Tag Archives: Libraries

Consider yourself disrupted – notes from RLUK2016

The 2016 Research Libraries UK conference was held at the British Library from 9-11 March on the theme of disruptive innovation. This blog pulls out some of the highlights personally gained from the conference:

  • If librarians are to be considered important – we as a community need to be strong in our grasp of understanding scholarly communication issues
  • We need to know the facts about our subscriptions to, usage of and contributions to scholarly publishing
  • We need high level support in institutions to back libraries in advocacy and negotiation with publishers
  • Scientists are rarely rewarded for being right, so the scientific record is being distorted by the scientific ecosystem
  • Society needs more open research to ensure reproducibility and robust research
  • The library of the future will have to be exponentially more customisable than the current offering
  • The information seeking behaviour of researchers is iterative and messy and does not match library search services
  • Libraries need to ‘create change to triumph’ – to be inventors rather than imitators
  • Management of open access issues need to be shared across institutions with positive outcomes when research offices and libraries collaborate.

I should note this is not a comprehensive overview of the conference, and I have blogged separately about my own contribution ‘The value of embracing unknown unknowns’. Some talks were looking at the broader picture, others specifically at library practice.

Stand your ground – tips for successful publisher negotiations

The opening keynote presentation was by Professor Gerard Meijer, President of Radboud University who conducted the recent Dutch negotiations with Elsevier.

The Dutch position has been articulated by Sander Dekker, the State Secretary  of Education who said while the way forward was gold Open Access, the government would not provide any extra money. Meijer noted this was sensible because every extra cent going into the system goes into the pocket of publishers – something that has been amply demonstrated in the UK.

All universities in the Netherlands are in top 200 universities in the world. This means all research is good quality – so even if it is only 2% of the world output, the Netherlands has some clout.

Meijer gave some salient advice about these types of negotiations. He said this work needs to be undertaken at the highest level at the universities. There are several reasons for this. He noted that 1.5 to 2 percent of university budget goes to subscriptions – and this is growing as budgets are being cut – so senior leadership in institutions should take an active position.

In addition if you are not willing to completely opt out of licencing their material then you can’t negotiate, and if you are going to opt out you will need the support of the researchers. To that end communication is crucial – during their negotiations, they would send a regular newsletter to researchers letting them know how things were going.

Meijer also stressed the importance of knowing the facts, and the need to communicate and inform the researchers about these facts and the numbers. He noted that most researchers don’t know how much subscriptions cost. They do know however about article processing charges – creating a misconception that Open Access is more expensive.

Institutions in the Netherlands spent €9.2 billion million on Elsevier publications in 2009, which rose to €11billion million* in 2014. Meijer noted that he was ‘not allowed’ to tell us this information due to confidentiality clauses. He drolly observed “It will be an interesting court case to be sued for telling the taxpayers how their money is being spent”. He also noted that because Elsevier is a public company their finances are available, and while their revenue goes up, their costs stay the same.

Apparently Wiley and Springer are willing to go into agreements. However Elsevier are saying that a global business model doesn’t match with a local business requirement. The Netherlands  has not yet signed the contract with Elsevier as they are working out the detail.

Broadly the deal is for three years, from 2016 to 2018. The plan is to grow the Open Access output from nothing to 10% in 2016, 20% in 2017, 30% in 2018 and want to do that without having to pay APCs. To achieve this they have to identify journals that we make Open Access , by defining domains where all journals in these domains we make open access.

Meijer concluded this was a big struggle – he would have liked to have seen more – but what we have is good for science. Dutch research will be open in fields where most Open Access is happening and researchers are paying APCs. Researchers can look at the long list of journals that are OA and then publish there.

*CORRECTION: Apologies for my mistyping.  Thanks to    @WvSchaik for pointing out this error on Twitter. The slide is captured in this tweet.

The future of the research library

Nancy Fried Foster from Ithaka S+R and Kornelia Tancheva from Cornell University Library spoke about research practices and the disruption of the research library. They started by noting that researchers work differently now, using different tools. The objective of their ‘A day in the life of a serious researcher’ work was exploring research practices to inform the vision of library of the future and identify improvements we could make now.

They developed a very fine-grained method of seeing what people do which focuses on what people really do in the workplace. This used a participatory design approach. Participants (who were mainly post graduates) were asked to map or log their movements in one single day where at least some of their time was engaged in research. The team then sat with the person the following day to ask them to narrate their day – and talk about seeking, finding and using information. There was no distinction between academic and non-academic activity.

The team looked at the things that people were doing and the things that the library could and will be. The analysis took a lot of time, organising into several big categories:

  • Seeking information
  • Academic activities
  • Library resources
  • Space, self management and
  • Circum-academic activities – activities allied to the researchers academic line but not central.

They also coded for ‘obstacles’ and ‘brainwork’.

The participants described their information seeking as fluid and constant – ‘you can just assume I am kind of checking my email all the time’. They also distinguished between search and research. One quote was ‘I know the library science is very systematic and organised and human behaviour is not like that’.

Information seeking is an iterative process, it is constant and not systematic. The search process is highly idiosyncratic – our subjects have developed ways of searching for information that worked for them. It doesn’t matter if it is efficient or not. They are self conscious that it is messy. ‘I feel like the librarians must be like “this is the worst thing I have ever heard”’.

Information evaluation is multi-tiered – eg: ‘If an article is talking about people I have heard of it is worth reading’. Researchers often use a mash up of systems that will work for that project. For example email is used as an information management tool.

Connectivity is important to researchers, it means you can work anywhere and switch rapidly between tasks. It has a big impact on collaboration – working with others was continuously mentioned in the context of writing. However sometimes researchers need to eliminate technology to focus.

Libraries have traditionally focused too much on search and not enough on brain work – this is a potential role for libraries. References to the library occurred throughout the process. Libraries are often thought of as a place for refuge – especially for the much needed brain work. The need for self management – enable them to manage their time prioritise the demands on their attention. Strategies depended on a complicated relationship with technology.

One of the major themes emerging from the work is search is idiosyncratic and not important, research has no closure, experts rule and research is collaboration. The implications for the future library are that the future library is a hub, not just focusing on a discovery system but connecting people with knowledge and technologies.

If we were building a library from scratch today what would it look like? There will need to be a huge amount of customisation to adjust tools to suit researchers personal preferences. The library of the future will have to be exponentially more customisable than the current offering. Libraries will have to make available their resources on customisable platforms. We need to shift from non-interoperable tools to customisation.

So if the future were here today we would think of future library – an academic hub (improving current library services) and an application store. We should take on even more of a social media aspect. Think of a virtual ‘app store’ – on an open source platform that provides the option for people to suggest short cuts – employ developers to develop these modules quickly. Take a leadership role in ensuring vendor platforms can be integrated. All library resources will speak easily to the systems our users are using. We need to provide individualised services rather than one size fits all.

Scientific Ecosystems and Research Reproducibility

The scientific reward structure determines the behaviour of researchers and that this has spawned the reproducibility crisis according to Marcus Munafo from the University of Bristol.

Marcus started by talking about the P value where the statistically significant value is 95% – that is, the chance of the hypothesis being wrong is less than five in 100. Generally, studies need to cross this threshold to get published, so there is evidence to show that original studies often suggest a large effect – however when attempted, these effects are not able to be replicated.

Scientists are supposed to be impartial observers, but in reality they need to get grants, and publish papers to get promoted to more ‘glamorous institutions’ (Marcus’ words). Scientists are rarely rewarded for being right, so the scientific record is being distorted by the scientific ecosystem.

Marcus noted it is common to overstate your data or error check your data if your first analysis doesn’t tell you what you are looking for. This ‘flexible analysis’ is quite commonplace, if we look at literature as a whole. Often there is not enough detail in the paper to allow the reproducibility of the work. There are nearly as many unique analysis pipelines as there were studies in the sample – so this flexibility in the joint analysis tool gets leveraged to get the result you want.

There is also evidence that journal impact factors are a very poor indicator of quality, indeed it is a stronger indicator of retraction than quality. The idea is that the whole science will self correct. But science won’t sort itself out in a reasonable timeframe. If you look at the literature you see that replication is the exception rather than the norm.

One study showed among 83 articles recommending effective interventions, 40 had not been replicated, and of those that had been replicated many showed the works had stronger findings in the first paper than in the replication, and some were contradicted in the replication.

Your personal investment in the field shapes your position – unconscious biases that affects all of us. If you come in as an early career scientist you get an impression that the field is more robust than it is in reality. There is hidden literature that is not citable – only by looking at this you have a balanced sense of how robust the literature is. There are many studies that make a claim in the abstract that is not supported by more impartial reading. Others are ‘optimistic’ in the abstract. The articles that describe bad news receive far fewer citations than would be expected. People don’t want to cite bad news. So is science self correcting?

We can introduce measures to help science self correct. In 2000 the requirement to register the outcome of clinical trials began. Once they had to pre-specify what the outcome would be then most of the findings were null. That is why it is a scientific ecosystem – the way we are incentivised has become distorted over the years.

Researchers are incentivised to produce a small number of papers that are eye catching.  It is understandable why you would want to focus on quality over quantity. We can give more weight to confirmatory studies and try to move away from the focus on publishing in certain types of studies. We shouldn’t be putting all our effort into high risk, high return.

What do we do about this? There can be top down measures, but individual groups can work in ways to improve the ways we work, such as adopting the open science way of working. This is not trivial – for example we can’t make data available without the consent of participants. Possible solutions include pre-registering all the plans, set up studies so the data can be made open, ensure publications are gold OA. These measures serve as a quality control method because everything gets checked because people know it is going to be made available. We come down hard on academics who make conscious mistakes – but we should be encouraging people to identify their own errors.

We need to introduce quality control methods implicitly into our daily practice. Open data is a very good step in that direction. There is evidence that researchers who know their data is going to be made open are more thorough in their checking of it. Maybe it is time for an update in the way we do science – we have statistical software that can run hundreds of analysis, and we can do text and data mining of lots of papers. We need to build in new processes and systems that refine science and think about new ways of rewarding science.

Marcus noted that these are not new problems, quoting from Reflections on the Decline of Science in England written by Babbage in 1830.

Marcus referred to many different studies and articles in his talk, some of which I have linked out to here:

Creating change to triumph: A view from Australia

The idea of creating change to triumph was the message of Jill Benn, the Librarian at the University of Western Australia. She discussed Cambietics, the science of managing change. This was a theory developed in 1985 by Barrett, with three stages:

  • Coping with change to survive
  • Capitalising on change
  • Creating change to triumph.

This last is the true challenge – to be an inventor rather than an imitator. Jill gave the Australian context. The country is 32 times bigger than UK, but has a third of the population, with 40 universities around the country. She noted that one of the reasons libraries in Australia have collaborated is the isolation.

Research from Australia counts for 4% of the world’s research output, it is the third largest export after energy, and out-performs tourism. The political landscape really affects higher education. There has been a series of five prime ministers in five years.

Australia has invested heavily in research infrastructure – mostly telescopes and boats. The Australian National Data Service was created and this has built the Research Data Australia interface – an amazing system full of data. The libraries have worked with researchers to populate the repository. There has been a large amount of capacity building. ANDS worked with libraries to build the capacities – the ’23 things’ training programme. You self register – on 1 March, 840 people had signed up for the programme.

The most recent element of the government’s agenda has been innovation. Prime Minister Turnbull has said he wanted to end the ‘publish or perish’ culture of research to increase the impact on community. There is a national innovation and science agenda and the government would not longer take into account publications for research. It is likely the next ERA (Australia’s equivalent of the REF) will involve impact in the community. The latest call is “innovation is the new black”.

There is financial pressure on the University sector – which pays in US dollars which is a problem. The emphasis on efficiency means the libraries have to show value and impact to the research sector.

Many well-developed services exist in university libraries to support research. Australian institutional repositories now have over 650K full text items, which are downloaded over 1 million times annually, there are data librarians and scholarly communication librarians. Some of the ways in which libraries have been asked to deliver capacity is CAUL and its Research Advisory Committee – to engage in the government’s agenda. There are three pillars – capacity building, engagement and advocacy, to promote the work of our libraries to bodies like Universities Australia.

Jill also mentioned the Australasian Open Access Strategy Group which has had a green rather than a gold approach. Australians are interested in open access. It is not yet clear what our role will be of institutional repositories into the future. In an environment where the government wants us to share our research.

How can we benchmark the Australian context? It is difficult. Look at our associations and about what data we might be able to share. Quote from Ross Wilkinson – yes there are individuals but the collective way Australia has managed data we are better able to engage internationally. Despite the investment into repositories in Australia – the UK outperforms Australia.

Australian libraries see themselves as genuine partners for research and we have a healthy self confidence (!). Libraries must demonstrate value and impact and provide leadership. Australian libraries have created change to triumph.

Open access mega-journals and the future of scholarly communication

This talk was given by Professor Stephen Pinfield from Sheffield University. He talked about the Open Access Mega Journal project he is working on with potentially disruptive open access journals (the Twitter handle is @oamj_project).

He began where it all began – with PLOS ONE, which is now the biggest journal in the world. Stephen noted that mega journals are full of controversy, listing comments ranging from them being the future of academic publishing, a disruptive innovation to the best possible future system.

However critics see them variously as a dumping ground, career suicide for early career researchers publishing in them and a cynical money making venture. However, Pinfield noted that despite considerable searching acknowledging what ‘people say’ is different from being able to provide attributed negative statements about mega-journals.

The open access and wide scope nature of mega-journals reverses the trend over past few years where journals have been further specialising, They are identifiable by their approach to quality control, with an emphasis on scientific soundness only rather than subjective assessments of novelty and also by their post publication metrics.

Pinfield noted that there are economies of scale for mega journals – this means that we have single set of processes and technologies. This enables a tiered scholarly publishing system. Mega-journals potentially allow highly selective journals to go open access (who often argue that they reject so much they couldn’t afford to go OA). Pinfield hypothesised that a business model could be where a layer of highly selective titles sits above a layer of moderately selective mega journals. The moderately selective journals provide the financial subsidy but the highly selective ones provide the reputational subsidy. PLOS is a good example of this symbiotic relationship.

The emphasis on ‘soundness’ in the quality control process reduces the subjectivity of judgements of novelty and importance and potentially shifts the role and the power of the gatekeepers. Traditionally the editors and editorial board members have been the arbiters of what is novel.

However this opens up some questions. If it is only a ‘soundness’ judgement then the question is whether power is shifted for good or ill? Also does the idea of ‘soundness’ translate to the Humanities? There is also the problem of an overreliance on metrics. Are the citation values of journals driven by the credibility or the visibility of the journals?

Pinfield emphasised the need for librarians to be informed and credible about their understanding of these topics. If librarians are to be considered important – we as a community need to be strong in our grasp of understanding these issues. There is an ongoing need to keep up to date and remain credible.

Working together to encourage researcher engagement and support

There were several talks about how institutions have been engaging researchers, and many of them emphasised the need to federate the workload across the institution. Chris Aware from the University of Hull discussed some work he was doing with Valerie McCutcheon on the current interaction between library and other parts of the institution in supporting OA, understand how OA is and could be embedded.

The survey revealed a desire for the management of Open Access to be more spread across the institution into the future. Libraries should be more involved in the management of the research information system and managing the REF. However Library involvement in getting Open Access into grant applications is lower – this is a research role, but it is worth asking how much this underpins subsequent activity.

As an aside Chris noted a way of demonstrating the value of something is to call it an ‘office’ – this is something the Americans do. (Indeed it is something Cambridge has done with the Office of Scholarly Communication).

Chris noted that if researchers don’t think about open access as part of the scholarly communications workflow then they won’t do it. Libraries play a key role in advocating and managing OA – so how can they work with other institutional stakeholders in supporting research?

Valerie later spoke about blurring and blending the borders between the Library and the Research Office. She noted that when she was working for Research and Enterprise (RSEO) she thought library people were nice, but she was not sure what the people do there. When she transferred to working in the Library, the perception back the other way was the same.

But the Research Office and the Library need to cooperate on shared strategic priorities. They are both looking out for changes in policy landscape they need to share information and collaborate on policy development and dissemination. They need better data quality in the research process to find solutions to create agile systems to support researchers.

At Glasgow the Library & RSEO were a good match because they had similar end uses and the same data. So this began a close collaboration between the two offices which worked together on the REF, used Enlighten. They also linked their systems (Enlighten and Research Systems) in 2010 where users can browse in the repository by the funder name. Glasgow has had a publications policy rather than an open access policy since 2008.

Valerie also noted that it was crucial to have high-level support and showed a video of Glasgow’s PVC-R singing the praises of the work the Library was doing.

The Glasgow Open Access model has been ‘Act on acceptance’ since 2013 – a simple message with minimal bureaucracy. A centralised service with ‘no fancy meetings’. Valerie also noted that when they put events on they don’t say it is a Library event, the sessions subject based not department based.

Torsten Reimer and Ruth Harrison discussed the support offered at Imperial College, where Torsten said he was originally employed for developing the College’s OA mandate but then the RCUK and the HEFCE policy came into place and changed everything. At Imperial, scholarly communications is seen as an overall concern for the College rather than specifically a Library issue.

Torsten noted the Library already had a good relationship with the departments. The Research Office is seen by researchers as a distraction from their research, but the Library is seen as helping research. However because the two areas have been able to approach everything with one single aim, this has allowed open access and scholarly support to happen across the institution and allowed the library to expand.

Imperial have one workflow and one system for open access which is all managed through Symplectic (there had been separate systems before). They have a simple workflow and form to fill in, then have a ticketing type customer workflow system plugged into Symplectic to pull information out at the back end. This system has replaced four workflows, lots of spreadsheets and much cut and pasting.

Sally Rumsey talked about how Oxford have successfully managed to engage their research community with their recently launched ‘Act on Acceptance’ communication programme.

Summary

This is a rundown of a few of the presentations that spoke to me. There were also excellent speed presentations, Lord David Willetts, the former Minister for Universities and Science spoke, we split up into workshops and there was a panel of library organisations around the world who discussed working together.

The personal outcomes from the conference include:

  • An invitation to give a talk at Cornell University
  • An invitation to collaborate with some people at CILIP about ensuring scholarly communication is included in some of the training offered
  • Discussion about forming some kind of learned society for Scholarly Communication
  • Discussion about setting up a couple of webinars – ‘how to start up an office of scholarly communication’ and ‘successful library training programmes’
  • Also lots of ideas about what to do next – the issue of language and the challenges we are facing in scholarly communication because of language deserves some investigation.

I look forward to next year.

Published 14 March 2016
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
Creative Commons License

 

‘It is all a bit of a mess’ – observations from Researcher to Reader conference

“It is all a bit of a mess. It used to be simple. Now it is complicated.” This was the conclusion of Mark Carden, the coordinator of the Researcher to Reader conference after two days of discussion, debate and workshops about scholarly publication..

The conference bills itself as: ‘The premier forum for discussion of the international scholarly content supply chain – bringing knowledge from the Researcher to the Reader.’ It was unusual because it mixed ‘tribes’ who usually go to separate conferences. Publishers made up 47% of the group, Libraries were next with 17%, Technology 14%, Distributors were 9% and there were a small number of academics and others.

In addition to talks and panel discussions there were workshop groups that used the format of smaller groups that met three times and were asked to come up with proposals. In order to keep this blog to a manageable length it does not include the discussions from the workshops.

The talks were filmed and will be available. There was also a very active Twitter discussion at #R2RConf.  This blog is my attempt to summarise the points that emerged from the conference.

Suggestions, ideas and salient points that came up

  • Journals are dead – the publishing future is the platform
  • Journals are not dead – but we don’t need issues any more as they are entirely redundant in an online environment
  • Publishing in a journal benefits the author not the reader
  • Dissemination is no longer the value added offered by publishers. Anyone can have a blog. The value-add is branding
  • The drivers for choosing research areas are what has been recently published, not what is needed by society
  • All research is generated from what was published the year before – and we can prove it
  • Why don’t we disaggregate the APC model and charge for sections of the service separately?
  • You need to provide good service to the free users if you want to build a premium product
  • The most valuable commodity as an editor is your reviewer time
  • Peer review is inconsistent and systematically biased.
  • The greater the novelty of the work the greater likelihood it is to have a negative review
  • Poor academic writing is rewarded

Life After the Death of Science Journals – How the article is the future of scholarly communication

Vitek Tracz, the Chairman of the Science Navigation Group which produces the F1000Research series of publishing platforms was the keynote speaker. He argued that we are coming to the end of journals. One of the issues with journals is that the essence of journals is selection. The referee system is secret – the editors won’t usually tell the author who the referee is because the referee is working for the editor not the author. The main task of peer review is to accept or reject the work – there may be some idea to improve the paper. But that decision is not taken by the referees, but by the editor who has the Impact Factor to consider.

This system allows for information to be published that should not be published – eventually all publications will find somewhere to publish. Even in high level journals many papers cannot be replicated. A survey by PubMed found there was no correlation between impact factor and likelihood of an abstract being looked at on PubMed.

Readers can now get papers they want by themselves and create their own collections that interest them. But authors need journals because IF is so deeply embedded. Placement in a prestigious journal doesn’t increase readership, but it does increase likelihood of getting tenure. So authors need journals, readers don’t.

Vitek noted F1000Research “are not publishers – because we do not own any titles and don’t want to”. Instead they offer tools and services. It is not publishing in the traditional sense because there is no decision to publish or not publish something – that process is completely driven by authors. He predicted this will be the future of science publishing will shift from journals to services (there will be more tools & publishing directly on funder platforms).

In response to a question about impact factor and author motivation change, Vitek said “the only way of stopping impact factors as a thing is to bring the end of journals”. This aligns with the conclusions in a paper I co-authored some years ago. ‘The publishing imperative: the pervasive influence of publication metrics’

Author Behaviours

Vicky Williams, the CEO of research communications company Research Media discussed “Maximising the visibility and impact of research” and talked abut the need to translate complex ideas in research into understandable language.

She noted that the public does want to engage with research. A large percentage of public want to know about research while it is happening. However they see communication about research is poor. There is low trust in science journalism.

Vicki noted the different funding drivers – now funding is very heavily distributed. Research institutions have to look at alternative funding options. Now we have students as consumers – they are mobile and create demand. Traditional content formats are being challenged.

As a result institutions are needing to compete for talent. They need to build relationships with industry – and promotion is a way of achieving that. Most universities have a strong emphasis on outreach and engagement.

This means we need a different language, different tone and a different medium. However academic outputs are written for other academics. Most research is impenetrable for other audiences. This has long been a bugbear of mine (see ‘Express yourself scientists, speaking plainly isn’t beneath you’).

Vicki outlined some steps to showcase research – having a communications plan, network with colleagues, create a lay summary, use visual aids, engage. She argued that this acts as a research CV.

Rick Anderson, the Associate Dean of the University of Utah talked about the Deeply Weird Ecosystem of publishing. Rick noted that publication is deeply weird, with many different players – authors (send papers out), publishers (send out publications), readers (demand subscriptions), libraries (subscribe or cancel). All players send signals out into the school communications ecosystem, when we send signals out we get partial and distorted signals back.

An example is that publishers set prices without knowing the value of the content. The content they control is unique – there are no substitutable products.

He also noted there is a growing provenance of funding with strings. Now funders are imposing conditions on how you want to publish it not just the narrative of the research but the underlying data. In addition the institution you work for might have rules about how to publish in particular ways.

Rick urged authors answer the question ‘what is my main reason for publishing’ – not for writing. In reality it is primarily to have high impact publishing. By choosing to publish in a particular journal an author is casting a vote for their future. ‘Who has power over my future – do they care about where I publish? I should take notice of that’. He said that ‘If publish with Elsevier I turn control over to them, publishing in PLOS turns control over to the world’.

Rick mentioned some journal selection tools. JANE is a system (oriented to biological sciences) where authors can plug in abstract to a search box and it analyses the language and comes up with suggested list of journals. The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) member list provides a ‘white list’ of publishers. Journal Guide helps researchers select an appropriate journal for publication.

A tweet noted that “Librarians and researchers are overwhelmed by the range of tools available – we need a curator to help pick out the best”.

Peer review

Alice Ellingham who is Director of Editorial Office Ltd which runs online journal editorial services for publishers and societies discussed ‘Why peer review can never be free (even if your paper is perfect)’. Alice discussed the different processes associated with securing and chasing peer review.

She said the unseen cost of peer review is communication, when they are providing assistance to all participants. She estimated that per submission it takes about 45-50 minutes per paper to manage the peer review. 

Editorial Office tasks include looking for scope of a paper, the submission policy, checking ethics, checking declarations like competing interests and funding requests. Then they organise the review, assist the editors to make a decision, do the copy editing and technical editing.

Alice used an animal analogy – the cheetah representing the speed of peer review that authors would like to see, but a tortoise represented what they experience. This was very interesting given the Nature news piece that was published on 10 February “Does it take too long to publish research?

Will Frass is a Research Executive at Taylor & Francis and discussed the findings of a T&F study “Peer review in 2015 – A global view”. This is a substantial report and I won’t be able to do his talk justice here, there is some information about the report here, and a news report about it here.

One of the comments that struck me was that researchers in the sciences are generally more comfortable with single blind review than in the humanities. Will noted that because there are small niches in STM, double blind often becomes single blind anyway as they all know each other.

A question from the floor was that reviewers spend eight hours on a paper and their time is more important than publishers’. The question was asking what publishers can do to support peer review? While this was not really answered on the floor* it did cause a bit of a flurry on Twitter with a discussion about whether the time spent is indeed five hours or eight hours – quoting different studies.

*As a general observation, given that half of the participants at the conference were publishers, they were very underrepresented in the comment and discussion. This included the numerous times when a query or challenge was put out to the publishers in the room. As someone who works collaboratively and openly, this was somewhat frustrating.

The Sociology of Research

Professor James Evans, who is a sociologist looking at the science of science at the University of Chicago spoke about How research scientists actually behave as individuals and in groups.

His work focuses on the idea of using data from the publication process that tell rich stories into the process of science. James spoke about some recent research results relating to the reading and writing of science including peer reviews and the publication of science, research and rewarding science.

James compared the effect of writing styles to see what is effective in terms of reward (citations). He pitted ‘clarity’ – using few words and sentences, the present tense, and maintaining the message on point against ‘promotion’ – where the author claims novelty, uses superlatives and active words.

The research found writing with clarity is associated with fewer citations and writing in promotional style is associated with greater citations. So redundancy and length of clauses and mixed metaphors end up enhancing a paper’s search ability. This harks back to the conversation about poor academic writing the day before – bad writing is rewarded.

Scientists write to influence reviewers and editors in the process. Scientists strategically understand the class of people who will review their work and know they will be flattered when they see their own research. They use strategic citation practices.

James noted that even though peer review is the gold standard for evaluating the scientific record. In terms of determining the importance or significance of scientific works his research shows peer review is inconsistent and systematically biased. The greater the reviewer distance results in more positive reviews. This is possibly because if a person is reviewing work close to their speciality, they can see all the criticism. The greater the novelty of the work the greater likelihood it is to have a negative review. It is possible to ‘game’ this by driving the peer review panels. James expressed his dislike of the institution of suggesting reviewers. These provide more positive, influential and worse reviews (according to the editors).

Scientists understand the novelty bias so they downplay the new elements to the old elements. James discussed Thomas Kuhn’s concept of the ‘essential tension’ between the classes of ‘career considerations’ – which result in job security, publication, tenure (following the crowd) and ‘fame’ – which results in Nature papers, and hopefully a Nobel Prize.

This is a challenge because the optimal question for science becomes a problem for the optimal question for a scientific career. We are sacrificing pursuing a diffuse range of research areas for hubs of research areas because of the career issue.

The centre of the research cycle is publication rather than the ‘problems in the world’ that need addressing. Publications bear the seeds of discovery and represent how science as a system thinks. Data from the publication process can be used to tune, critique and reimagine that process.

James demonstrated his research that clearly shows that research today is driven by last year’s publications. Literally. The work takes a given paper and extracts the authors, the diseases, the chemicals etc and then uses a ‘random walk’ program. The result ends up predicting 95% of the combinations of authors and diseases and chemicals in the following year.

However scientists think they are getting their ideas, the actual origin is traceable in the literature. This means that research directions are not driven by global or local health needs for example.

Panel: Show me the Money

I sat on this panel discussion about ‘The financial implications of open access for researchers, intermediaries and readers’ which made it challenging to take notes (!) but two things that struck me in the discussions were:

Rick Andersen suggested that when people talk about ‘percentages’ in terms of research budgets they don’t want you to think about the absolute number, noting that 1% of Wellcome Trust research budget is $7 million and 1% of the NIH research budget is $350 million.

Toby Green, the Head of Publishing for the OECD put out a challenge to the publishers in the audience. He noted that airlines have split up the cost of travel into different components (you pay for food or luggage etc, or can choose not to), and suggested that publishers split APCs to pay for different aspects of the service they offer and allow people to choose different elements. The OECD has moved to a Freemium model where that the payment comes from a small number of premium users – that funds the free side.

As – rather depressingly – is common in these kinds of discussions, the general feeling was that open access is all about compliance and is too expensive. While I am on the record as saying that the way the UK is approaching open access is not financially sustainable, I do tire of the ‘open access is code for compliance’ conversation. This is one of the unexpected consequences of the current UK open access policy landscape. I was forced to yet again remind the group that open access is not about compliance, it is about providing public access to publicly funded research so people who are not in well resourced institutions can also see this research.

Research in Institutions

Graham Stone, the Information Resources Manager, University of Huddersfield talked about work he has done on the life cycle of open access for publishers, researchers and libraries. His slides are available.

Graham discussed how to get open access to work to our advantage, saying we need to get it embedded. OAWAL is trying to get librarians who have had nothing to do with OA into OA.

Graham talked the group through the UK Open Access Life Cycle which maps the research lifecycle for librarians and repository managers, research managers, fo authors (who think magic happens) and publishers.

My talk was titled ‘Getting an Octopus into a String Bag’. This discussed the complexity of communicating with the research community across a higher education institution. The slides are available.

The talk discussed the complex policy landscape, the tribal nature of the academic community, the complexity of the structure in Cambridge and then looked at some of the ways we are trying to reach out to our community.

While there was nothing really new from my perspective – it is well known in research management circles that communicating with the research community – as an independent and autonomous group – is challenging. This is of course further complicated by the structure of Cambridge. But in preliminary discussions about the conference, Mark Carden, the conference organiser, assured me that this would be news to the large number of publishers and others who are not in a higher education institution in the audience.

Summary: What does everybody want?

Mark Carden summarised the conference by talking about the different things different stakeholder in the publishing game want.

Researchers/Authors – mostly they want to be left alone to get on with their research. They want to get promoted and get tenure. They don’t want to follow rules.

Readers – want content to be free or cheap (or really expensive as long as something else is paying). Authors (who are readers) do care about the journals being cancelled if it is one they are published in. They want a nice clear easy interface because they are accessing research on different publisher’s webpages. They don’t think about ‘you get what you pay for.’

Institutions – don’t want to be in trouble with the regulators, want to look good in league tables, don’t want to get into arguments with faculty, don’t want to spend any money on this stuff.

Libraries – Hark back to the good old days. They wanted manageable journal subscriptions, wanted free stuff, expensive subscriptions that justified ERM. Now libraries are reaching out for new roles and asking should we be publishers, or taking over the Office of Research, or a repository or managing APCs?

Politicians – want free public access to publicly funded research. They love free stuff to give away (especially other people’s free stuff).

Funders – want to be confusing, want to be bossy or directive. They want to mandate the output medium and mandate copyright rules. They want possibly to become publishers. Mark noted there are some state controlled issues here.

Publishers – “want to give huge piles of cash to their shareholders and want to be evil” (a joke). Want to keep their business model – there is a conservatism in there. They like to be able to pay their staff. Publishers would like to realise their brand value, attract paying subscribers, and go on doing most of the things they do. They want to avoid Freemium. Publishers could be a platform or a mega journal. They should focus on articles and forget about issues and embrace continuous publishing. They need to manage versioning.

Reviewers – apparently want to do less copy editing, but this is a lot of what they do. Reviewers are conflicted. They want openness and anonymity, slick processes and flexibility, fast turnaround and lax timetables. Mark noted that while reviewers want credit or points or money or something, you would need to pay peer reviewers a lot for it to be worthwhile.

Conference organisers – want the debate to continue. They need publishers and suppliers to stay in business.

Published 18 February 2016
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
Creative Commons License

Libraries of the future – insights from a talk by Lorcan Dempsey

There is no argument even from traditionalists that the library role is changing. But there is a great deal of confusion and sometimes fear about what that means, and what the future might look like.

On 3 June, Lorcan Demsey*  came to speak to staff at Cambridge University Library about how the role and purpose of libraries are changing. The slides from his talk are available on Slideshare.

The one sentence headline from the talk was that research libraries are moving from licensing published content to managing workflow and research outputs – which means the print collection needs to be managed down to free up resources for the new roles. The subhead is – if we don’t do this, the publishers are waiting in the wings to take over.

Modern libraries in research environments

The Library role is distilling from owned materials to facilitating access to many things. Changing focus to ‘discovery’ in the collection means there must be a loss of some of the items.

Lorcan noted that his sense is that there is still a low uptake of this concept. As someone who has been working in scholarly communications for over a decade. I agree.

The collection as a means to an end rather than an end it itself – in some ways this is obvious but in others it is a huge psychological shift. 

  • In a print world, researchers and learners organised their workflow around the library. The library had a limited interaction with the full process.
  • In a digital world the Library needs to organise itself around the workflows of research and learners. Workflows generate and consume information resources.

In libraries there is a separation of the discovery and the collection – library users are on the global level. The library will make some available and own some of those.

Change of focus

The research endeavour has moved from a focus on outcomes to begin to think about a range of activities around the process and the aftermath.

The traditional role of a library – outside of special collections and manuscripts – deals with outcomes like the books and journals. In this model students and researchers interact with the books and journals and then turn it into classically published works that come back into the library.

But we live now in an online world and the Library is interacting with the content in many different ways. There is interest in the process of research –methods, evidence and research data. There is also interest in the discussion around research through pre-prints, working papers and a variety of prepublication activity. This involves revision, derivative works and reuse. Copyright is important in these cases to let people know how things will be used.

This means that ‘collections’ from a library perspective now include the process, methods, discussions and outputs as well as books and journals.

From curation to creation

Mediated access to licensed material is becoming more streamlined, and other items becoming more available. Libraries are supporting creation, not just consumption.

Libraries need to be seen as a source for collaboration. There needs to be a partnership between the Library and the Faculty. The library is a partner in terms of the creation activity. The mediating role will continue.

Managing this transition is often done opportunistically – when people retire they are replaced with new skill sets.

The repository was seen by the Libraries initially as something in relation to artefacts but now it is seen as part of the workflow of the research lifecycle. There is less attention on what is coming in and more focus on sharing material back out.

Show me the money

There is a question around how much of this activity will be supported by the institution? And how is the resource shifting occurring in the libraries?

Lorcan said that while libraries talk about a growing interest in special collections and archives, there is no evidence from a budget perspective that this is being supported.

Publishers are trying to muscle in

Managing online identities

There is considerable interest amongst researchers in having a carefully tended online presence. This is time consuming, and would appear to be important to the researchers. This process is becoming intimately tied to publication – it is where people are announcing their publication.

Lorcan mentioned a study in Nature which was a survey of 3,000 scientists and engineers. They found 6% used Google Scholar, but more than half were using ResearchGate more regularly than LinkedIn. Not surprisingly this behaviour can be broken down by discipline. The social sciences tend to use Google Scholar, and academic.edu has low use by engineering and sciences. There are many solutions to the workflow to help researchers. Many of these will go away, but some are quite heavily used.

Thinking historically, a catalogue covers the material a library owns. The library has a discovery layer and a license. However this activity will have to shift to support creation. We have repositories, Google Scholar, ResearchGate etc. The incentive to use the repository is very low compared with these services.

A gap in the market?

Workflow is the new content – managing identity is where a lot of the focus is. Publishers are trying to position themselves as the service provider in this space.

Many libraries do not see their role as managing evolving scholarly records – the research and learning material. The curation of identity for researcher profiles is a big interest. This is often currently managed by research offices.

However this is a space into which publishers are moving. Several big publishers are now trying to be part of the full cycle for researchers.

For example Elsevier has two products – Pure is a content management system for research reporting and Mendeley is an academic social network. It is no coincidence that the word ‘solution’ is in the url thread. Similarly, Macmillian (publishers of Nature) recently bought Digital Science the company that created the equivalent products Symplectic and figshare. Digital Science was not included in the Macmillan Springer merger, possibly because they still need substantial investment. Lorcan noted that people see them as ‘plucky start-ups’ but they are owned by big publishers. There has been a big take-up of these services.

Lorcan showed a quote from Annette Thomas, CEO of Macmillian Publishers about ‘A publisher’s new job description’.

Her view is that publishers are here to make the scientific research process more effective by helping them keep up to date, find colleagues, plan experiments, and then share their results. After they have published, the process continues with gaining a reputation, obtaining funds, finding collaborators, and even finding a new job. What can we as publishers do to address some of the scientists’ pain points? 

As Lorcan observed – you can take out the word ‘publisher’ and replace with the word ‘library’.

Managing down collections

Libraries are increasingly wanting to organise their space around the student experience not around collections. Lorcan used a grid to illustrate the changing focus. The two distinctions were:

  • Whether items are in many collections or are rare or unique.
  • Whether items require stewardship. Items that are high stewardship items are looked after and resources are spent on them. Items that are low stewardship don’t get looked after in Libraries.

At one extreme is licensed materials which are high stewardship/many collections. The opposite corner is research materials which are only available in a few collections and are low stewardship.

Lorcan said he thinks in the future there will be a focus on distinctive collections. There needs to be a lot more money to do this. So licensed purchased material will be more streamlined. Management attention 15 years ago was on highly managed, licensed items, but now the focus has shifted to items of low stewardship.

Inside out library

Market materials: licensed/purchased stuff. Library as broker and telling users that these things are available in a special way.

Distinctive collections: Library is provider and want to maximise discoverability. Want other people to know about faculty expertise, and research data. Putting into own discovery layer doesn’t help there. Think about metadata and which aggregators are important. Been slow to realise that discoverability is vital.

These have very different dynamics. We want to share material held within the library with the rest of the world. The licensed stuff is external and libraries bring it in to share internally. This is inside out.

Traditionally libraries deal with published, purchased material (including special collections). However there is a shift away from acquisitions to demand. This means that libraries need to redirect their resources towards research support. One way of doing this is to manage down the print collection.

There was an explosion of publishing after the Second World War. In the same way that baby boomers are all retiring at the same time, we are now faced with the challenge of managing these collections down.

Challenges for identity

The managing down of print collections coincides with the push to repurpose space in libraries. There are many discussions with architects – managing down print means there must be refurbishment.

One of the issues emerging for libraries is: Without the books, does the campus see this as the Library? Is the space needed for the Library – could they be replaced by learning commons or the student union?

We can see the identity discussion about libraries emerging now. If we are managing down collections, what is the space for? What are the new services we offer? Lorcan mentioned media stories where librarians are being attacked by historians who see this as managerial, technocratic activity.

Lorcan described some of the shared collection activities happening in the USA.

Conclusion

We used to think of the Library as a collection. Now we need to think of the Library in terms of the user and their workflows.

We must move to more facilitated access to items, also move to the management and disclosure of curated materials. The print and digital scholarly record needs curation and co-ordination at a conscious national level.

The job is about restructuring the means but we need to make decisions about moving resources or bets on the future. Libraries must shift from an organisation where the end was known to one where we must take some risk.

Published 6 June 2015
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
Creative Commons License

* Lorcan coordinates strategic planning and oversees Research, Membership and Community Relations at OCLC. He has worked for library and educational organizations in Ireland, the UK and the US. His influence on national policy and library directions is widely recognized. He is on Twitter – @LorcanID