All posts by Danny Kingsley

Biting the hand that feeds – the obfuscation of publishers

Let’s not pull any punches here. We are unimpressed. Late last week HEFCE published a blog: Are UK universities on track to meet open access requirements? In the blog HEFCE identified the key issues in meeting OA requirements as:

  • The complexity of the OA environment
  • Resource constraints
  • Cultural resistance to OA
  • Inadequate technical infrastructure.

Right. So the deliberate obstruction to Open Access by the academic publishing industry doesn’t factor at all?

Policy confusion

We also note that the fact that the funders have different compliance requirements in terms of the means by which we make work available, the timing in the publication process and the financial support of their policies is not articulated clearly in this list. The euphemism used is ‘complexity’.

Well, yes. To give some idea of how ‘complex’ this situation is, the sister blog to this one describes the decision making process the Cambridge Open Access Team follows to ensure compliance with our multiple policies.

But we are hopeful the impending creation of UK Research and Innovation bringing HEFCE into the same regulatory body as the Research Councils will result in something being done about the conflicting policy problem. Indeed, the survey HEFCE is running may feed into that process.

Publisher obfuscation

However there are no such positive outlooks for the challenges publishers continually throw at us in relation to Open Access.

Elsevier has a long and complicated list of embargoes. There is a different list for  embargoes imposed in the UK to those for the rest of the world.  The complications of a range of embargo periods and some journals with non-standard arrangements are apparent on both Wiley’s  and Taylor & Francis’ pages. BMJ has a non-compliant special embargo of 12 months for funders that require archiving of articles. There is no embargo at all for non-funded papers.
An exemplar is Springer with a standard embargo of 12 months for everything.  However, because we are signed up to the Springer Compact most of our publications are published Open Access anyway.

We are not alone in our irritation. In the last couple of months there have been two publications identifying the amount of work libraries do to manage embargoes for Open Access compliance.

The University of St Andrews published a UKCORR blog on 22 August. Requesting permission: reflections and perspectives from the University of St Andrews discussed the processes they have to manage to ensure compliance with publishers which don’t have a public Open Access or author self-archiving policy. The reason this is a challenge is  because 60% of their permissions requests are for outputs potentially in scope for the REF open access policy. St Andrews notes that “having an effective permissions policy can potentially affect an institution’s approach to their REF return and level of exceptions required.”

Management of poor publisher practices in relation to Open Access is not a UK specific problem. In July, Leila Sterman, scholarly communication librarian at Montana State University published an article in College and Research Libraries News – The enemy of the good: How specifics in publisher’s green OA policies are bogging down IR deposits. In the article she argued that there is no consistency in policies and embargoes, which creates unnecessary work. She states that publishers, “who often claim they are supportive of green open access, work to impose restrictions on digital works as if they were physical items being placed in physical locations.”

Indeed this is not a new issue. Over four years ago in a previous role and different country, I published a post: Walking in quicksand – keeping up with copyright agreements which notes similar issues as these two recent papers, but also identifies the issue of publishers changing their policies without notice.
The UK produces 6% of the world’s research output. And yet when the RCUK policy was announced some publishers (see here and here) changed their policies across the globe to take advantage of the huge amounts of UK government funds being added into the system.
As an aside, the green = cancellation argument does beg the question about the value publishers themselves place on the work they do between an Author’s  Accepted Manuscript and the final Version of Record. If access to the AAM is apparently good enough for libraries to cancel subscriptions then why bother doing the extra work?

Getting some perspective

In 2015 Universities UK published a paper Monitoring the transition to open access 
This report contained a table identifying where research was available to download.
Institutional repositories are the red section. The really small red section. Globally, institutional repositories hold 4.8% of all of the AAMs available. In the UK, probably due to the strongest Open Access mandates in the world, the percentage of AAMs available in institutional repositories proportionally is slightly higher at 7.9%.
These are tiny numbers. The research material research institutions are making available in their repositories are not the big threat to publishers’ ‘sustainability’.
In contrast, the incredible coverage of SciHub – which provides (illegal) access to two thirds of the world’s research – as the final published version – poses a real actual threat.

Who loses out here?

Of all the different sharing platforms, academic libraries are the only ones curating deposits and navigating the embargo labyrinth.  Author deposits to commercial sharing sites and PubMed Central primarily rely on authors’ instructions relating to embargoes.
The subscriptions paid by academic libraries worldwide hold up the publishing industry. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.
Published 18 September 2017
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
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Researchers championing data – what works?

Here we follow up on our earlier piece “Creating a research data community”, where Rosie Higman and Hardy Schwamm discussed innovative ways of researcher engagement with research data management.

This blog discusses the outcome from a dedicated Birds of a Feather session at the 9th Research Data Alliance Plenary meeting in Barcelona in April 2017. The session discussed three different programmes for engaging researchers with data management and sharing: University of Cambridge Data Champions programme, TU Delft’s Data Stewardship and SPARC Europe’s Open Data Champions. The purpose of this session was to exchange practice, discuss the difference between the programmes and talk about possible next steps. All presentations from the sessions are available.

Cambridge’s Data Champions

Cambridge’s Data Champions programme was started in Autumn 2016 and is a programme in which researchers volunteered to become a local community expert and advocate on research data management and sharing. The main expectation of those appointed as Data Champions was to run at least one workshop on a topic related to research data management for their research community and to act as the local expert connecting researchers and central data services. In return Champions were offered new networking opportunities, training in research data management and sharing and also a boost to their CVs. Detailed information about the expectations, benefits of becoming a Champion, as well as the support from central services are publicly available.

The Data Champions programme is coordinated during bi-monthly meetings during which Champions exchange practice, talk to each other about their interactions with other researchers and provide each other with advice on tackling some of the data-related challenges. Over time Champions formed a community of practice and the central Research Data Team started to act more as hands-off facilitators of these activities and discussions rather than prescribing Champions what to do and how to best engage with researchers locally. The rationale behind this was that Data Champions would know their own research communities best and would be best positioned to decide what types of training and engagement methods would work for them.

And in fact the Champions delivered quite unexpected and diverse range of outputs. The initial requirement was to deliver a training on research data management to their local communities. The Research Data Management workshop template was shared with the Champions and they were all trained about the content and the methods of the workshop delivery. However, Champions were given discretion on what training they provided and how they wish to deliver. And in fact they developed all sorts of materials and strategies for engaging their local communities: from highly successful regular research data ‘tips’ emails sent to everyone in a department, through data sharing FAQs for chemists and ORCiD drop-in sessions, to organising Electronic Lab Notebooks trials. While certainly interesting and valuable, this also raised a questions as to whether the messages about data management and sharing are still consistent and aligned with the central data services, and also if the high quality of training is maintained.

TU Delft’s Data Stewardship programme

Madeleine de Smaele from TU Delft spoke about their Data Stewardship programme. The goal of the programme is to create mature working practices and policies for research data management across each of the eight faculties at TU Delft, so that any project can make sure their data is managed well. The programme is part of the broader Open Science agenda at TU Delft, which aims to make research more accessible and more re-usable. In contrast to the hands-off and decentralised Data Champions programme at Cambridge, TU Delft’s Data Stewardship programme has a solid framework as its core: a team of eight Data Stewards (a dedicated Data Steward for each one of eight TU Delft’s faculties), led centrally by the Data Stewardship Coordinator.

Data Stewards are disciplinary experts, who are embedded within faculties, and are able to understand and address the specific data management needs of their research communities. However, thanks to working as a team, which is centrally coordinated, the work of Data Stewards is coherent and aligned. This is reflected for example in research data policy development. TU Delft will have a central policy framework for research data management; however, it is Data Stewards working with their faculties who will develop research data policies, tailored to specific needs of individual faculties.

SPARC Europe’s Open Data Champions

SPARC Europe’s Open Data Champions initiative took yet a different approach from Cambridge and TU Delft and it aims to help promote the use of ambassadors or champions in the scientific community to help unlock more scientific data. The focus of the Open Data Champions Initiative is to achieve cultural change needed to see more research data shared and re-used.

Similarly to their previous SPARC Europe’s Open Access Champions initiative, the rationale behind the Open Data Champions is that activists who stimulate cultural change need to be promoted and supported to effect greater, speedier, more motivated research-driven change to help make Open the default in Europe. SPARC Europe wants to identify Champions at different career levels (from PhD students to vice chancellors), from a range of disciplines and from a variety of European countries to inspire broad range of stakeholders.

Are the programmes really effective?

After short presentations about the three programmes, the attendees started discussing different aspects of all programmes: their different aims, audiences, reward systems and sustainability of these activities. Perhaps the most interesting discussion was around measuring the effectiveness of these initiatives. All three programmes aim to ultimately achieve cultural change towards better data management and greater openness. Are the programmes all equally effective at achieving cultural change? Or are perhaps different modes of engagement bringing different results? How to measure cultural change?

And, finally, what are the costs and benefits of each programme? TU Delft’s Data Stewardship programme, with discipline-specific Data Stewards, is more resource-intensive than Cambridge’s Data Champions relying on researchers volunteering their time; both programmes are however more costly than SPARC Europe’s Open Data Champions.

Need for international collaboration and practice exchange

Our discussions brought more questions than answers but we all agreed that the exchange of ideas and practice was productive and useful. Many attendees expressed their interest for starting dedicated researcher engagement programmes at their institutions. Therefore, one of the main conclusions of the session was that it would be valuable to create a forum where those running programmes for researcher engagement could regularly discuss their programmes, exchange ideas and problem-solve jointly. This is particularly important for difficult questions, which the community struggles to address, such as metrics for assessing cultural change in data management and sharing. Working collaboratively can prove incredibly efficient, which was recently demonstrated by a teamwork effort which led to the development of metrics for assessment of data management training programmes.

Next steps

As a next step to extend our conversations and start identifying solutions to common problems, the University of Cambridge, SPARC Europe and Jisc are co-organising a dedicated event “Engaging Researchers in Good Data Management” on 15 November 2017 in Cambridge, United Kingdom. The event intends to bring together those working to support and engage researchers with open research and Research Data Management (RDM), including librarians, scholarly communication specialists and researchers from both the sciences and humanities. So if you are reading this blog post and would like to be part of these discussions, do come and join!

Published 15 September 2017
Written by Dr Marta Teperek
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Who is requesting what through Cambridge’s Request a Copy service?

In October last year we reported on the first four months of our Request a Copy service. Now, 15 months in, we have had over 3000 requests and this provides us with a rich source of information to mine about the users of our repository.  The dataset underpinning the findings described here is available in the repository.

What are people requesting?

We have had 3240 requests through the system since its inception in June 2016. Of those the vast majority have been for articles 1878 (58%) and theses 1276 (39%). The remaining requests are for book chapters, conference objects, datasets, images and manuscripts. It should be noted that most datasets are available open access which means there is little need for them to be requested.

Of the 23 requests for book chapters, it is perhaps not surprising that the greatest number  – 9 (39%) came for chapters held in the collections from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. It is however possibly interesting that the second highest number – 7 (30%) came for chapters held in the School of Technology.

The School of Technology is home to the Department of Engineering which is the University’s largest department. To that end it is perhaps not surprising that the greatest number of articles requested were from Engineering with 311 of the 1878 requests (17%) from here. The areas with next most requested number of articles were, in order, the Department for Public Health and Primary Care, the Department of Psychiatry, the Faculty of Law and the Judge Business School.

What’s hot?

Over this period we have seen a proportional increase in the number of requests for theses compared to articles. When the service started the requests for articles were 71% versus 29% for theses. However more recently, theses have overtaken request for articles to a ratio of 54% to 46%.

The most requested thesis, by a considerable amount, over this period was for Professor Stephen Hawking’s thesis with double the number of requests of the following ten most requested theses. The remaining top 10 requested theses are heavily engineering focused, with a nod to history and social research. These theses were:

The top 10 requested articles have a distinctly health and behavioural focus, with the exception of one legal paper authored by Cambridge University’s Pro Vice Chancellor for Education, Professor Graham Virgo.

When are people requesting?

Looking at the day of the week people are requesting items, there is a distinct preference for early in the week. This reflects the observations we have made about the use of our helpdesk and deposits to our service – both of which are heaviest on Tuesdays.

When in the publication cycle are the requests happening?

In our October 2016 blog we noted that of the articles requested in the four months from when the service started in June 2016 to the end of September 2016, 45% were yet to be published, and 55% were published but not yet available to those without a subscription to the journal.  The method we used for working this out involved identifying those articles which had been requested and determining if the publication date was after the request.

Now, 15 months after the service began it is slightly more difficult to establish this number. We can identify items that were deposited on acceptance because we place these items on a very long embargo (until 2100) until we can establish the publication date and set the embargo period. So in theory we could compare the number of articles with this embargo period against those that have a different date.

However articles that would provide a false positive (that appear to have been requested before publication) would be ones which had been published but we had not yet identified this – to give an indication of how big an issue this is for us, as of the end of last week there were 1768 articles in our ‘to be checked’ pile. We would also have articles that would provide a false negative (that appear to have been requested after publication) because they had been published between the request and the time of the report and the embargo had been changed as a result. That said, after some analysis of the requests for articles and conference proceedings, 19% are before publication. This is a slightly fuzzy number but does give an indication. 

How many requests are fulfilled?

The vast majority of the decisions recorded (35% of the total requests for articles, but 92% of the instances where we had a decision) indicate that the requestor shared their article with the requestor. The small number (3%) of  ‘no’ recordings we have indicate the request was actively rejected.

We do not have a decision recorded from the author in 62% of the requests. We suspect that in the majority of these the request simply expires from the author not doing anything. In some cases the author may have been in direct correspondence with the requestor. We note that the email that is sent to authors does look like spam. In our review of this service we need to address this issue.

Next steps

As we explained in October, the process for managing the requests is still manual. As the volume of requests is increasing the time taken is becoming problematic. We estimate it is the equivalent of 1 person day per week. We are scoping the technical requirements for automating these processes. A new requirement at Cambridge for the deposit of digital theses means there will be three different processes because requests for these theses will be sent to the author for their decision. These authors will, in most cases, no longer be affiliated with Cambridge. Requests for digitised theses where we do not have the author’s permission are processed within the Library and requests for articles are sent to the Cambridge authors.

Given the challenges with identifying when in the publication process the request has been made, we need to look at automating the system in a manner that allows us to clearly extract this information. The percentage of requests that occur before publication is a telling number because it indicates the value or otherwise of having a policy of collecting articles at the acceptance point rather than at publication.

Published 12 September 2017
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
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