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Me and My Job: Michael Zeoli
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Posted by IPG

1 What is your job title and company? And roughly how many people work for your company?

Vice president, content development and publisher relations, at GOBI Library Solutions, formerly YBP Library Services. GOBI itself is a relatively small company located in the New England countryside. It was acquired by EBSCO Information Services in 2015.

2 What are your qualifications and working background, and when and how did you take on your current job?

I came to GOBI from the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago, where I worked as a supervisor in the monograph acquisitions department. I was pursuing a PhD in Italian Literature at the time, focusing on plagiarism as a literary form.
GOBI Library Solutions replaced Baker & Taylor as the primary library book supplier for the University of Chicago. GOBI had just released the first web-based library acquisitions interface (ahead of Amazon!), which back in the days of Netscape and microfiche was very exciting.
I ended up working for GOBI a couple of years later, first as a customer service bibliographer and then in sales, where I combined my previous library experience with specialized vendor experience to write Approval Plans in dozens—if not hundreds—of libraries across North America.
I spent 2005 to 2007 at ebrary, the leading academic ebook provider of the time, learning an enormous amount about ebooks and understanding publishers’ perspectives. It was a heady, optimistic time. In 2007 I returned to GOBI and not long after took my current role. There was a need for someone with ebook experience and an understanding of library book acquisitions to explain to our publisher partners how libraries were responding to ebooks, and to advise on best practices. As now, we were all learning together, and that learning curve has been steep.

3 What does your average working day entail?

My general focus is studying trends in ebook availability, models and academic library print and ebook acquisitions. GOBI has a unique position in our ecosystem, operating as a ‘keystone’ that binds together publishers, libraries, many econtent suppliers (27 at the last count) and other service providers such as OCLC. This position endows GOBI with statistically significant data regarding library acquisitions and publisher behaviour. It is my responsibility to make this information available for publishers, libraries and other partners, to help the ecosystem grow sustainably in very dynamic (chaotic!) and challenging times.
On any given day, that can mean studying trends over time in a particular library, library consortium or region on one side, and trends for particular publishers on the other side. According to the need, I then must find the clearest and most expedient way of delivering that information to the audience: a publisher meeting one day, a conference presentation another, or a library meeting half-way around the world.

4 What do you enjoy most about your job?

The challenge of taking raw numbers and sculpting away the excess material to discover patterns is fascinating, particularly when there is so much change afoot, driven by technology and economics. The lack of routine and dynamic nature of the book world turns my work into a safari virtually every day.

5 What achievements are you most proud of?

My role was undefined initially. What did ‘liaising with publishers’ mean exactly? Mining GOBI’s massive store of data to make it relevant to our industry is my greatest source of pride—this has come to define my role at GOBI and in the wider industry. In a time when every hypothesis and counter-opinion seem to have equal validity, it is critical that there be some way of gathering data to demonstrate, as objectively as possible, which views strike closer to truth.

6 What are your biggest challenges?

My biggest challenge and my biggest surprise are the same. My parents were both scientists, and it has always been a defect of mine to believe that numbers, supporting logic and reason, should unquestionably guide our decisions. I have learned the hard lesson about what John Maynard Keynes called “animal spirits… the characteristic of human nature that a large proportion of our positive activities depend on spontaneous optimism, rather than mathematical expectations, whether moral or hedonistic or economic.”
Presenting data to a library, publisher or partner is frequently insufficient to lead to expected conclusions and decisions. Hope and fear—the “animal spirits”—play an enormous role in decision-making and require as much consideration in presenting data as do the numbers themselves. It was surprising to learn what every lawyer and school teacher know.

7 How do you switch off from your work?

I firmly believe in the importance of life away from work. I have two passions: painting and skiing, particularly back-country skiing. Since moving from New Hampshire to Washington DC several years ago, I have less opportunity to ski but have gained a rich community of artists, art lovers and museums. It is never difficult to find an excuse to switch off from work, though truth be told, these days work demands—and gets—its pound of flesh.

8 What advice would you give anyone wanting to start or progress a career in publishing?

I have three thoughts to share with anyone considering a career in the world of scholarly information.
a) It is a profession that will likely reward you with a feeling of contributing to the good of the world. Financial rewards are less rich.
b) Be flexible, especially early on, as the publishing and information worlds are changing very rapidly. Many windows will open unexpectedly: be prepared to jump through on a moment’s notice.
c) Try to view things from multiple positions, but without attributing equal value to each. Be conscious of how your emotional self may cloud your judgment.

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