The Transition to a More Open and Mobile ACM Digital Library

The Transition to a More Open and Mobile ACM Digital Library

We are in the midst of a change to the underlying format of our scholarly publications (i.e. journals and conference archival papers) in order to increase access to our publications across more types of devices and to make our published documents accessible for those with vision impairments. In order to achieve this end goal, new templates are being developed to include markup that will enable ACM publications to be presented on multiple types of devices (e.g. tablets), and work with more types of assistive devices.

Getting to the point where we can publish our work in formats more flexible than PDF has had its problems. For Microsoft Word to have the necessary tags embedded, the template uses macros to force tags. This has created problems for authors across several conferences.  However, the challenges experienced this year are temporary while we transition into a new format and do not represent a new publication workload moving forward. This article is a summary of where we are going, how we got there, and who makes decisions about publication formats overall.

There are multiple people in charge of how publications get generated.

SIGCHI is a large, volunteer-run, virtual organization which is a perfect recipe for confusion about how decisions get made, and decisions about publications are no different. Consequently, it is helpful to consider the different groups that make decisions about publications, and what types of decisions they make.

The Association for Computing Machinery

ACM is the publisher of SIGCHI publications, and as such they also maintain the central repository of work (the Digital Library – DL) as well as several other standard publisher tasks. ACM is a nonprofit organization, and operates differently than some of the other major for-profit publishers in academic research. One of the differences of note here is that ACM has a very small staff compared to other major publishers. They depend on the volunteers of the ACM community not just for submitting and reviewing work, but for many other tasks related to the dissemination of intellectual products – including formatting.

The ACM makes decisions at a relatively high level from the perspective of most authors. They enforce the policies set by the ACM Publications Board – but in general they are supportive of individual SIGs and conferences to define scholarship and publication policies overall. They regularly solicit feedback from groups like the SIG Governing Board, the ethics committee and SIGACCESS in regards to publication issues. The ACM also can hire contractors to do some of the work that they cannot do internally. For example, the templates we have used recently for CHI 2019 and some of the specialized conferences were created by a company called Aptara under contract from the ACM.

It is hard to overstate how important the ACM DL is in all of this. The DL generates revenue (largely through institutional subscriptions) and makes our scholarship widely available, lending our work validity through a well-respected computing scholarship repository and a far reach through various models of open access. One type of authority that the ACM has is as the gatekeeper for what can be placed in the DL or not. In that role, decisions about which template to use to support readers and the DL experience is very much in the purview of the ACM.

The ACM Publications Board

The ACM Publications Board advises ACM on publishing issues, and helps set policies for ACM publication. Members of the Pubs Board are volunteers from the ACM community, representing multiple SIGs. The ACM Pubs Board is committed to the generation and distribution of high quality computing research, and importantly to “providing the best possible experience for authors and readers”. With their curatorial role, the Pubs Board will often make decisions about experiments in the publishing process, and whether those experiments would hurt the perceived quality of the ACM brand in publishing. For example, at the end of 2018 the Pubs Board created a policy on the Withdrawal, Correction, Retraction, and Removal of Works from ACM Publications and ACM DL. Such policies help coordinate and clarify activity across hundreds of conferences and publications.  The Pubs Board also advises on and develops strategic initiatives for the ACM digital library, for example supporting reviewing and archiving for digital artefacts and recently completing a redesign of the ACM Digital Library.   


The Executive Committee of SIGCHI supports and guides each of the 24 SIGCHI sponsored conferences, from big to small. They inherit all of the publication policies set by the ACM, and then offer a series of other policies for SIGCHI conferences to follow. SIGCHI went through a process three years ago where it revised its publication policies, and the overwhelming feedback from the community was for “lightweight, flexible” rules. SIGCHI policies are mostly around confirming the uniqueness of the work by the author, and setting guidelines for the reviewing process.

Conference Steering Committees

Each conference which has been organized under the auspices of SIGCHI with the (co-) sponsored status (of at least 50%) has a steering committee (SC). The chair of each committee is the privileged contact point, providing feedback on the issues faced by the conference series and transferring information and procedures to the organizers of the next conferences of that series. Each steering committee chair is a member of the SIGCHI Council of Steering Committee Chairs (CSCC). Each Steering Committee coordinates with SIGCHI and ACM and provides feedback about policies, and will support the annual organizers in what they can and cannot do for publications.

Annual Conference Chairs, Technical Program Chairs, and Papers Chairs

Amazing people volunteer every year to write the calls, find the reviewers, define the process and all of the thousand other things that need to be done for a conference to accept, review and publish intellectual work. When it comes to our archival publications, these decisions are usually made by the conference’s Technical Program Chair and Papers Chairs. Often, people take on these volunteer roles because they have strong ideas about what should be done with publications. Optimally, the annual chairs propose major changes to publications ahead of the call for papers, and those changes are then approved by the various groups above. The difficulty is that it is not always clear which decisions require permission and which do not, and finding that boundary can often lead to conflict.

How the decision to use the new templates for CHI 2019 came to be

The initial decision to use the new templates was a joint decision by many people, including members of the SIGCHI EC and the CHI steering committee, in Spring 2018. Because the contractor in charge of creating the templates and the ACM Information Systems Director both thought the templates would be completed well before the submission deadline, the organizers of CHI 2019 put aside their worries and accepted the transition challenge.

Unfortunately, the original approach using macros proved unsuitable for the functionality desired in the templates and several attempted fixes were imperfect at best. Consequently, for this year’s CHI conference, authors – who we know are already under considerable stress – were responsible for either making fiddly edits in the Word template, or transitioning to using a LaTeX editor under duress. This added workload is not evenly distributed, even more sadly. Authors with disabilities, with young children, from institutions without as much support, and others felt the brunt of this workload even more than others.

How templates will move forward

Based on experiences trialling the templates for CHI 2019, ACM have established a completely new workflow that does not depend on Word macros. They have requested and received help from many SIGCHI members to help field test new workflow, which utilises a “submission” version and a “final submission” version.  This allows authors to separate content from presentation and will simplify the process of generating PDFs and final versions in the future. This new workflow includes a web-based tool that will automatically check and format documents, allowing us to move away from having authors do typesetting as a default. SIGCHI conferences in 2019 are already completing deployment trials of the new workflow, which solves many of the problems experienced by CHI 2019 authors.

The CHI Steering Committee and CHI2020 leadership are currently deciding on what to do for CHI2020. The outcome of this decision will be communicated to the CHI community in the call for papers for CHI2020. Likewise, all SIGCHI Conferences – both those that have proceedings as well as those that are in the PACM – must make a decision that is best for the community they serve. To support any conference’s decision to use the new templates, the SIGCHI EC is investigating ways to offer formatting support to those that are particularly hampered by any new templates. Additionally, the ACM is looking at ways to simplify and automate author tasks as they contribute to our conferences.

The end goal of the template process will be good for us as a community. People are increasingly reading our work on mobile devices, and more platforms will mean more attention spent on our content. Additionally, the new XML formats will work better with assistive devices and allow for more interactive features in the future. All of this will make our work more accessible on multiple dimensions, and enable new paradigms of publication into the future.  Storing the content of publications in an XML format also removes dependencies to PDF, creating a more flexible and resilient archive format using the XML based Journal Article Tag Suite (JATS) used by many scientific publishers. This will enable us to use formats like HTML both for submission of new work, as well as the output for how readers view our articles. We acknowledge that it has been painful to get to this point, and there is a lot more work to be done to realize these benefits, but our work now will benefit future generations of HCI researchers. The difficulty we have had to this point is not the new normal – it’s part of an overall process to improve the publication process.


If you are interested in helping this process, please watch for calls via the SIGCHI Facebook Group or Twitter account to participate in various testing activities that will be available as new versions of the template become available. These calls will be broadcast through SIGCHI email and social media channels. It is important to document struggles you have with the templates to provide strong feedback for iteration. You can send that documentation to each individual conference’s Papers Chairs, who will route it back to the SIGCHI Vice President for Publications.

Volunteers can also provide feedback on the new Digital Library (, feedback can be provided using the “Feedback” link pinned to the bottom left of the webpage)

An overview of the motivations behind this change has been distributed in the Blue Diamond Newsletter:

Current information about the roll-out of the new workflow is available here:

An overview of the new workshop is available here: