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  • Update on AOU/COS task forces: opportunities and new directions for ornithological societies

    Fern Davies
    • AOU President Sue Haig reports on the efforts of the joint task forces considering new directions, opportunities, and structures for ornithological societies...

    Dear Members of the AOU--


    I would like to update you on progress being made by the various task forces we initiated with the Cooper Society and provide an updated perspective on where I believe the AOU is headed with respect to the various merging/federating/SFO models we have recently been considering.


    I am happy to report that, in collaboration with the Cooper Ornithological Society and along with advice and observers from the Wilson Ornithological Society, Association of Field Ornithologists and Society of Canadian Ornithologists, we have completed reports from the three major task forces we formed at the NAOC in August 2012.  And we added a fourth—the Website Task Force.  Below is a brief summary of each Task Force’s efforts.


    Publication Task Force and Efficiency Task Force, lead by Tom Martin and Bonnie Bowen, respectively, addressed the design and administration of the new online publication plan for the Auk and Condor.  Thankfully, Bonnie Bowen has taken on the task of implementing the first phases of the plans and will be working on setting up publication contracts, editorial contracts, etc over the next 6 months.

    ·   Starting in January 2014, the Auk and the Condor will have more clearly defined niches, the Auk will focus on more basic and theoretical papers whereas the Condor will become a journal of applied ornithology.

    ·   The new publication model will focus on online delivery of journals with an option to pay extra for paper copies.  Life Members will continue to have the option of online or online and print.  The online publication model will allow us to make a substantial annual profit as we cut out costs associated with printing and mailing. Thus, we hope most members will opt for the online delivery.

    ·   AOU and COS are currently searching for a full-time Managing Editor. That person will oversee operations for publication of the Auk and Condor.  Auk and Condor will each have a new editor and staff.  Contact Bonnie Bowen for details (bsbowen@iastate.edu).

    ·   Current Editor Michael Murphy will finish the 2013 Auk.  He will be replaced by a new editor who will start work on the 2014 volume as soon as the new editor is selected. Please continue to send manuscripts via the usual Auk and Condorsubmission process.

    ·   Irby Lovette heads the AOU Publication Committee and would love to hear suggestions you might have as to a potential new editor of the Auk. We need to make a decision in the next 6 weeks, so please do not hesitate to send names to Irby (ijl2@cornell.edu) or nominate yourself!  These are exciting times for publications and it would be a great opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the new publication operations for the Auk and Condor.  COS is working through their search for a new editor of the Condor as well.

    ·   We will discontinue publication of Ornithological Monographs in 2014.  Instead, longer papers can be published in the Auk or Condor. Studies in Avian Biology will continue to be published so series of papers can be sent to SAB editor Brett Sandercock.


    A Website Task Force emerged from the Efficiency Task Force and is now working on a detailed plan for a joint AOU and COS website.  The website will follow much of what was outlined in the SFO website plan but each society will have a society-specific portion of the website in order to carry out society business. The committee is also drafting an RFP for design of the website. 


    Meetings Task Force, led by Abby Powell, is revising their report and working with local committees of past and future meetings to hone their recommendations.


    Future Directions

    Over the past several years, we have undergone significant soul searching to identify the most productive path for the future of AOU and the field of Ornithology.  It has been painfully complex and has involved, at this point, well over 100 ornithologists from six societies working on various aspects of plans and task forces.  Arguably, the most important exercise carried out was an effort to design the most functional and forward thinking ornithological society we could imagine.  The resulting SFO plan described the activities that could be considered as well as a framework to consider them — that is, merging North America ornithological societies in into one society. 

    As we have worked through the various task forces since the NAOC, a more nuanced approach has evolved that the AOU Council recently voted to follow.  While it is clear that each society has their own name, traditions and histories that they would like to continue, there are many activities that each society carries out that would be more efficiently and inexpensively run by joining efforts with other societies.  Publications and the website are the most obvious examples.   Thus, in collaboration with COS, we have invited each society to take part in any aspect of the joint work AOU and COS are carrying out, provided they have adequate resources to pay their fair share of whatever activity is being developed.  Thus, a society could join the AOU/COS publication effort or add their society to the website without losing the society name or the ability to function as they see fit.  This is neither a merger nor a federation model.  Rather it allows societies the flexibility to share in chosen efficiencies without losing their identity.


    The Council also feels we need to strengthen and build the AOU.  The issues addressed in SFO documents (e.g., declining membership, financial resources, etc.) are real concerns and we need to vigorously confront them in order to remain viable and at the cutting edge of avian science.  To that end, we are developing a more professional framework for running the business of the AOU.  This model provides us with the personnel and time to launch some much-needed fund-raising efforts.  AOU has never raised a significant amount of money aside from unsolicited gifts we have been fortunate to receive.  We cannot continue to live in this vicarious fashion if we are to thrive as a society and as a profession.  Therefore, we are exploring the costs and benefits of hiring an executive director who would serve as a prime fund-raiser for the AOU.  A final resolution of this issue will not be possible until we work out the administrative costs of the new publication model. However, this professional model for AOU will be a major topic of conversation in August.


    In conclusion, I hope it is abundantly clear that we (AOU Executive Officers, Council, Task Forces, and Committees) are working to find the most appropriate way to a productive future for AOU and the field of Ornithology.  We welcome your comments and ask for your patience as we feel our way along this path.


    See you in Chicago!


    Susan M. Haig, President

    American Ornithologists' Union

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