Tag Archives: Open Research

“Become part of the research process” – observations from RLUK2017

When is a librarian not a librarian? Rather than a bad joke, this was one of the underlying interesting discussions arising from the 2017 RLUK conference held earlier in March. The conference Twitter hashtag was #rluk17 and the videos are now available. The answer, it appears is when we start talking about partnerships with, rather than support of, our research community.

As always with my write-ups of conferences, these are simply the parts that have resonated with me, and the impression I walked away with. This write up will be very different from anyone else’s from the conference, such as this blog from Lesley Pitman, and the RLUK conference report.

I have also written a sister blog describing the workshop I co-presented on the topic of Text and Data Mining.

Libraries’ role in research

The role of libraries and the people who work in them was the theme of one session – with arguments that libraries should be central to the research process.

Masud Khokhar, the Head of Digital Innovation and Research Services at Lancaster University, gave a talk on the Role of research libraries in a technological future. He said we need to get out of the culture of researchers only coming to the library with research outputs/outcomes. Language matters, he said. Lancaster University has made a deliberate decision not to use the word ‘support’, because “we have bigger aims than that”. Partnership is the future for libraries rather than just collaboration. We need to be creative co-developers working with the research community if we are to be a research library.

We need to generate a culture of experimentation: “Be creative, experiment fast, succeed or fail fast and learn from both”. It is a good challenge for us librarians to be more creative and less passive. We should embed library in research questions and processes.

The issue of how we present information to our clients came up, with Khokhar saying consistency when searching should no longer be important – we should depend on the context of the searcher. “Content might be king, but context is the kingdom”, he said.

He also showed evidence of how data visualisation can lead to greater downloads of data, and it may be even more important to data use than good metadata. Indeed, Lancaster University Library has allowed 10TB of server space for analytics of library data alone, because this is a growing and important area to drive decision making.

This perspective was also put forward by Patrick McCann from the University of St Andrews Library. He talked about the new role of Research Software Engineers, which is a role which works with the research community to develop research solutions and research outputs. St Andrews has a senior librarian for digital humanities and research computing. He noted: “we are part of the research process”.

A comment was made during the conference that many speakers had identified themselves as ‘not a librarian’. There was a call for us to open the idea of what a librarian is. Masud Khokhar suggested he would consider himself to be an ‘honorary’ librarian.

But the ‘librarian or not’ debate is an interesting question. William Nixon from the University of Glasgow noted that their Research Data Management team are not librarians, saying “it is a skill set in itself. Kokhar argued that we need to develop digital leaders for libraries. Are these people already in libraries who we train up, or are they people with these skill sets we bring in and introduce to library culture?

Libraries’ role in the Open Science agenda

Libraries are the central pivot point for the move to open research across the world, was the message from presentations about activities in Europe and Canada. This fits with the narrative that libraries should be driving the agenda rather than reacting to it.

Susan Reilly, the outgoing Executive Director of LIBER talked about re-imagining the library space in the context of open science as she presented the LIBER 2020 vision.

Open Science (a term used in Europe for ‘open research’) is on the European agenda, every single member state has signed up to develop the necessary skills, development of the open science cloud. There has been an 80 million Euro investment in this. Given LIBER is a group of libraries with a common mission to enable world-class research, the question is whether LIBER should make the whole strategy about open science?

Reilly noted that libraries have been ‘bold’ on open science for years and held back by faculty and publishers. She argued we must be resilient on this agenda. Libraries need to be taking a leadership role in all research. “Libraries need to get into the researchers’ lifecycle”, she argued. They should provide tools throughout the research lifecycle to ensure ‘open science’. To achieve this, we need digital skills, which underpin a more open and transparent research lifecycle.

The end goal, said Reilly, is world-class research, but open science facilitates that through facilitating collaboration and ensuring the sustainability of research. The 2020 vision is: “Libraries powering sustainable knowledge in the digital age”.

The proposal is that by 2022, open access will be the predominant form of publishing and research data is Findable Accessible Interoperable Reusable (F.A.I.R). Reilly noted that it is research data management “where we get the most pushback” – an experience reflected in many other institutions.

Libraries can provide platforms of innovative scholarly communications. They can facilitate open access to research publications, with services ranging from payment for APCs and becoming a publisher. Libraries also offer research data management, innovative metrics and innovative peer review.

This is an opportunity for libraries to disrupt scholarly communications system. In order for us to achieve this goal, we need research skills that underpin a more open and transparent research lifecycle – and so we need to equip researchers to do this.

Reilly noted that when LIBER went out to stakeholders – “they bought into the vision”. To achieve these goals, Reilly said it is important for libraries to have a strong relationship with institutional leadership. There needs to be transparency around the cost of publications.

We need to work on diversifying librarian’s skills and research skills. This is a matter of ‘compete or fail’ or Elsevier could take over what libraries do. We need to get into the research workflow.

LIBER’s outcomes from their consultation with stakeholders were:

  • Importance of libraries having a string relationship with institutional leadership
  • Transparency around the cost of publications
  • Working on diversifying librarians’ skills AND researchers skills
  • Be clear about what the role of libraries is/should be
  • Compete or fail
  • Get into the research workflow
  • Opportunity for libraries to disrupt scholarly communications system

It was interesting (for me) to note how similar these are to the Strategic Goals of the Office of Scholarly Communication:

The Open Scholarship theme was continued in a presentation by representatives of RLUK’s sister organisation, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL). This is a leadership organisation thinking of ways to enhance members capacity and leadership in this environment. Martha Whitehead, the President of CARL and Susan Haigh, the Executive Director presented the Canadian Roadmap for advancing Scholarly Communication.

There are issues with open access, they noted. Repositories need to improve in two major areas – we need to improve their functionality, and support and encourage the development of value added services such as peer review and tools.

There have been challenges in discussions with publishers about maximising openness which have become ‘somewhat fraught’. Libraries are working with Canadian journals to develop, assess and adopt sustainable open access funding models. The idea is that the model will be non-profit (where the money goes back in).  While it is not clear if the discussions will coalesce around anything new and bold, there is value in bringing together the communities.

The Canadians presented an initiative related to Research Data Management (RDM) called Portage. This is designed to help with RDM in the country. It has a director, and because it is an organisation with a facility, the library voice is well respected around the table. Experts are contributing their expertise to this. There is also a Federated Research Data Repository – a joint software development project with Compute Canada, and the Scholars Portal Dataverse offers data deposit and sharing at no charge to researchers.

New challenges for libraries

Torsten Reimer spoke about the new focus of the British Library on ‘everything accessible’. He discussed the implications for libraries as we move towards a more open access future. We need to change focus, he argued, with new skills and areas, and we should be working together with the research community.

As more material is available openly then what is the role of a national library? Reimer asked. Perhaps libraries need to provide infrastructure, we should focus on preservation & adding value. Given the majority of academics use software in the context of their projects, should libraries be supporting, integrating and preserving it?

The ‘just in case’ model is no longer feasible for libraries. The British Library is looking at partnerships in content creation, research & infrastructure. Examples include plans to expose the EThOS API to allow for machine consumption of data about theses. They are also looking to replace the current “hand knitted” preservation system with more robust scalable shareable solution

Collaborate or die?

The opening keynote was by John MacColl, the University Librarian & Director of Library Services, at St Andrews University (and outgoing president of RLUK). MacColl spoke about the ‘research commons’.

He referred to the ‘tragedy of the commons’ which was an argument put forward in 2003 that individuals cancelling subscriptions for the Big Deal had meant an increase of 129% in cost to access literature. Publishers are creating ‘artificial scarcity’ to the literature which means they can charge as they please. This is a ransack of the commons.

It is not just cost, these Big Deals have meant that most collections are becoming the same and we are losing access to other resources. MacColl also noted the lost need for bibliographers. But his call was that research libraries face a challenge in re-appropriating the responsibility for the preservation of key scholarly objects held on publisher servers and other vendors worldwide.

So, argued McColl, we need to work collectively to ‘find means of getting around being held ransom by publishers’. We need a ‘post-collective Big Deal world’. This is Plan B, where we take back control, find post cancellation access, arrange document delivery and green open access.

But this is not something we can do individually. MacColl asked: “When we are doing things in our own institutions, who are we letting down by not thinking of the wider community?” We need some sort of formal governance to make that happen. The challenge is Higher Education is a very conservative world. People will not take a step unless convinced this is a sensible step to take.

We need to focus on the global – where libraries collaborate on shared bibliographic data and create a ‘collective collection’. Plan B needs to be national.

So much more

This blog has glossed over many very interesting presentations and talks. I do, however wish to mention the last session of the event which broadened the discussion outside of the library to the issue of ‘inclusion’ in the Higher Education sector. Libraries, as a neutral ‘safe’ place on campus, of course have a big role to play in this. As has been the case in every meeting I have attended since November last year, the double threats of Brexit and Trump have never been far from the discussion, and never more so than in the context of inclusion.

Darren Lund, a ‘middle aged white guy from Canada’ spoke very entertainingly about his work on diversity, making the point that if you have privilege you should use it to make positive change.

The final talk was a sobering walk through some research into the racial diversity of universities with plenty of data proving that universities are not as liberal as they are perceived to be by us. Statistics such as 92% of professors in the UK are white, and the fact there are only three Vice Chancellors from the black and minority ethnic community in the UK, supported Professor Kalwant Bhopal’s argument that we need to actively address the issue of inclusion.


This blog began with a fairly provocative statement – that people do not identify themselves as librarians when we start talking about partnerships with, rather than support of, our research community. This is an interesting question. Many librarians feel that their role is to support, not lead. Yet others argue that unless we do take a leading role we will become redundant.

So what is the solution? Do we widen the definition of a library? Do we widen the definition of a librarian? Or are we happy with the ‘honorary librarian’ solution? These are some of the questions that need further teasing out. One thing is sure, the landscape is changing rapidly and we need to change with it.

Published 30 March 2017
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
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Open Research Project, first thoughts

Dr Laurent Gatto is one of the participants in the Office of Scholarly Communication’s Open Research Pilot. He has recently blogged about his first impressions of the pilot. With his permission we have re-blogged it here.

I am proud to be one of the participants in the Wellcome Trust Open Research Project (and here). The call was initially opened in December 2016 and was pitched like this:

Are you in favour of more transparency in research? Are you concerned about research reproducibility? Would you like to get better recognition and credit for all outputs of your research process? Would you like to open up your research and make it more available to others?

If you responded ‘yes’ to any of these questions, we would like to invite you to participate in the Open Research Pilot Project, organised jointly by the Open Research team at the Wellcome Trust and theOffice of Scholarly Communication at the University of Cambridge.

This of course sounded like a great initiative for me and I promptly filed an application.

We had our kick-off meeting on the 27th January, with the aim of getting to know each other and somehow define/clarify some of the objectives of the project. This post summarises my take on it.

Here’s how I introduced myself.

Who are you?

Laurent Gatto, Senior Research Associate in the Department of Biochemistry, physically located in Systems Biology and the Maths Department. SSI fellow and Software/Data Carpentry instructor and generally involved in the Open community in Cambridge, such as OpenConCam and Data Champions initiative.

What is your research about and what kind of data does your research generate?

My area of research is computational biology, with special focus on high-throughput proteomics and integration of different data and annotations. I use raw data produced by third parties, in particular the Cambridge Centre for Proteomics (mass spectrometry data), and produce processed/annotated/interactive data and a lot of software (and also here).

What motivated you to participate in the Pilot?

Improve openness/transparency (and hence reproducibility/rigour) in my research and communication, and participate in improving openness (and hence reproducibility/rigour) more widely.

What kind of outputs are you planning to share? Do you foresee any difficulties in sharing?

My direct outputs are systematically shared openly early on: open source software (before publication), pre-prints, improved data (as data packages). Difficulties, if any, generally stem from collaborators less willing to share early and openly.

A personal take on the project

It is a long project, 2 years, and hence a rather ambitious one, of a unique kind. Hence, we will have to define its overall goals as we go. The continued involvement of the participants over time will play a major role in the project’s success.

What are attainable goals?

It is important to note that there is no funding for the participants. We are driven by a desire to be open, benefit from being open and the visibility that we can gain through the project, and the prospect that the Wellcome Trust will learn from our experience and, implement any lessons learnt. We get to interact with each other and with research support librarians, who will help us throughout the duration of the project. We also 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.

A lot of our initial discussions centred around rewards for open research or, actually, lack thereof and perceived associated risks. Indeed, the traditional academic rewarding system and the competitiveness in research leaves little room for reproducibility and openness. It is, I believe, all participants hope that this project will benefit us, in some form or another.

A critical point that is missing is the academic promotion of open research and open researcher, as a way to promote a more rigorous and sound research process and tackle the reproducibility crisis. What should the incentives be? How to make sure that the next generation of academics genuinely value openness and transparency as a foundation of rigorous research?

Some desired outputs

Ideally, I would like that the Wellcome Trust’s famous Research investigator awards to be de facto Open research investigator awards. There’s currently a split (opposition?) between doing research and supporting open science when doing research. In every grant I have written, I had to demonstrate that the team had a track record, or was in a good position to successfully pursue to proposed project. Well, how about demonstrating a track record in being good in opening and sharing science outputs? Every researcher submitting a grant should convincingly demonstrate that they are, have been and/or will be proactive open researcher and openly disseminate all the outputs. By leading by example in the frame of this Open Research Project, this is something that the Wellcome Trust could take away from.

Unfortunately, it is a fact that open science is not on the agenda of many (most?) more senior researchers and that they are neither in a position to be open nor that open science is a priority at all. I find it particularly disheartening that many senior academics (i.e. those that will sit on the panel deciding if I’m worth my next job) consider investing time in open science and the promotion of open science as time wasted of actually doing research. A bit like time for outreach and promotion of science to the wider public is sometimes looked down at, as not being the real stuff.

Another desire is that this project will enable us to influence funders, such as the Wellcome Trust, of course, but also more widely the research councils.

As a concrete example, I would like all grants that are accepted to be openly published beyond the daft layman summary. Published grants after acceptance should include data management plan, the pathway to impact, possibly more, and these could then be used to assess to what extend the project delivered as promised.

This serves at least two purposes. First, it is a way to promote transparency and accountability towards the funder, scientific community and public. Also, it is a great resource for early career researchers. Unless there is specific support in place, writing a first grant is not an easy job, especially given the multitude documents to prepare in addition to the scientific case for support. And even for more experienced researchers, it can’t harm to explore different approaches to grant writing.

Another concrete output is the requirement for a dedicated software management plan for each grant that involves any software development. I certainly consider my software to be equivalent to data and document it as such in my DMPs, but there seems to be a need for clarification.

I believe that I do a pretty decent job in conducting open science: pre-prints, open access, release data, … In the frame of this project, I shall do a better job at promoting open science for its own sake.

I also hope that by bringing some of my projects under the umbrella of the the Open Research Project, I will benefit from a broader dissemination that will, directly or indirectly, be beneficial for my career (see the importance of benefits and rewards above).

Next steps

It is important to make the most out of this unique opportunity. We need to create a momentum, define ambitious goals, and work hard to reach them. But I also think that it is important to get as much input as possible from the community. Nothing beats collective intelligence for such open-ended projects, in particular for open projects.

So please, do not hesitate to comment, discuss on twitter or elsewhere, or email me directly if you have ideas you would like to promote and or discuss.

Published 08 March 2017
Written by Dr Laurent Gatto
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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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