A Day in the Life of an Open Access Research Adviser

As part of the Office of Scholarly Communication Open Access Week celebrations, we are uploading a blog a day written by members of the team. Monday is a piece by Dr Philip Boyes reflecting on the variety of challenges of working in the Open Access team.

As anyone working in it knows all too well, Open Access can be a complicated field, with multiple policies from funders, institutions and publishers which can be complex, sometimes obscure and sometimes mutually contradictory. While we’re keen to raise awareness of and engagement with Open Access issues, the University of Cambridge’s view is that expecting academics to get to grips with all this themselves would represent an unreasonable demand on their time and likely lead to errors and resentment.

Instead, Cambridge’s policy is that authors should simply send us their Accepted Manuscript at acceptance through our simple upload system and our team of Research Advisers will check out exactly what they need to do to comply with all the relevant funder and journal policies and get back to them with individually-tailored advice. The same system also allows us to take care of deposit into the repository for HEFCE and to manage payments from the block grants we’ve received from the UK Research Councils (RCUK) and the Charities Open Access Fund (COAF – seven biomedical charities, including the Wellcome Trust).

The idea is that from the academic’s point of view the process feels smooth and seamless. But the reality is that very little of the process is automated. Behind the scenes there’s a lot of (thankfully metaphorical) running around by our team of three Open Access Research Advisers to provide this service, as well as working on broader issues of communication, processing APCs and improving our systems.

So what does a Cambridge Open Access Research Adviser do all day? Here’s a typical day in the life…

8.45am- Getting started

Arriving in the office, I check my emails and look at the Open Access Helpdesk. Overnight we’ve received around 15 new tickets, as well as some further correspondence on existing ones. Fairly typical. It’s split between manuscript uploads that need advice, general queries and invoicing correspondence from publishers. I start working through these on a first-come-first served basis.

They’re a real mixed bag. If a submitted article is straightforward we can deal with it in a few minutes – we check the journal site for their green and gold options and then advise the author on which is appropriate in each case. We also flag the manuscript for deposit into our repository – at the moment that’s a manual process and is mostly handled by temps.

Today things aren’t straightforward. A lot of the submissions are conference proceedings and there’s very little information on the conference websites. It’s not even clear whether some of these are being formally published (does private distribution on memory stick count? Do they have ISBNs or ISSNs?) It’s going to be a slow morning of chasing up authors and conference organisers for any information they have.

 10.00am – Complexity

I’m more or less through the conference proceedings, but we’re not through with complex cases. One of the invoices we’ve received is for an article we’ve not heard about before. It’s from a senior professor but he’s never submitted it to the open access service so we weren’t able to advise him on policy or eligibility for block grant funds. He selected the gold option for a Wellcome-funded correspondence article and now wants us to pay the $5000 + VAT bill. The trouble is, letters aren’t covered by the Wellcome policy so technically it isn’t eligible. I contact the author and break the news that he might have to pay this large bill himself and that this is why we like people to contact us first.

 11.00am – Clarity

The professor has got back to us. Although the journal’s classed it as a letter, the paper’s actually a very short research article, he says. I decide to contact Wellcome for guidance and let them decide whether they want this to be paid for from the COAF block grant.

 11:30am – Deja-vu

For the moment the backlog on the helpdesk has been cleared and our temps are busy adding manuscripts to the repository and updating previously-added articles with citation details and embargo end-dates. I have a bit of free time to move on to something else so begin to tackle the stack of publisher APC invoices that need processing.

They’re mostly correct, but some publishers and invoicing companies are better than others. Inevitably there are a few errors that need chasing up or publishers who have invoiced us repeatedly for the same thing. Among the stack is an overdue notice from a major publisher for a familiar article. It’s one we’ve repeatedly confirmed was paid fully almost two years ago but every few months ever since the publisher has told us it’s outstanding. I send them back the payment reference and details yet again and ask them to mark the issue as resolved. I somehow suspect we’ll be seeing it again.

 2.00pm – Presentation

Today offers a welcome opportunity to get out of the office. We’re holding a joint Open Access/Open Data presentation to researchers in one of the University’s departments to try and increase awareness of the policies. Our stats show that this department has particularly low engagement with the Open Access service so we’re keen work out why. It’s a fractious crowd. One or two people are keen Open Access advocates and speak up to say how simple the system is, but some others are vocal about their view that it’s an unwarranted burden and tell us they don’t see why they should bother.

We try to explain the benefits and funder mandates, as well as how we’ve tried to make the system as simple as possible. When we get back to the office we find that one of those present has sent us their back-catalogue of thirty articles stretching back to 2007 to put into the repository.

 4.00 – Compliance

While my colleagues work on the helpdesk I need to turn my attention to compliance and reporting. All too often when we’ve paid an APC the publisher hasn’t delivered Open Access with the correct licence, or in some cases at all. I generally try to do a weekly check of the articles for which we’d paid APCs to see whether they’ve been published correctly but it’s time-consuming and things have been busy lately. It’s been around three weeks since the last check so it really needs doing.

But the deadline is also fast approaching for annual reports to RCUK and COAF. These are both large and complex, and cover slightly different periods (and different again from the Jisc report a couple of months ago). It’s proving a major challenge to get the information together from our various systems and to match it to the relevant figures from the University Finance System. I decide to let the compliance checking wait a bit longer and work on trying to move things along on the reports. I make a bit of progress, but there’s still a huge amount left to do – information on thousands of articles that needs to be manually collated. With luck in the future we’ll have integrated systems that can do much of this automatically, but for now each report represents weeks of work.

Wrap up

There is, then, a huge variety and amount of work that goes into the Open Access service. The Helpdesk and the reporting alone would be more than enough to keep us busy, but we also have to make time for outreach and communications, managing the finances, improving our systems and more. We’re finding that as our team grows, we’re starting to specialise more into particular areas, but we’re still basically all generalists, working on all areas of the job. This balance between specialisation for the purposes of efficiency and the need for individuals to be able to move effectively from one task to another – not least to keep our jobs interesting and varied – is one that’s likely to become ever more challenging as the volume of articles we handle increases.

Published 19 October 2015
Written by Dr Philip Boyes
Creative Commons License

One thought on “A Day in the Life of an Open Access Research Adviser

  1. Your entry well details the intricacies of ‘the day in the life’ of working in a Library Open Access Team with many proactive suggestions for others to achieve OA progress and awareness. Keep up the great work.

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