Gale’s SVP Paul Gazzolo Wants to Unlock the Publisher’s Information Vault
Paul Gazzolo had a sizeable task in front of him as soon as he took the job as senior vice president and global general manager of Michigan-based Gale in November 2014. His mandate: to turn Gale, a 60-year-old education, research, and reference publisher supporting libraries, schools, and academic institutions, into a global, patron-centered company.
Although Gale is already a technology leader with massive digital archives, periodical databases, online research and learning tools, and a comprehensive ebook platform, Gazzolo aims to make these services even more accessible to users. "I think Gale has tremendous opportunity to distinguish itself from others in the space by making sure that reference information isn't just locked in a vault or buried inside of a catalog," says Gazzolo, "but rather is really pushed out to the user leveraging technology to enrich the whole learning experience."
Gazzolo also sees opportunity for global expansion. "We've become kind of Anglo-centric in our orientation, despite the fact that our research is available all over the world." Expanding globally doesn't simply mean selling Gale services to institutions outside of the U.S., says Gazzolo. It also means covering the subject matter and providing the services needed most by its global users.
Lending scale and support to Gale's global and solution-driven efforts is parent company Cengage Learning. Gale operates as a company within a company, running its own P&L, product organization, and sales, while Cengage provides the technology and consumer support Gale needs to grow. "I was really drawn to Cengage because it takes a different approach to the education business," says Gazzolo. "They have really invested in first-rate technology to develop specific solutions for the student, the instructor, and the researcher."
Gazzolo comes to Gale from Wolters Kluwer CCH, where he was VP of research and learning, and prior to that, president of the World Book Encyclopedia. In the latter role, Gazzolo transformed the well-known World Book brand into an online service built on a suite of databases. The project, says Gazzolo, gave him insights into creating product solutions for the K-12 market and he hopes to bring that service orientation to bear at Gale.
Here Gazzolo shares the steps Gale has already taken towards becoming a solutions provider and a global resource as well as his vision for the future.
What challenges do you face in your new role at Gale?
One of the challenges I face, and it's really a challenge for everyone in today's education environment, is the expectation that a product should be so simple to use that it only takes two clicks. That is, two clicks to get what you need and if you don't you're going to give up and go somewhere else. That mindset is both a challenge and opportunity for Gale.
I think Gale has a big opportunity to connect the student to the information by being on the platform that the student already uses, be it in a mobile application or a learning management system (LMS). We want to provide that deeper dive or different perspective on a topic that really forces students to think about something in a way that they hadn't before. That is my aspiration and Gale's aspiration to leverage the reference content so that students and researchers can find perspectives and insight they wouldn't have otherwise found.
How are you meeting users where they are?
I'll start with the things we have done, which I can take no credit for. The first is text and data mining, which we've added to some of our archives here at Gale. It allows for a much deeper comb-through of content in order to study different trends. We have a cluster feature, for example, which is a visualization of not just what you're searching but also related topics or areas of possible interest. It's almost an infographic that widens the input of what you were searching. It allows users to get much more precise and laser-like in terms of definitions and make connections they wouldn't have otherwise.
We're also making all of our websites responsive. Those will roll out this spring. To mobile-enable the product so that is navigable and is usable inside of a mobile format or mobile device is absolutely imperative.
I'll give you an example. Recently my daughter, who is a freshman in college and is taking a poetry course, sent the family a text about one of her assignments. She asked, "Can you look at stanza 2, line 3 and give me any ideas about what the significance of the line is?" Ultimately I asked my daughter to go to the library, find the Gale Literature Criticism Online resource, and use that to see how that poem is being interpreted. My point is we have to get ourselves in front of those students. This is where they are looking for information, from their friends, via text.
How are you beginning to spread Gale's brand globally?
We have reps across six continents. They are quite experienced at selling Gale. They are also selling other Cengage products. Now we will have those reps purely focused on Gale or Cengage, so they won't be carrying a bag full of everything. That gives us the chance to get closer to the customer -- either a consortium customer, academic institution, or school authority at the government level -- and really understand how Gale can meet those customers needs. We also want to understand from these conversations what level of localization is necessary in order for that content to be valued and consumed at a local level.
We have worked with institutions outside the U.S. before. It's not a standing start by any stretch, but they'll all be thinking about Gale in a way that they haven't before. Information is going to be coming back to our headquarters here in Michigan and we're going to be building products with the mind toward the world's consumers, learners, and instructors, not just one's here.
What types of digital products are you planning to work on in the next couple of years?
There are two areas that I'm particularly interested in. The first is the Gale Virtual Reference Library. It is really the building block for a lot of different things; how to enable a library, instructor, or student to access what's inside of a Gale database so that it can be consumed, shared, or taught from is an area of great interest for us. Beyond that I can't tell you what we plan to build because we're not at that stage yet. But we do have teams that are spending a great deal of time with instructors, librarians, and students to see how we can unlock the value of the content there and bring it to the student rather than expect the student or instructor to find it.
Libraries are working to provide more digital products to patrons. How has that effected how Gale works with libraries?
I think it's a subject that is near and dear to our hearts here at Gale. We want to make the public library an essential part of the community. We view that goal as quite broad and ambitious so a few years ago we did a deep study of customer segmentation, not just of librarians, but also of the patrons that frequent the library. We developed over 50 personae.
For example, "Here is Joe. Joe is a plumber. Joe will need Chilton's Manuals, which is a Gale product." We have student personae, small business owners, we have a retiree, someone with a physical handicap that might require large print text, etc. These personae weren't built around, "This is the person who might buy a Gale product," they were built in a thoughtful way to help libraries think about patrons and design collection services and their delivery model against that. It was a very interesting project. It raised the level of discussion with librarians above the product level to who are the patrons that you need to serve better.
What services emerged from these kinds of insights?
For example, we learned that in towns where unemployment is higher, foot traffic to the library becomes larger and the library really becomes not only a place to look for a job but also a place where skills are being built. Realizing this, we partnered with Career Online High School, an accredited program that helps users earn their high school degree, and brought it into the libraries. Now patrons can get their high school diploma using the library. It's really broadening the mission of the library that makes it integral to the community.
What does the future hold for academic and reference publishing?
With a few weeks on the job it's hard for me to predict where this is all heading. Having had a chance to talk to leaders and heads of academic institutions, I think the future is definitely bright. I think that future is going to take many forms. To say that it's going to be in absolutely one direction or another would limit it. We are going to see this unfold organically. We'll see libraries much more in tune to the unique needs of their patrons, or faculty of the institutions of which they're a part. I think there will be much more entrepreneurship and much more technological savvy. If you combine the understanding of your customers' unique needs, entrepreneurship, and technical savvy, you are going to get things that I can't even begin to describe but are very, very cool. I can't wait to be a part of it and have Gale be a part of it.
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