We filtered the results by whether they charged a registration fee, whether they made the conference scholarship available, and whether they left their contact info to learn more about the program. In all cases, there was no noticeable change in the results.

Our takeaway from the survey was that there is demand for conference publishing services, but no consensus about how they should be structured or what tools should be included.

Next steps

Our challenge going forward is to take what we learned from implementing OCS, from working with our partner, and from our survey, and devise an ongoing program that both advances the Libraries’ mission and meets the needs of the campus community.  We are still evaluating OCS in the context of our local needs, and working to identify a useful set of services that we can offer. We may undertake a second pilot, working with a conference with a different set of needs.

We welcome questions and feedback about this program as it develops. If you are interested in being considered as a partner for a pilot project, or in receiving announcements about the program, contact me at schlosser.40@osu.edu.