Tony Durniak: Making IEEE a Force in Digital Publishing

The staff executive of the organization’s publications group is retiring

4 August 2015

From building IEEE’s electronic publishing program to revitalizing IEEE Spectrum, senior member and staff executive of IEEE Publications Tony Durniak reflects on his accomplishments as he prepares to retire this month after 17 years. It was Durniak’s job to implement the policies set by the IEEE Publication Services and Products Board. In this role, he directs the daily operations of six departments with more than 210 employees.

Durniak will be remembered most for being part of the team that built the IEEE Xplore Digital Library, which this year celebrated its 15th anniversary. Still growing, it archives more than 3.5 million documents, including articles from IEEE journals, magazines, conferences, standards, e-books, and educational resources, as well as content from other organizations.

“To say IEEE Xplore has dramatically expanded our ability to deliver information so that technical communities around the world can advance technology for humanity is an understatement,” Durniak says. “We’ve seen a tremendous change.”

BUILDING A DIGITAL LIBRARY

The success of the digital library would not have been possible if IEEE had not changed the way it delivered its content. The organization began publishing digitally in February 1996 with a CD-ROM that held all of its IEEE/IET (the Institution of Engineering and Technology) Electronic Library. While IEL was easier to search than the print publications that were then standard, digital versions of the articles were accessible to users only through their libraries, which purchased the CDs. The online version of IEL, which went live in late 1998, offered all the articles and standards of the CD—marking the first time that multiple users at subscribing institutions could access IEEE publications simultaneously. After launching IEL online, IEEE continued to look for other ways to make its publications available to a wider audience.

Durniak, who joined IEEE in May 1998, brought experience in electronic publishing, having worked at the American Chemical Society’s Publications Division for seven years. There, he managed product development efforts that put all 26 of the society’s journals on the Web. But he began his career as a science journalist, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from City College of New York and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. He then worked as a reporter and editor at several magazines, including BusinessWeek then owned by McGraw-Hill. With the advent of electronic publishing in the 1980s, he moved into new product development and publications management at McGraw-Hill.

When Durniak started with IEEE, the volunteer leadership was debating how best to proceed with electronic information delivery. “They were leaning toward building independent digital libraries: one for each IEEE society, one for IEEE standards, and one for educational activities,” he notes. “Through some interesting and intense debates, we came to realize that it made sense to build a single digital library that brought all of IEEE’s rich information together in one place. That turned out to be a very good decision, according to the reaction we’ve received from the marketplace.”

It took two years to develop a system, the IEEE Xplore Digital Library, which launched in 2000. It is the content engine that now delivers access to all IEEE online publications in IEL. Today, more than 8 million documents are downloaded from IEEE Xplore each month.

Durniak is also proud to have been part of the team that reinvigorated IEEE Spectrum and turned it from what he describes as “just a magazine for members” to a major, award-winning multimedia source of information for the technical community. It now has videos, slideshows, and podcasts, as well as blogs. And it’s doesn’t just offer technical information, he notes, but technical insights as well. “The editorial team, led by editor in chief Susan Hassler, does a great job of providing perspective on what’s going on in the technical world,” he notes.

LINKS AMONG PUBLISHERS

Another accomplishment was the launch of CrossRef, a collaborative reference-linking service across technical journal publishers that functions as a sort of digital switchboard. With wider access to articles, IEEE and a number of other publishers saw a need to have a consistent citation-linking system for all their articles. Durniak, representing IEEE, partnered with 12 other scholarly publishers to launch the service in 2000. CrossRef holds no full-text content but rather establishes links through each article’s digital object identifier (DOI). The DOI is tagged to the article’s metadata as supplied by the participating publishers. The system allows a user to move from one article to another at the citation level, regardless of journal or publisher. Durniak has been a member and chair of CrossRef’s board of directors, and he has also served as its treasurer.

“CrossRef has grown dramatically since its launch,” he says. “There are now more than 4,900 publishers using the service.”

PARTNERS

Durniak attributes his success at IEEE to all the volunteer leaders who “allowed me to be their partner. Together, we accomplished a lot,” he says. “It wasn’t always easy. The challenges of how to organize information and how best to finance the projects were hotly debated, but at the end of the day we kept our mission in focus. As a result, we came to what I think were the right decisions.”

He is leaving with one regret: his inability to convince other associations to collaborate with IEEE in building a digital library to compete with commercial publishers.

“Because of all the new technology and the pressures of the changing business environment, it’s important to have economies of scale in order to compete effectively,” he explains. He notes success with IET and the growth of partnerships with other publishers such as the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers and MIT Press, which are distributing content through the IEEE Xplore platform.

Not every association that could be involved has gotten involved, says Durniak. “There are several professional associations a lot smaller than IEEE, and I think IEEE has an opportunity to nurture them,” he says. “It is important for the technical community to have a forum run by professional associations as an alternative to the commercial publishers.

“While the methods for exchanging information and the business models used to pay for it will continue to change,” he continues, “the fundamental mission of scholarly publishing—which is to provide an independent but verified forum by means of the peer-review process for the exchange of technical information—will continue for some time,” he says. “Its future is bright.”

NEXT PHASE

Durniak and his wife Marsha are relocating from New Jersey to Chapel Hill, N.C. He will continue to be an active IEEE member by reading IEEE Spectrum; participating in IEEE Collabratec, a suite of online tools with which to network, collaborate, and create; and attending the IEEE Eastern North Carolina Section’s meetings. He might even return to being a reporter, he says.

He does have some advice for his replacement: “IEEE has dedicated and passionate volunteers and a talented and industrious professional team, so I’d encourage my successor to find ways to get resources for them, help them set priorities, and then get out of their way so they can get things done,” he says. “They did a lot of great things while I was here.”

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