eXtyles JATS at Delamed: An interview with Tim Gibbs

Head and shoulders of a smiling man with glasses and a white beard, wearing a suit and tie, standing in front of a Delaware Academy of Medicine - Delaware Public Health Association step-and-repeat background

Few topics are more urgent right now than public health, so we’re grateful to Tim Gibbs, Executive Director of the Delaware Academy of Medicine—Delaware Public Health Association, for sitting down with us to talk about how his organization uses eXtyles JATS in producing the Delaware Journal of Public Health!

→ Did you know…? eXtyles JATS is an off-the-shelf solution designed to create PMC-compliant JATS XML directly from Word. A cost-effective tool for journal publishers to produce high-quality JATS XML in-house, eXtyles JATS can be licensed as-is or used as a basis for a custom-built eXtyles configuration. To see an online demo or to try eXtyles JATS out on your content, contact us!

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Tell us a bit about your organization—who you are, your purpose, your publishing focus …

The Delaware Academy of Medicine, or Delamed, was founded in 1930 by physicians and dentists, and for decades we were the medical library for the state of Delaware, then for Delaware and the region. The internet came along and progressively disrupted library services, and that really impacted the Academy’s bottom line.

There was a significant period where we were engaged in group e-licensing with publishers like Elsevier, doing electronic document delivery, dealing with proxy servers and all sorts of fun stuff. At a certain point we realized that our users—hospitals, the division of public health, researchers and colleges up in Philadelphia and throughout Delaware—really could adopt all this on their own. So we helped them through the process of adopting their own tools, getting their own relationships going, and ultimately we left the library business. We merged our physical collection with that of the state’s largest medical system, and then we could shift our focus to doing other things.

The second card in our portfolio, if you will, had always been education—of the public as well as of other medical and dental professionals. So we shifted gears, and here’s where the public health connection comes in! The old Delaware Public Health Association (DPHA) had basically folded; they hadn’t been really functional for a number of years. Through a happy coincidence and what we call “the Delaware way,” which is all the connections we have with each other in this small state, I had known the head of the old DPHA for years, and a certain point I said, “What would you think about us picking up the mantle?”

After reconfiguring our bylaws and board composition to reflect our genuine presence in the field of public health, we started working with the American Public Health Association (APHA), aiming to potentially become Delaware’s state APHA affiliate. When we achieved that goal in 2013, that was a momentous occasion for us—sort of a graduation party.

There’s a personal part to the story, which is that I was also getting my master’s degree in public health. And one of the things that we learn in public health education, very early on, is the importance of communication—effective communication, culturally sensitive communication. It’s how we convey public health messaging! So, as I was thinking about that through my graduate education, I was thinking about how we could translate that reality to what’s now the Delaware Academy of Medicine, Delaware Public Health Association. (It’s not two entities; it’s one entity with one really long name, and maybe someday we’ll do something about that.) I knew that we wanted to do a newsletter, and that generated the question, “Does Delaware have any other publications that are focusing on public health exclusively?”

The answer was that, no, Delaware didn’t—so the board and I saw a niche. We didn’t know how good the niche would be, but we made the commitment to explore it, and we created the Delaware Journal of Public Health. And from the first issue, the response was so positive that we started thinking bigger and better right off the bat. The decisions we made in the journal’s early years reflected the success we wanted for it: “This is where we want to go; now let’s do the steps together.”

Cover of the Delaware Journal of Public Health issue on Racism and HealthOne critical decision we made early on was this would not be a hard-copy publication. Instead, we decided we would do an electronic publication, but one that readers could download and print, and get the same experience as a hard copy: formatting, color values, high-resolution images, the whole thing. As it turns out, a lot of area universities and colleges do in fact do that with their classes—not a use we anticipated, but an awesome use nonetheless!

Another critical decision we made that’s very relevant to this discussion: We wanted to invest our money in the platforms and applications that would best empower us to focus on the publication content, rather than having staff devote time to fiddling around with XML outputs, reference checking, the myriad of other things that go on when you’re publishing a peer-reviewed journal.

That decision led us to the Issuu publishing platform, which is where the journal actually lives (here’s the most recent issue!) and where we do our statistics and data tracking. The journal is read around the world! Periodically I look at the stats and think, “Why is somebody in Nairobi reading a journal about public health in Delaware?” But you know what, it’s fantastic.

It also led us to eXtyles to handle the back-end XML output in particular—at that point, it was for the dark archiving that we knew we needed in order to get ready for indexing with services like PubMed. We chose Portico as our dark archive, and the seamless way that our eXtyles output works with Portico, that sealed the deal on how efficient that was.

Can you tell us more about what led you to choose eXtyles?

Public health people really like to do a lot of research! Some of that research led me to an article about the steps necessary to get indexed in PubMed, which, as most people in the life sciences would acknowledge, is the golden egg. It’s also a very steep mountain—it makes Everest and K2 look like a cakewalk. This article went into the different solutions that the author and his team had looked at, and it specifically mentioned eXtyles and Inera.

Now, you could cobble together a solution from open-source and free or low-cost tools that each do some of the things eXtyles does, and that could work great for you if you have dedicated high-technology-enabled staff who already have a deep understanding about how this stuff works. But if you don’t—and we didn’t—you really need technical support; you need a more off-the-shelf product that comes with updates to match the software environment within which it lives, like Microsoft Word. So we made the strategic decision to go with eXtyles, and we’ve never looked back. It was a calculated investment that has paid off very, very well.

One of the things that really put Inera ahead of other groups we spoke with were people like Liz Blake, who really took the time to understand where we were and what our needs are—who really listened. The training program was awesome. It was really step by step, and there were lots of opportunities for us to ask questions and get answers. And frankly, in the beginning, we needed a lot of handholding.

I mean, everybody does, because it’s a whole new thing.

To be fair, we have had a couple of bumps along the way. One of those bumps actually had to do with our own Windows network configuration. And here’s the thing I want people looking at eXtyles to know: Most tech support people would wash their hands and say, Sorry, we don’t do that, we don’t go there; you all worked with our IT group to get it all figured out. That was a huge blessing. I don’t think we would still be struggling with the problem now, but it would have taken much longer for us to figure it out independently. That’s world-class customer service, which I think is really what your shop is providing.

Thank you! 😊 We do try. And what would you say is your favorite feature of eXtyles?

Well, the reference checking feature immediately bore fruit. We’re an APA format shop, and we saw immediate benefits because even though APA formatting is very straightforward to us, for people who are used to AMA or another format, APA is like a different language. And that’s a mind-numbing thing for any human being to have to go through and correct. With eXtyles, it’s done and it’s done well.

The main thing we like about eXtyles is pretty simple: It works. It works as it’s supposed to, and when we do have an unexpected bump, Inera Support is there to help us, always quickly, always cheerfully.

Another feature is the Crossref DOI deposit plugin, because we’ve just started depositing DOIs for current and back content, and the manual deposit through Crossref’s web interface works, but it’s 10 minutes per article … and we started publishing in 2015, so that’s a lot of minutes.

But the main thing we like about eXtyles is pretty simple: It works. It works as it’s supposed to, and when we do have an unexpected bump, Inera Support is there to help us, always quickly, always cheerfully. It’s like getting into your very reliable car that you’ve had for 10 years and knowing that the engine will turn over and it will do what you need it to do, and that is worth the price of gold.

Can you give us an overview of your publishing workflow? How does eXtyles fit in?

To start off, periodically we get together—the editor in chief, Dr. Omar Khan, and the managing editor and the advisory board and I—not only to create the issue themes for the next year but also to revisit our plan and see whether there are new things on the radar that we need to address more quickly. Needless to say, in 2020, COVID-19 and racism popped onto our radar, and we adapted our themes for 2020 to reflect that; it’s a very dynamic process.

We decide on the themes, we decide who we want to invite, and start communicating with those authors. About 98% of our submissions are invited, but of course not everyone who’s invited to submit does so, and not every submission is accepted.

The authors’ Word documents go through a two-stage review process, with a quick first cut by our managing editor and our technical editor, followed by “single-blind” peer review—reviewers know who the author is, but the author isn’t told who the reviewers are. Although again, of course, in a small state like Delaware…

Once an article is accepted, that’s where eXtyles comes in. Dr. Kate Smith, the MD MPH on staff, takes care of that part of the process. Our content is published in two formats: as complete issues on issuu.com, and as individual articles on djph.org. Our design team takes those corrected, massaged, linked Word documents, after eXtyles has done its work, and uses InDesign to create the final issue version—the actual journal publication, which is a high-res PDF with graphics as well as full internal as well as external hyperlinking, that can be read online or downloaded and even printed out.

This process, using eXtyles to create the source file for all the different versions, is how we make sure we have that end-to-end consistency of content across the different platforms.

Then we’re also using those same final eXtyled Word files to generate two other file types: the individual article PDFs that are published on DJPH.org, where the content is identical but you don’t have the same graphic design and internal navigation; and the JATS XML that we send off to Portico for our dark archive—and in the future, the XML that we’ll submit to PubMed.

This process, using eXtyles to create the source file for all the different versions, is how we make sure we have that end-to-end consistency of content across the different platforms; we know the single-article version is absolutely going to be identical to what’s in the issue version, for example. And I’ll go back to something I said earlier: I cannot imagine—literally, I can’t imagine that, it gives me an anxiety attack thinking about it—if we were trying to do all of this work manually! The reference formatting, the DOI and PubMed lookup and linking, the DOI deposits, creating and validating the XML … Look, Kate could do it—she’s Australian, you know, and Australians and Canadians, we’re hardy folk, we can lean into the discomfort—but she would not be happy.

Yes! Could do; would not enjoy. [Ed. note: Interviewer is also Canadian.] So, now that we know something about where Delamed came from and the work you’re doing now … where are you going, and how will eXtyles help you get there?

Well, without being too artificially humorous about it, this has been a year of public health. People finally understand the kind of work that we do now: “Oh, that’s what contact tracing is. That’s what interventions are.” People are even beginning to understand some of the epidemiology of disease spread, the arguments for masking and physical distancing yet social cohesiveness, and so forth. And since life doesn’t often give you such a big wave to propel you forward … that’s the silver lining of what this year has been. One of the things we want to do, not just for Delaware but for all state associations, is to set the example for what a small state association can do, and perhaps should do, in their own state.

When any group or organization says to a journal, “No, you’re too small, you’re too local,” what they’re inadvertently saying to the academics, the researchers, the community health workers, all the people writing articles, is, “Your work doesn’t count. It’s not generalizable.” When in fact it does count, and it absolutely is generalizable. There are all sorts of opportunities to learn from what small communities do, as opposed to large metropolitan areas or international groups. So I am hopeful that the National Library of Medicine will adopt some new protocols and standards, consistent with the idea of Public Health 3.0. Obviously we want to be the best state public health journal! But we also want all of our sister states across the country to have their own that are excellent as well.

When any group or organization says to a journal, “No, you’re too small, you’re too local,” what they’re inadvertently saying to the academics, the researchers, the community health workers, all the people writing articles, is, “Your work doesn’t count. It’s not generalizable.” When in fact it does count, and it absolutely is generalizable.

There’s also a philanthropic aspect to what we do. We want to get the word out. We want to highlight the successes and, yes, the failures in public health and public health practice. We sometimes learn a lot more from failures than from successes! Maybe we’re the first place that a local author gets published, and they learn the expectations from us and go on to submit articles nationally.

We’re a little bit out in front of the pack. We want to be a model; we want to break through that little bit of a glass ceiling with PubMed, because that would really be of value to the larger community and to the people who publish with us, and we want to honor their contributions. And, you know, this information that we publish has proven very useful to many people. Some of it is quite technical, but major portions of the journal are very accessible to anyone with even a middle school education. Part of our challenge is to make public health more than just being told “You have to wear a safety belt, you have to wear a mask, you have to wash your hands, you have to put on suntan lotion.” It’s to actually get people engaged in it.

How is eXtyles helping us get where we’re going? Well, from start to finish—from sending out the invitations to going online—our production process is about four months. That’s a fairly aggressive schedule, and we’ve achieved that through every incremental thing that we’ve talked about. And we can teach other people how to do this!

Tim, if you were writing this blog post, is there anything else you would want to put in it?

Hmmm. The first time that you buy a house, it’s a very nervous time. You’re making a big investment, or you’re making a larger investment than you ever have before. You’re going from renting to owning. Adopting eXtyles was like making an investment in our first home. Yes, it is nerve wracking, but you all were there to help out. We moved into the home, and the home is beautiful. You’ve helped us keep it that way. There have been external factors, like Microsoft changing some of their background code and disturbing the environment outside of our house—and you’ve been right on top of it, addressing those issues and communicating to us about what you’re doing about it. So it was worth it.

Thank you so much, Tim! It’s been a pleasure.

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images courtesy of Tim Gibbs / Delamed