Tag Archives: Open Acccess

We are going OPEN – the Open Research experiment has begun!

There has been much discussion recently about the reproducibility crisis and about the growing distrust among the public in the quality of research. As illustrated in our ‘Case for Open Research’ series of blog posts, one of the main reasons for this is that researchers are currently rewarded for the number of papers they publish in high impact factor journals, and not necessarily for the quality of work that they are doing.

Indeed, Cambridge researchers clearly indicated that the lack of incentives to do anything other than publishing in these types of journals is one of the main blockers discouraging them from adopting a more open research practice.

Joining forces with the Wellcome Trust

The Office of Scholarly Communication started talking about these problem with the Open Research team at the Wellcome Trust. The Wellcome Trust are natural allies, as they have consistently led their researchers towards greater openness. They were one of the first funding bodies to introduce policies on Open Access and on data management and sharing. Now the Wellcome Trust is moving towards proactively supporting Open Research beyond enforcing their compliance requirements.

To promote immediate and transparent research sharing, they have recently launched the Wellcome Open Research platform which allows researchers to submit articles about virtually any research output and get published within a couple of days. The Wellcome Trust is now considering making Open Research one of their strategic priorities.

We quickly realised that we have a lot of shared interests, and joining forces to tackle the problem together made a lot of sense. We came up with the idea to launch the Open Research Pilot Project.

The Open Research Pilot – understanding the barriers to “openness”

We conceived the project as a two year experiment, which would allow us to gain an understanding of what is needed for researchers to share and get credit for all outputs of the research process. These include non-positive results, protocols, source code, presentations and other research outputs beyond the remit of traditional publications.

The Project aims to understand the barriers preventing researchers from sharing (including resource and time implications), as well as what the incentives are. The Project aims to utilise the new Wellcome Open Research publishing platform, together with other channels, to share these outputs.

The invitation to take part in the Pilot was sent to all researchers at Cambridge funded by the Wellcome Trust. Participating researchers had to commit to sharing of research outputs beyond traditional publications and to engage with the Project, by participating in Project meetings and contributing to Project publications.

Is ‘doing the right thing’ enough incentive?

Our biggest question was whether anyone would be willing to participate in the Pilot. We did not offer any incentive other than encouraging researchers to contribute to the greater good. The only support available to those who wanted to take part in the project was that offered by the Wellcome Trust and Cambridge Open Research team members, but there was no financial aid available to prospective participants. We thought that regardless of the outcome, that inviting researchers would be a good exercise to go through – we thought that if no one applied, we would have learnt that doing ‘the right thing’ was not a good enough motivator.

Thankfully, we received several fantastic applications from individual researchers and research groups who demonstrated great interest in and motivation for Open Research. We initially planned to work with two research groups, but given the quality of applications received and passion for Open Research expressed by the applicants, we decided to extend the scope of the project to four research groups. We have selected researchers doing different types of research, with the aim of learning about distinct problems in sharing that are experienced in diverse research disciplines:

  •       Dr Laurent Gatto –is  doing computational biology research, with a special focus on proteomics data. His interest is: How to effectively share research data and the code needed to reproduce them?
  •       Dr David Savage – is researching molecular pathogenesis of the consequences of obesity. His question is: What are the problems with sharing data coming from human participants?
  •       Dr Benjamin Steventon – is a developmental biologist generating and analysing large-scale imaging datasets. He would like to know: Are there image repositories allowing one to share large image datasets in a re-usable way?
  •       Dr Marta Costa and Dr Greg Jefferis (and others) – researchers leading the work on two collaborative projects: Connectomics and Virtual Fly Brain, which will create interactive tools to interrogate Drosophila neural network connections. They would like to understand: What are the issues with sharing complex interactive datasets? How to ensure long-term preservation of complex digital objects?


So what motivated these researchers to apply for the project? We asked this question at the application stage and were positively surprised by the altruistic answers that we received. Our researchers were largely driven by a desire to improve the research process. We have seen responses like:

  • “Openness in research, from data and software to publication, is a central pillar of good research.”
  • “I am very concerned (disappointed as a scientist) by the current wave of ‘unreproducible’ and/or ‘irrelevant’ research, and am very passionate about contributing to improving scientific endeavour in this regard.”
  • I am very enthusiastic about exploiting new ways of sharing my research output beyond the established peer-review journal system.”
  • “I believe that sharing research outputs fully, including data and code are essential to accelerate research, and I have benefitted from it in my own research.”

Summarising, researchers expressed a great desire for contributing to a cultural change. Researchers wanted to change the way in which research was disseminated and to increase research transparency and reproducibility.

Let’s get to work

We all met (the researchers, Wellcome Trust and Cambridge Open Research teams) on Friday 27 January to officially start the two year project. Each research group was appointed a facilitator – a dedicated member of the Cambridge Open Research team to support researchers during the Project. Research groups will meet with their facilitators on a monthly basis in order to discuss shareable research outputs and to decide on best ways to disseminate these outputs. Every six months all project members will meet together to discuss the barriers to sharing discovered and to assess the progress of the Project.

One of the main goals of the Project is to learn what the barriers and incentives are for Open Research and to share these findings with others interested in the subject to inform policy development. Therefore, we will be regularly publishing blog posts on the Unlocking Research blog and on the Wellcome Open Research blog with case studies describing what we have discovered while working together. There will be an update from each research group every six months. We will also be publicly sharing all main outputs of the Project.

We are all extremely excited about going “Open” and we suggest that anyone interested in the Open Research practice watches this space.

Published 08 February 2017
Written by Dr Marta Teperek
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Changing roles and changing needs for academic librarians

The Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC) has joined the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (C-EBLIP) Research Network, and as part of this commitment has prepared the following blog which is a literature review of papers published addressing the changing training needs for academic librarians. This work feeds into research currently being carried out by the OSC into the educational background of those working in scholarly communication. The piece concludes with a discussion of this research and potential next steps.

Changing roles

There is no doubt that libraries are experiencing another dramatic change as a result of developments in digital technologies. Twenty years ago in their paper addressing the education of library and information science professionals, Van House and Sutton note that “libraries are only one part of the information industry and for many segments of the society they are not the most important part”.

There is an argument that “as user habits take a digital turn, the library as place and public services in the form of reference, collection development and organisation of library resources for use, all have diminishing value to researchers”. Librarians need to adapt and move beyond these roles to one where they play a greater part in the research process.

To this end scholarly communication is becoming an increasingly established area in many academic libraries. New roles are being created and advertised in order to better support researchers as they face increasing pressure to share their work. Indeed a 2012 analysis into new activities and changing roles for health science librarians identified ‘Scholarly communications librarians’ as a new role for health sciences librarians based on job announcements whilst in their 2015 paper on scholarly communication coaching Todd, Brantley and Duffin argue that: “To successfully address the current needs of a forward-thinking faculty, the academic library needs to place scholarly communication competencies in the toolkit of every librarian who has a role interacting with subject faculty.”

Which skill sets are needed?

Much of the literature is in agreement about the specific skill set librarians need to work in scholarly communication. “Reskilling for Research”identified nine areas of skill which would have increasing importance including knowledge about data management and curation. Familiarity with data is an area mentioned repeatedly and acknowledged as something librarians will be familiar with. Mary Anne Kennan describes the concept as “the librarian with more” – traditional library skills with added knowledge of working with and manipulating data.

Many studies reported that generic skills were just as much, if not more so, in demand than discipline specific skills. A thorough knowledge of advocacy and outreach techniques is needed to spread the scholarly communication message to both library staff and researchers. Raju highlighted presentation skills for similar reasons in his 2014 paper.

The report “University Publishing in a Digital Age” further identified a need for library staff to better understand the publishing process and this is something that we have argued at the OSC in the past.

There is also a need to be cautious when demanding new skills. Bresnahan and Johnson (article pay-walled) caution against trying to become the mythical “unicorn librarian” – an individual who possesses every skill an employer could ever wish for. This is not realistic and is ultimately doomed to fail.

In their 2013 paper Jaguszewski and Williams instead advocate a team approach with members drawn from different backgrounds and able to bring a range of different skills to their roles. This was also the argument put forward by Dr Sarah Pittaway at the recent UKSG Forum where her paper addressed the issue of current library qualifications and their narrow focus

Training deficit

Existing library roles are being adapted to include explicit mention of areas such as Open Access whilst other roles are being created from scratch. This work provides a good fit for library staff but it can be challenging to develop the skills needed. As far back as 2008 it was noted that the curricula of most library schools only covered the basics of digital library management and little seems to have changed since with Van House and Sutton identifying barriers to “the ability of LIS educational programs to respond” to changing needs such as the need to produce well-rounded professionals.

Most people working in this area learn their skills on the job, often from more experienced colleagues. Kennan’s study notes that formal education could help to fill the knowledge gap whilst others look to more hands-on training as this helps to embed knowledge.

The question then becomes should the profession as a whole be doing more to prepare their new recruits for the career path of the 21st century academic librarian? This is something we have been asking ourselves in Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC) at Cambridge. Since the OSC was established at the start of 2015 it has made a concerted effort to educate staff at the one hundred plus libraries in Cambridge through both formal training programmes and targeted advocacy. However we are aware that there is still more to be done. We have begun by distributing a survey to investigate the educational background of those who work in scholarly communications. The survey was popular with over five hundred responses and many offers of follow up interviews which means that we have found an area of interest amongst the profession. We will be analysing the results of the survey in the New Year with a view to sharing them more widely and further participating in the scholarly communication process ourselves.


Wherever the skills gaps are there is no doubt that the training needs of academic librarians are changing. The OSC survey will provide insight into whether these needs are currently being met and give evidence for future developments but there is still work to be done. Hopefully this project will be the start of changes to the way academic library staff are trained which will benefit the future of the profession as a whole.

Published 29 November 2016
Written by Claire Sewell and Dr Danny Kingsley

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Could the HEFCE policy be a Trojan Horse for gold OA?

The HEFCE Policy for open access in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework kicks in 9 weeks from now.

The policy states that, to be eligible for submission to the post-2014 REF, authors’ final peer-reviewed manuscripts of journal articles and conference proceedings with an ISSN must have been deposited in an institutional or subject repository on acceptance for publication. Deposited material should be discoverable, and free to read and download, for anyone with an internet connection.

The goal of the policy is to ensure that publicly funded (by HEFCE) research is publicly available. The means HEFCE have chosen to favour is the green route – by putting the AAM into a repository. This does not involve any payment to the publishers. The timing of the policy – at acceptance – is to give us the best chance of obtaining the author’s accepted manuscript (AAM) before it is deleted, forgotten or lost by the author.

Universities across the UK have been preparing. Cambridge has had the ‘Accepted for publication? Send us your manuscript‘ campaign running since May 2014 with a very simple and well liked interface allowing researchers to submit their work. The Open Access team then deposits the item, checks for funding and the publisher policies and then organises payment for open access publication if required.

To give an idea of the numbers we are dealing with at Cambridge, during 2015 the Open Access team deposited 2553 articles into our repository Apollo.

Compliance levels

We have been reporting to Wellcome Trust and the RCUK over the past few years to indicate compliance levels with their policies. However the ‘compliance level’ for the HEFCE policy is a slippery concept. For a start, the policy has not yet come into force. Another complicating factor is the long term nature of the ‘reporting’. We will not truly know how compliant we have been until the time comes to submit to REF – whenever that will be (currently it seems 2021).

At Cambridge have been working on the assumption that because we do not know which outputs will be the ones that we will claim we should collect all eligible articles. However, the number of deposited articles Open Access team received over the past year represents approximately 30% of the full eligible output of the University. This might seem concerning in some ways, but it must be remembered that each researcher in the University will only be reporting four research outputs for the REF.

There are some articles that are obvious contenders for REF. By concentrating on researchers who are publishing in very high impact journals we have been trying to catch those articles we are extremely likely to claim.

During the course of 2015 we discovered 93 papers published in Nature, Science, Cell, The Lancet and PNAS. 33% of these papers were already HEFCE compliant. Of the remaining non-compliant papers we contacted 47 authors, made them aware of the HEFCE open access policy, and invited them to submit their accepted manuscript to the Open Access Service. Less than 40% of those authors who were contacted responded with their accepted manuscript. Therefore, even after direct intervention only 49% papers were HEFCE compliant, which means that still more than half of all eligible papers published in Nature, Science, Cell, The Lancet and PNAS during this period would not have been HEFCE compliant had the policy been in place.

The lack of engagement by members of the academic community with this process is a serious concern – and potentially due to four reasons:

  • Lack of awareness of the policy
  • Putting it off until the policy is in place
  • Deliberately choosing not to submit a work because it is not considered important enough or they do not consider their contribution to be significant enough
  • Some form of conscientious objection to the policy

We should note that the third reason is a matter of some concern to the University as it is not the researcher who decides which articles are put forward for REF. In addition, the University is interested in having a high overall level of compliance for REF as it considers making the research output of the institution available to be important.

Temporary reprieve

Cambridge is no island when it comes to facing significant challenges in capturing all outputs in preparation for HEFCE’s policy. While the highly devolved nature of the institution and the sheer volume of publications may be a problem unique to Cambridge and Oxford, other institutions are still developing the technology they intend to use or are facing staffing issues.

In a concession to serious concern across the sector about the ability to meet the deadline, on 24 July 2015 HEFCE announced that there was a temporary modification to the policy. They now allow research outputs to be made open access up to three months after publication until at least April 2017 (and until such time that the systems to support deposit at acceptance are in place).

This means for the first year of the policy we have a small window after publication to locate articles, determine if they are in our repositories, and if not chase the authors for the Author’s Accepted Manuscript.

The trick is knowing that an article has been published. At Cambridge our ‘best bet’ is to use Symplectic which scrapes various aggregating sources such as Scopus. However Symplectic is hindered by the efficiency of its sources. There is no guarantee that a given article will appear in Symplectic within three months of publication. And even if it is, we have already discussed the low engagement by the research community to approaches from the Open Access team for AAMs.

Subject based repositories

So far this blog has been talking about using institutional repositories for compliance. But the policy specifically states: “The output must have been deposited in an institutional repository, a repository service shared between multiple institutions, or a subject repository“.

The oldest, most established subject repository is arXiv.org and it makes sense for us to consider using arXiv as part of Cambridge’s compliance strategy. After all, some areas of high energy physics, most of computer science and much of mathematics use arXiv as a means to share their research papers. In 2014, the number of articles that were deposited into arXiv.org and subsequently picked up in Symplectic and approved by researchers were 582 – approximately 6.5% of Cambridge’s total eligible articles.

If we are able to claim these articles for HEFCE compliance without any behaviour change requirement from our academic staff then this is an ideal situation. But how do we actually do this? There is a footnote to the HEFCE statement above which says that: “Individuals depositing their outputs in a subject repository are advised to ensure that their chosen repository meets the requirements set out in this policy.” And this is the crunch point. arXiv does not currently identify which version of the work has been deposited, nor does it record the acceptance date of the work. Because of this we are currently not able to simply use the work being uploaded to arXiv.

There is work underway to look at this possibility and what would be required to allow us to use the subject based repositories as a means for compliance. HEFCE themselves have identified under ‘Further areas of work‘ that  “measures to support compliance in subject repositories” is an area of uncertainty and they will work with the community to address this.

Alternative approach?

It is possibly a good moment to take a step back from the minutiae of the means and the timing of the HEFCE policy and focus on the goal that publicly funded research is publicly available. We are in a complex policy environment. HEFCE affects all researchers but many researchers are also funded through COAF or the RCUK with their respective (gold leaning) Open Access policies.

Of the HEFCE eligible articles submitted to to Open Access team in 2015, after working through all the different funder requirements, there was a split of 44% gold Open Access and 56% green Open Access. Of the gold payments the split is approximately 74% for hybrid journals and 26% for fully open access journals.  That said, the three journals with which we have published the most – PLOS ONE, Nature Communications and Scientific Reports – are fully Open Access journals with APCs of $1495, $5200 and $1495 respectively.

A highly relevant question is – outside of the efforts by our Open Access compliance teams, how much Cambridge research is being made open access anyway?

Open access articles

The Web of Science (WoS) allows a filter on ‘Open Access’. It does not appear to list articles that are made open access on a hybrid basis, only picking up fully open access journals. While these are not definitive numbers, it does give us some idea of the scale we are looking at. In 2014 WoS gives us a figure of 981 articles published as open access by a University of Cambridge author in a fully open access journal.

The Springer Compact to which many institutions (including Cambridge) have signed up means that now all articles published by that research community will be made open access. In 2014, the Open Access Service had paid for 21 articles to be made open access. In the same period across the institution we had published 695 articles with Springer. (Note that in 2015 we paid 51 Springer  APCs). This means that for the cost of the Springer subscription and our APC payments for the previous year we will have a good proportion of Cambridge articles published as open access articles.

These two sets of numbers only allow for articles published either in fully open access journals or with Springer. It does not account for the articles where the University (or a Department or individual) pays an APC to make an article available in a hybrid (non Springer) journal. The upshot is – a significant proportion of Cambridge research is published open access.

Skip the AAM on acceptance part?

So what does this published open access research mean for compliance with the HEFCE policy? The updated HEFCE policy has addressed this:

“… we have decided to introduce an exception to the deposit requirements for outputs published via the gold route. This may be used in cases where depositing the output on acceptance is not felt to deliver significant additional benefit. We would strongly encourage these outputs to be deposited as soon as possible after publication, ideally via automated arrangements, but this will not be a requirement of the policy.”

This makes sense from an administrative perspective if the article appears in a journal where there is an embargo period on making the AAM available, forcing the University to pay an APC to make the work Open Access to meet RCUK requirements. It would avoid the palaver of:

  • obtaining the AAM from the author
  • depositing it into the repository
  • having to check to see when the article has been published
  • updating the details and
  • either set the embargo on the AAM or change the attachment in the record to the Open Access final published version

However journals where there is an embargo period on making the AAM available forcing an APC payment is in fact almost a definition of hybrid journals. We know there are issues with hybrid – of the extra expense, of double dipping, of the higher APC charges for hybrid over fully Open Access journals. Putting these aside, what this HEFCE policy change means is that publishers have effectively shifted the HEFCE policy away from a green open access policy to a gold one for a significant proportion of UK research. This is a deliberate tactic, along with the unsubstantiated campaign that green Open Access poses a major threat to scholarly publishing and therefore embargoes should be even longer.

We are already facing the problem that hybrid journals are forcing the move towards green open access being ‘code’ for a 12 month delay. This is the beginning of a very slippery slope. We have been outplayed. It really is time for the RCUK and Wellcome Trust to stop paying for hybrid Open Access.

But I digress.

The cons

The message is confusing enough – three sets of policies and three different requirements in terms of the timing and the means to make work compliant and available. We are trying to make it as simple as possible for researchers – with limited success.

The move to widespread Open Access in the UK is a huge shift for the research community and those that support them. It would be very difficult to debate the ‘against’ argument for the statement that publicly funded research should be publicly available but the devil is very much in the detail.

It would be an incredible shame if the HEFCE policy is hijacked into a partial gold OA policy, but as administrators we are drowning in compliance. There needs to be a broad discussion across the funders to try and address the conflicting compliance requirements and the potentially negative effect these policies are having on the future of open scholarly publishing. 

We welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues with HEFCE, Wellcome Trust and the RCUK. There’s plenty to talk about.

Published 25 January 2016
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
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