Category Archives: Discussion

Supporting student publishing: perspectives from the University of Manchester and beyond


The Manchester perspective, Part 1

For the past couple of years we’ve been giving some thought to the role of university libraries in publishing, in common with other libraries. However, the University of Manchester is home to Manchester University Press (MUP), one of the largest university presses in the UK, so we’ve had to think carefully about how to work collaboratively to make best use of our respective expertise and resources in order to meet the University’s strategic objectives. Our initial thinking and work started in 2014 as part of the Library’s strategic programme, with follow-on projects funded by the University’s Centre for Higher Education Research, Innovation and Learning (CHERIL).

When we started our thinking, we expected that the outcome would likely be some kind of publishing support service, using Open Journal Systems (OJS) for hosting. To develop a tangible offer, we had many discussions about which parts of the support service would naturally sit with the Press and which in the Library, and even more about funding and sustainability. To date, our collaboration has resulted in:

  • development of Manchester Open Library as an imprint of MUP,
  • launch of the James Baldwin Review,
  • development of a student journal for the Manchester Medical School, and
  • development of 3 online learning resources on ‘publishing’,

but not in the publishing support service we originally envisaged. Instead we most recently considered offering a model that we believed would be sustainable with a low level of support, a multi-disciplinary undergraduate journal managed by a postgraduate editorial team. However, when we ran this idea past senior staff from our Humanities faculty and with responsibility for postgraduate researchers (PGRs), there was little appetite for supporting any type of student journal, and since the Library and the Press aim to support the University in achieving its strategic goals we have parked this idea, for now. That said, we do still see value in students experiencing publishing either as authors or as part of an editorial team, which is why we decided to harness the expertise of our Press in the development of online learning modules which anyone on campus with an interest in publishing can access and learn from.

From what we hear about other institutions it seems that our experience is at odds with current trends in support for student publishing, ie, there appear to be many examples of libraries, academics and university presses launching student journals. We’ve been keen to understand if the challenges that have limited our service development are unique to Manchester and to learn more about how other institutions are providing support for student journals. So, as part of our latest CHERIL-funded project (Publishing Research and Learning for Students – PuRLS), we recently held a one day conference on student publishing. We wanted to bring together institutions with experience of student publishing or an interest in student publishing so that we could all learn from each other. The event, held on 16th January 2017, brought together a mixture of librarians, publishers, academic staff, administrative staff and students.

Libraries supporting student journals

Our contributors from the universities of Surrey, Warwick and Edinburgh, and Leeds Beckett University described their involvement with student journals. In all cases journals are run on OJS. At Edinburgh and Warwick, the libraries offer journal hosting services which publish both student and academic-level journals.

Although Edinburgh has a university press, the Library developed the hosting service independently. Angela Laurins, Library Learning Services Manager, explained that the service developed organically and is now well established, providing only set-up support for new journals; thereafter, journals are managed by their own editorial teams. Angela confirmed that this model works well, with minimal resource requirement. In fact, it works so well that she no longer requires a named academic champion for established journals if the previous champion moves on.

Warwick’s service is a more recent development, building on two journals already developed within academic departments and further interest from other areas for more new journals, together with available skills and resource within the Library to develop and manage journals, using OJS’s externally hosted option. Yvonne Budden, Head of Scholarly Communications, talked about two multi-disciplinary journals, Reinvention and Exchanges.

Reinvention, an international journal, is student-led and student-run, with academic support. The main resource requirement is in maintaining high quality. Academic staff carry out peer review and help students improve the standard of their work. Reinvention has received over 460 submissions and published approximately 130 articles. Submissions are split fairly evenly between disciplines and also come from a number of different countries. Yvonne explained the value that the library can bring to publishing is in part “things libraries are known for being good at”, eg, advising on open access, ISSNs, copyright, DOAJ registration, digital preservation, analytics.[presentation-slides-warwick-jan-2017]

Charlotte Barton, an Information Literacy Librarian, talked about her role in supporting the Surrey Undergraduate Research Journal (SURJ). The interdisciplinary journal is published by the Learning Development Team, which comprises librarians and learning advisors, and accepts work marked as 2.1 or higher, as well as reflective accounts, conference reviews and literature reviews. The editorial team is made up of academic staff and PGRs – PGRs stay in this role for a maximum of one year (two journal issues) and carry out peer review as well as other editorial tasks.

Charlotte explained that supporting prospective authors is time-intensive (1-1 support is provided by the SURJ team) but as submission rates are currently low (10 per issue) further work needs to be done on promoting the journal to academic colleagues. Future plans also include working with academic staff to develop training materials, eg, to improve writing skills. [presentation-slides-surrey-jan-2017]

Kirsty Bower, an Academic Librarian at Leeds Beckett University, described how the interest in setting up journals at her institution resulted from Open Access (OA) requirements for the next Research Excellence Framework (REF) and likely requirements of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). An existing Sociology UG journal, Critical Reflections, was moved onto OJS in 2016 following a discussion with the lead academic, who was keen to increase visibility after producing a number of print issues. The journal publishes pieces produced in third year module, in which students apply their sociological knowledge to real life situations, and students are involved in the editorial process. Kirsty reported that despite limited promotion downloads have surpassed expectations, although she acknowledged that it isn’t clear who the readers are. Although the Leeds Beckett team face similar challenges to other institutions (eg, limited staffing resource, limited funding for promotion), they are considering developing a multi-disciplinary journal.  [presentation-slides-leedsbeckett-jan-2017]

Presses supporting student publishing

Our speakers, from UCL Press and White Rose University Press (WRUP), are at very different stages of developing their services for students.

Publishing Manager Lara Speicher explained that at UCL Press student journals are hosted on OJS but run themselves, as long as they have support from their academic department.  Proposals for new journals are not considered without agreement of faculty support – this commitment is vital as UCL Press is too small to provide high levels of support to students. Lara highlighted that it can be difficult to explain the difference between a hosting service and a publishing service, and explained that one journal had expected more ‘hand holding’ from the Press. Providing support for students ties in with UCL’s Connected Curriculum which brings research into learning. UCL Press have recently appointed a new journals manager who has plans for further support, eg, creating a forum for journal teams to meet and share experiences and delivering workshops on the publishing process. [presentation-slides-uclpress-jan-2017]

Tom Grady, Acting Press Manager, told us that WRUP launched in 2016 with the aim of publishing academic journals and books, so when the first journal proposal received was for a student journal there were some concerns. These included whether publishing a student journal would undermine the Press’s aspiration to become a reputable academic publisher, how sustainable a student journal would be, and who would read a student journal. Having since overcome these concerns the Press has recently launched the Undergraduate Journal of Politics and International Relations, which has an academic lead and funding sources, represents a gap in the market, and gives students the opportunity to be published authors or to be part of the editorial team. [presentation-slides-wrup-jan-2017]

The Manchester perspective, Part 2

We invited a number of speakers connected with the University of Manchester to contribute to the event, to increase awareness of potential challenges or opportunities for institutions considering dissemination of student research as a means to enhance the student experience.

The key driver when we were considering supporting student journal came from the Manchester Medical School, and particularly from a group of students, including Josh Burke. Josh explained that one reason for wanting to set up a journal was that medical students get points for publishing work in journals that are indexed in PubMed that count in applications for their first post. The group believed that they could set up a journal themselves but sought support from academic staff, who put them in touch with us. We provided access to OJS and publishing expertise from MUP; the students developed a staged peer review system and brought a lot of energy to the initiative, which resulted in the launch of Manchester Medical Journal (MMJ) in late 2016. MMJ is student-led and student-run. Josh admitted that using OJS was a pain point, as the peer review system developed doesn’t work easily within the OJS workflows, and that the student group had been naïve about the complexity of setting up and running a journal, needing academic support, publishing guidance and financial support. With the backing of the Medical School and continued investment of the group of students who initially set up the journal, MMJ seems likely to have a future. However, the main challenge is convincing students to publish in a new journal that isn’t indexed in PubMed. [presentation-slides-burke-jan-2017]

A similar view is shared by senior academic and administrative staff at Manchester, particularly in relation to PGRs. We asked Professor Maja Zehfuss, Associate Dean for PGR in the Faculty of Humanities, to outline this position at the event. The key points she made were that at Manchester institutional journals are not considered to be right for PGR publications, that PGRs should be seeking to publish papers of at least 3* ranking in ‘grown-up’ journals, that submitting papers to established journals provides a tough learning experience for PGRs which develops resilience and skills, and she queried what student journals are for and who reads them.

Of course, journals are only one means of scholarly communication, and at Manchester academic staff are incorporating different forms within their modules. Dr John Zavos, a course leader from Religions and Theology, explained that he was keen on openness in research and wanted to develop resources that would put his students’ work in the public domain, eg, ‘Poppy Hijab’, an exhibit on the Museum of the South Asian Diaspora blog. John is now leading a CHERIL-funded project exploring impactful public-facing platforms and hopes to incorporate editorial management of a blog into his Level Two course to provide further opportunities for publishing experience.

To conclude the event Simon Bains, our Deputy Librarian and Head of Research Support, and Meredith Carroll, Journals Manager from MUP, described our experience, which is summarised in the first part of this piece.  [presentation-slides-manchester-jan-2017] For now, our support for student publishing takes the form of a recently-launched blog, The Publishing Exchange, to encourage reflection and learning, and My Research Essentials online resources, all available under the CC-BY-NC licence:

Open Access and Academic Journal Markets: a Manchester View



In February, a thought piece was issued jointly by Jisc, RLUK, SCONUL and ARMA which aimed to start a conversation about academic journal markets and progress in the UK towards Open Access. This blog post represents the combined thoughts of two leaders in Open Access publishing at the University of Manchester Library. The post does not represent an official position at Manchester, but illustrates some of the thinking that informs the development of our policies and services.

The thought piece makes a number of statements, and we have chosen to respond to a selection of them:

Academic journals play an important role in the work of universities

In our view, one might argue instead that academic research papers play an important role, and that the correlation is between availability of that research and university research performance.  The journals just happen to be the containers for the research.  The same is true of student satisfaction and access to journals.  Students want access to the ‘stuff’; whether it’s in journals is largely immaterial, and may not even be noticeable via modern library discovery systems, or Google.  The question is whether the journal remains the best container in a networked digital environment.

Two issues in particular occur to us in the context of this part of the thought piece:

i) We wonder how true it is that journals ‘allow researchers the freedom to choose appropriate channels to publish their work’.  It could be argued that they are, in fact, constrained by a system in which they are expected to publish in certain titles if they are to develop their careers;

ii) It’s true that journal articles are measurable, insofar as citations are a reliable indicator, but there’s growing support for a campaign to eliminate journal title-based metrics, with over 600 organisations now signed up to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment.

The markets are changing

The thought piece describes a market that has been split in two, where the options now are Hybrid Gold and Pure Gold. We would suggest there are other ways to think about the way the journal market is evolving.  Although many of the ‘wholly Open Access journals’ levy APCs, we should keep in mind – and OA advocates often remind us – that many Gold OA journals do not require them.  Nobody is suggesting that publishing is free, but charging the author at time of acceptance is not the only approach.  It’s interesting to see the Open Library of the Humanities adopt a Library-funded model, something which Knowledge Unlatched has shown can succeed, at least at the pilot stage, for OA monographs.

Our second point would be that another way of splitting the market would be into a) commercial publishers and b) university presses.  Open Access has stimulated renewed interest in the concept of the University Press, as universities begin to consider how they could bring their publishing operations back in house.  UCL Press is a significant example of a new and wholly Open Access press, and more recently we have also seen a consortial approach emerge in the form of White Rose University Press.  Bringing scholarly publishing back into the academy allows us to present an alternative OA model in which prices do not need to be determined by shareholders and their demand for profits. The recent University Press Redux conference at Liverpool identified this as a key theme. We are also seeing innovation with repositories, such as the  arXiv overlay journal Discrete Analysis, launched in February.

Performance of the legacy/hybrid journals market

The anticipated transition to OA, post-Finch, still seems depressingly distant.  Instead, we continue to pay above-inflation subscription prices while simultaneously paying the same publishers APCs.  Despite the average cost of hybrid APCs being higher than those for Pure Gold, the power of the journal brand means that most of the funds we have available for Gold OA are going to hybrid publishers.  We are seeing some offsetting models emerge, but we are aware that some institutions find these  complicated to manage and while publishers have a global market which is not, on the whole, moving to Gold OA, there is little prospect of the transition we hoped for.  Pure Gold journals offer lower prices and no scope for ‘double-dipping’ but are yet to be well-established beyond a few disciplines.

On the point in the thought paper about the service we might expect for our APC payments, much certainly needs to be done.  We are both members of the RLUK Open Access Publisher Processes Group which focuses on this, and we welcome feedback from colleagues who are dissatisfied with publisher systems and procedures that authors struggle to navigate or the level of service and support received in return for their APC payments.

Shortcomings in the legacy journal market

Given that we have limited funds available to pay publishing costs, it is attractive to consider using them only to support publishers who are not also taking subscription payments from us.  It is increasingly so when we see that Pure Gold APCs tend to be lower than those charged by hybrid journals.  The issue we face is the power of the brand, as our researchers know they need their papers to be in the ‘right’ journals in order to gain the esteem they require to progress in their careers.  It is depressing that this remains the case in a digital world in which the concept of the journal is so outdated.  In a print environment, bundling the latest research papers up in this way was a sensible approach to their dissemination.  Today, new models like PeerJ can work quite differently, and the only barrier to their adoption is an academic culture which holds fast to the power of the journal title, even at a time when so many organisations are turning away from the notion that the impact of a journal says anything about the individual article. Hybrid, despite the arguments of the Publishers Association, is not providing what we need. As the Wellcome Trust reports, “hybrid open access continues to be significantly more expensive than fully open access journals and that as a whole the level of service provided by hybrid publishers is poor and is not delivering what we are paying for”.

Given the complexity of offsetting, the profit margins of the commercial publishers and the lack of a substantial transition from subscription to OA, it is time to consider using the available funding for Pure Gold rather than for Hybrid, and to invest in those initiatives that are emerging from academia, and which focus on providing the widest access to our research rather than the returns expected by company shareholders.

This post was jointly authored by Simon Bains and Helen Dobson 

Image: Patrick Hochstenbach, CC-BY. Open Access Belgium


Whistleblowers sculpture. Image by Davide Dormino, CC BY SA.

The Battle for Open

The University of Manchester launched a postgraduate certificate in Higher Education in 2014, aimed at its academic and professional staff. This qualification seeks to encourage staff to think more deeply about their sector, and by doing so to increase their understanding of their roles and progress professionally. The course ran very successfully in 2014-15 and is now into its second intake.

This year, the University Library is very pleased to be leading an elective module: Open Knowledge in Higher Education, which examines the context, contribution and constraints of the relationship between open knowledge and higher education. The course represents an opportunity to bring people together to discuss the issues at a level of detail that is usually impossible to achieve. Instead of focusing on the operational priorities and policy compliance requirements which we tackle in university committees, we can instead engage in a more intellectual debate about why we are on a trajectory towards ‘open as default’, whether that’s a good thing, what the implications are for professional and academic careers, and whether tensions between openness and other drivers can be overcome.

Whistleblowers sculpture. Image by Davide Dormino, CC BY SA.

As I prepare my notes to launch the module on 10 February, it strikes me that this is a fascinating time to be thinking about these issues, given that we are witnessing simultaneously the rapid rise of the openness agenda, new attempts to introduce censorship, and efforts to access data that many people would prefer remained personal. The image that accompanies this post epitomises for me the opposite sides of the argument: on the one hand, Assange, Manning and Snowden are regarded as criminals, recklessly putting lives at risk by breaching necessary security laws. On the other, they are perceived as heroes of free speech, to the extent that these sculptures of them now exist, alongside an empty chair which invites the viewer to join them and use the artwork as a platform for his or her own free speech.

Openness in higher education

But can we argue that, safe in our ivory towers, we are in a very different environment? The majority view now holds that published scholarly research ought to be freely available if it has been funded from the public purse, and open education resources (known widely as MOOCs) serve to bring learning to new audiences, and, we hope, drive new students through our doors. On the surface, at least, these seem to be sensible and entirely beneficial developments. But we should not analyse the Open Access (OA) and MOOC movements in a vacuum, somehow shielded from wider social debates about privacy, sharing, security and censorship. We might think that the distribution of academic research is very different from the release of the Wikileaks documents, or Snowden’s publishing of classified National Security Agency materials. But it would be a mistake to hold this view: the case of Aaron Swartz, facing 35 years in prison for sharing JSTOR documents when he committed suicide in 2013, is surely evidence enough that it is time to bring very careful thought to the issues raised by the growth of networked digital information and the existence of an environment in which anyone can be a publisher. It is difficult not to regard the heavy-handed response to Swartz’s case as being driven by anxiety about loss of control following the Wikileaks affair and it is a strong, if tragic, example of the need to understand the bigger picture.

We now live in an HE environment which, certainly in the UK, broadly encourages openness. Many of our research funders require it, and universities are putting policies, services and standards in place to achieve it. But we are part of a wider political, commercial and legal society which is a long way from making this as easy and free of risk as advocates of Open (and I count myself among them) think it needs to be. Commercial publishers still seek to protect business models which depend on paywalls, and initiatives like Open Access Button and the Elsevier boycott try to challenge them. Copyright legislation still lags behind digital and networked technologies, and so we witness illegal filesharing, and we see publishers fighting to prevent it. Meanwhile, university researchers are caught in the middle. While there are a number of encouraging stories about independent researchers making breakthroughs as a result of accessing open research, some university researchers face harsh penalties as a result of illegal, if arguably not immoral, sharing practices.

Looking ahead

In the first half of 2016, the Dutch Presidency of the European Union has committed to push the Open agenda very hard, having been through a fierce national struggle about the costs and availability of the research it funds. In the UK, HEFCE will introduce a policy that links OA to research assessment. Openness extends beyond publishing to encompass data, and the open data movement is gaining momentum. There are also signs that the world of online learning is growing faster than ever, but at the expense of the original concept, that it would be available for free. Now is an excellent time for staff at Manchester to be thinking about these issues. Indeed, this opportunity is not restricted to Manchester; it would be very hypocritical of us if we did not open our course up to others! To that end, we are making all of our materials available on Medium, and hope to see widespread interest beyond the course participants. We are working with excellent colleagues, and our academic lead, Professor Martin Weller, is a highly-regarded thinker and teacher in this space. I have taken the liberty of using the title of his book as my blog post heading. We will also see contributions from a major funder, a leading publisher, other academic experts and senior academic administrators, as well as what I know will be some insightful contributions from a strong group of students. So join us, contribute to the debate, and form your own views! Hashtag #OKHE

Seven tips for promoting ORCIDs to busy academics

Administrators of research are sold on the potential benefits of ORCIDs – but the ultimate success of the identifier relies on buy-in from academics too. Global ORCID take up is rising but hasn’t yet reached the tipping point at which significant benefits start to accrue. Until then, it’s fair to say that advocacy is still needed to convince many academics what’s in it for them.

The pipelines for ORCIDs to flow in and out of the world’s research management databases are under construction. New integrations with institutional, publisher, and vendor systems come online all the time and soon the infrastructure will be in place to enable serious improvements to the way research is administered.

Meanwhile, it’s increasingly difficult for academics to avoid claiming an ORCID and continue to publish the findings of their funded research. At Manchester, for example, we’ve achieved high levels of uptake amongst our REF-eligible academics by making it a requirement of a recent research assessment exercise.

REF-eligible academics with ORCIDs (September 2015)


REF-eligible academics with ORCIDs (December 2015)


But whilst most of our academics now have an identifier, some that we’ve spoken to are unconvinced that investing further time to link their activities to their ORCID record is worthwhile right now. Addressing this, a Library-led project is now rolling out a communications campaign highlighting benefits and dispelling myths around the use of ORCIDs.

With generous but finite resource the ORCID team are attempting to solve the author name ambiguity problem for the entire world, and rely on this type of advocacy initiative at the institution level to maintain momentum. So based on our early experiences, here are our seven tips if you or your team are tasked with developing a communications plan to support your own institution’s ORCID strategy.

1. Protect time for desk research

Perhaps obvious, but before tapping up contacts for invitations to committee meetings clear an afternoon to immerse yourself in all things ORCID (the FAQs page on the ORCID website is a great place to start). On the face of it ORCIDs are a simple concept, but beneath the surface are more esoteric nuances. For example try answering the question, “Is the ORCID registry a single-point-of-truth for all of an academic’s research activities?” and see where this leads you.

2. Perfect your ORCID elevator pitch

When the invitations come in you might only have five minutes on a packed school board agenda so get your key messages clear in your own head first. Try your slides out on a friendly audience to get it perfect. It’s easy to get tied up in knots explaining abstract concepts like ‘round-tripping’ so the more preparation the better.

3. Tailor your message to engage your audience

You may need to spend extra time on background for a humanities audience where (at least at Manchester) there’s lower awareness levels than in the STEM disciplines. Also be sure to highlight key developments of particular relevance to the audience. For example biomedicine researchers will be interested in the Wellcome Trust mandating inclusion of ORCIDs in grant applications; physics/maths/computer science academics may be interested in arXiv’s use of ORCIDs to replace the internal arXiv author ID; and the MLA International Bibliography integration would be of most interest to humanities researchers.

4. Make the problem real

Asking if anyone shares their name with another academic is a good way to make the name ambiguity problem real. Invariably at least one hand goes up and you sometimes get an interesting anecdote too. It’s a good way to break the ice and prompts those in the room to acknowledge the problem.

5. Be honest!

Get ahead of the accusations that this is just for the ‘bean-counters’ by being up-front about the benefits to administrators – in many ways it’s easier to articulate these benefits anyway. And if you can sense that you’re not winning the argument then don’t be afraid to say “Look guys this is going to be 15 minutes of your life that you’re not getting back – it’s a question of when not if you do this because it isn’t going away.”

6. Emphasise the registry

The social network style ORCID profile page has created misconceptions that ORCID is just another social network. We’ve heard comments along the lines of, “I already have and LinkedIn – I don’t need another site to keep up to date”. It’s important to stress that ORCID is first and foremost a registry allowing data to be transferred between these types of systems, ultimately reducing the keystroke burden to the academic.

7. Anticipate the tricky questions

And finally, try to anticipate the tricky questions whether they be technical (eg “Who has access to the API?”) or more philosophical (eg “This sounds a bit ‘Big Brother’ to me”), and have answers prepared for them. However much you prepare you’ll not be able to anticipate every question. For example, following one presentation we delivered recently in which we quoted the fact that in China, people with the top three family names (Li, Wang, and Zhang) account for 21% of population (nearly 300 million), one academic remarked in exasperation “What’s wrong with just using my name?!”

Memorising your presentation


To stand up and deliver a presentation can be a daunting prospect, whether for a new librarian or researcher. Fortunately, we all have access to the most advanced storage and processing unit in the known universe. No, I don’t mean a smartphone and a quick search on the Internet via Google, but your brain.

This is spectacularly good at integrating disparate facts, jumping between memories spanning decades of your life experiences and forming connections to apply to a task – such as developing and memorising a training session. You also get additional benefits: creativity and inspiration leading to relevant ideas ‘popping into your head’, often in the middle of the night – you don’t get that courtesy of Google.

When I first conducted training sessions as a librarian, assisting in an EndNote course, in combination with another librarian (before going on to deliver on my own) you were left to your own devices to improve (or not). A determination to be better and overcome nerves led me to the techniques described here.

First steps

Once you have devised a first draft of your presentation dialogue, if on paper, I would then type it up in a Word document, where it can easily be edited and printed. Continue to edit and proofread until you are happy with the content and timing (established by reading aloud to yourself). You are then in a position to develop an Outline – a single page summary of your presentation dialogue to be delivered and memorise the content, using the Peg Rhyme memory technique.

Peg Rhyme Memory Technique

Memory Jump #1 [-27 years to 1988 ]
Memory Jump #1 [-27 years to 1988 ]
I became aware of this technique through a fortunate happenstance – watching a television programme in 1988, entitled After Dark, on Channel 4. This was a late night discussion programme in which a varied group discussed a topic. Appearing in this particular episode was David Berglas, who talked about memory, commenting on another guest’s inability to remember a name (also in the group) and adding that he had just written a book on memory. Being an accomplished magician, he was used to making use of numerous memory techniques and conducting seminars for executives of multinational companies, to improve memory skills.

This piqued my interest, as anything which could improve my memory – a useful skill – was worth following up. I therefore purchased a copy of the book, entitled ‘A Question Of Memory’ [1], which includes many effective, practical memory techniques, such as Peg Rhyme.

This technique can be illustrated through an actual Outline for a training session (Bloomberg Certification) I currently deliver to students, which builds on the basic structure of Peg Rhyme. It uses number order (1 to 10) for the sequence linked to something which is familiar (and fixed) – the Peg – which is in turn associated with the item to be remembered.

In order to get to this stage I would summarise the dialogue of the training session to Section Headings, Sentences, Phrases, Keywords and Acronyms.

Peg Rhyme:

1 – Gun, 2 – Shoe, 3 – Tree, 4 – Door, 5 – Hive, 6 – Sticks, 7 – Heaven, 8 – Gate, 9 – Wine, 10 – Hen.

Associations to memorise the section headings of the training session I use:


I visualise myself firing a starting Gun – a beginning or ‘introduction’.


I visualise gold coins falling into Shoes – from above – valuable – a ‘benefit’.


I visualise myself walking into a Tree branch – a ‘L’ow ‘O’bject ‘L’ and ‘O’ remind me of ‘L’earning ‘O’bjectives.


I visualise a Door with two rectangular name plates, one above the other. This reminds me of the access screen (two boxes for username and password) when starting Bloomberg, for which you can use a Bloomberg (Bb) Personal Login.


I visualise a bee hive, with an image from different BESS function screens (explaining Bloomberg content) on each of the four sides of the bee hive.


I visualise myself running on stilts (Sticks) and leaping over a pommel horse in my old school gym, where sports went by the abbreviation PE (for Physical Education) which links to ‘P’ for PREPTN. and ‘E’ for EXAMS.


I visualise a scene from a film (A Matter of Life and Death – US title: Stairway to Heaven) in which the number of people expected in Heaven is displayed on a piece of paper, which looks like a ‘certificate’.


I visualise a large wooden Gate, of the type giving access to a farmer’s field. Part of the gate has a diagonal bar which crosses the horizontal sections, looking similar to a plus [ + ] symbol. At school, addition (2 + 2 = 4) was known as doing ‘sums’, which reminds me of ‘summary’.

You need to get familiar with these 10 pegs and consider them visually – linking images.


An association doesn’t need to be true, accurate or possible (point six – the image of myself leaping a pommel horse on stilts being physiologically impossible). These visual associations may seem novel, being long-winded to explain, but are instantaneous and reliable in operation – they WORK.

Outline Development:

The Peg Rhyme structure forms the basis for an Outline. I use a Word document in landscape format, with the title at the top and a date when the document was last updated.

Bloomberg training outline using Peg Rhyme
An example of Peg Rhyme in practice: Bloomberg Certification training course outline

For each Section Heading I manage to summarise dialogue, which may take two to five minutes to deliver. The following make this possible:


For example, GAWT – Good afternoon and welcome to …


FORMAT – ‘The format for today’s training session will be a presentation, with a practical demonstration in the middle to illustrate the ‘look and feel’. This will last about 25 minutes with five minutes for questions at the end. Handouts will also be distributed at the end.’

With practice, this technique can be used for a number of presentations, with the same keyword to represent similar details. So here, a single keyword has been used to represent an entire paragraph of speech.

Symbols and Special Characters:

>75% For example, ‘ > ‘ Greater Than symbol, cuts down space.

A Large Leap?

You may consider it a large leap to be able to speak for 30 (to 60) minutes by memorising the section headings, using the Peg Rhyme technique, from a single page Outline. However, the many small steps in summarising the full text of your presentation progressively (Section Headings, Sentences, Phrases, Keywords, Acronyms) means you are gaining a good familiarity with the dialogue.

Additionally, associations related to each Section Heading are helpful. These can be generated by asking yourself the question: what type of information would I expect from a section with this title? For example, in the Introduction, you might expect to talk about the title of the presentation, what will be covered, the format, any practical elements, handouts and how questions would be dealt with.

Hence, this gives you a framework to aid recall of the details you would be covering.

Practice And Effective Use Of Your Time

Memory Jump #2 [-34 years to 1981]
Memory Jump #2 [-34 years to 1981]
Mr Gibson was the name of my O’ level chemistry teacher in 1981. One of the useful tips he passed on to the class, in terms of working to become familiar with a topic, was to do ‘a little bit of work at a time, but often’. He noted that he had used this approach to achieve 2nd place in a national chemistry examination and that it had been effective. I concur.

In putting this advice to use, I work on my presentation preparation in the library (training room, before opening time) and also at home after work, in front of the mirror.

Another extremely useful time is when travelling to/from work. Observing fellow train commuters, reveals four typical behaviours, as we enjoy the journey, jammed in like sardines:

  1. Gazing out of the window.
  2. Tapping with a single finger at the surface of a slim, rectangular artefact – think 2001: A Space Odyssey, but much smaller.
  3. Reading/reviewing printed material.
  4. Sleeping.

I always go for option one or three, not owning a smartphone. When preparing for a training session, option three. It is surprising, but you can still work effectively with your Outline printout a few centimetres from your nose, wedged in by the doors, with others in close proximity.

So, 15 minutes well-spent, twice a day, commuting. Spacing out your efforts across train, work and home gives you a spread of times throughout the day (i.e. ‘often’) to get familiar with your presentation and makes best use of your time.


The key point in improving competence is Practice, before the actual presentation to be delivered. Confidence is boosted and nerves reduced by effectively utilising the Peg Rhyme technique via an Outline to memorise your dialogue. Knowing what you have to say means you don’t fall back on improvisation: getting rid of ‘umm’s or ‘err’s will ensure clarity of expression and understanding for your audience.

Turning full circle, I sometimes get emails from students thanking me for a training session, ending their email:

Thanks Brain.

Indeed. This never fails to raise a smile with myself.


[1] Berglas, D. and Playfair, G.L. (1988) A Question Of Memory. London: Jonathan Cape.

Slow, written on the road

Research feasibility

In undertaking research on any topic it is always a good idea to ask the question: is this research feasible?

Often a student has decided on a particular area of research, for laudable reasons, such as seeking employment in this area. However, to do so without guidance from a librarian can be problematic. If concerns about whether it is possible to obtain the data, how difficult it is to use a database, or time constraints have not been considered, their data collection may be made more difficult than it needs to be.

From experience, the following scenario is common: a student seeks assistance in collecting data for their MSc dissertation after agreeing a research topic which would be beneficial to the area of work they hope to go into. Having read an article in an accountancy journal they decide to undertake similar research to that detailed in the article. When starting data collection, they contact the library for help with the specialist financial databases – but they may encounter unexpected restrictions.

Datastream: a database commonly used in financial research.

Restricting factors

  • Technical Terms: I am often bamboozled trying to understand unfamiliar terminology, not having a degree in finance/accountancy. After questioning the student about their research, it can become apparent that they don’t know what they’re talking about either! For example, they may ask for ‘Risk Free Rate data’ from Datastream. There is no such datatype in Datastream – but there is something which is often used to represent this concept (three month Treasury Bills).
  • Timing: This is pertinent. Having established that the basis of their proposal was to replicate research in a journal article, the fact that the academic probably took two years or more to complete their work means it would not be feasible to complete in the three months allotted to a student’s MSc dissertation.
  • Location: This can restrict choices. Where students are off-campus (distance learning), certain databases are not accessible due to licensing terms, meaning required data is not available.

For many such reasons, the merits of testing (eg searching for data from five of 500 companies required) and obtaining advice from librarians are clear. To help in confirming the feasibility of research, the Business Data Service (part of Research Services, The University of Manchester Library) has provided assistance to students over a number of years. For example, through:


Numerous sessions are delivered each semester (eg Mergers and Acquisitions, Researching Quoted Companies), providing assistance in using specialist financial databases, to help students gain competence in searching databases.

Research consultations

Through these regular drop-in sessions, students can discuss their requirements and confirm the best options for obtaining data. Where it is clear that the complexity of a student’s request could not  easily be accommodated in a Research Consultation (which may have many students requiring assistance), it is possible to set up one-to-one training, to devote more time to an enquiry.

One-to-one training session

These allow extended support and the flexibility to fit in with the student/librarian’s other work commitments and any preparation needed on the part of the librarian.


Establishing the feasibility of research provides a valuable service, taking advantage of the accumulated knowledge and experience of those in the Business Data Service, for the benefit of students at The University of Manchester.

Open Access 'One Way'

OAwe and wonder: a long year of open access

RCUK Report cover 2014Friday, 12 September marked the end of the first extended year of RCUK’s Open Access (OA) policy. There were some tense moments in the Research Services office as we put the finishing touches to our report before the high noon deadline. The data and compliance report we submitted includes details of the payments made from the block grant and full-text deposits in Manchester eScholar, our institutional repository. You can see the report and all supporting data in our institutional repository.

Prior to the launch of the RCUK policy we’d delivered campus-wide communications and we monitored publishing activity throughout the year. We’d had some very invigorating discussions with researchers about the pros and cons of OA and efficiencies in publication procedures and we monitored OA engagement throughout the year to see if they’d listened. We wondered which way authors would jump – Gold or Green? Would they choose different journals if their first choice wasn’t compliant with the policy? And how much more nudging would they need to change their established publishing behaviour? We continued our communication throughout the year, partly reminders of the policy and partly targeted messages to authors of non-OA RCUK-funded papers.

At final count we paid for 575 papers from the block grant and identified 59 Green OA papers. This total (634) represents 53% compliance. We estimate an overall compliance level of 65%, based on a sample of data from Web of Knowledge.

RCUK approved us spending part of the grant on an OA monograph and this was our highest charge – £6,500. Our highest Article Processing Charge (APC) was almost £4,200. Our average APC for Year One, not taking account of institutional discounts, works out at £1,510.

Looking to the year ahead

Open Access 'One Way'
Open Access: Green or Gold?

We wonder how strictly RCUK will define compliance after Year One? We know that 29% of Gold OA papers are not licensed as CC-BY and no Green OA papers are licensed as CC-BY-NC. We don’t know why this is because we don’t approve payments for journals that don’t offer CC-BY. In terms of Green compliance, we aren’t aware that publishers are offering CC-BY-NC as an option. The role of publishers in influencing licence choices and displaying licence information is something we hope RCUK will investigate more in Year Two – rather than penalising individuals whose papers aren’t correctly licenced this year. We’ve found that some publishers are willing and able to amend licences for RCUK-funded authors after publication on request but that others won’t.

We know that we haven’t changed culture entirely in Year One, but we’ve made some significant progress and have a solid foundation on which to build towards increased compliance with RCUK and HEFCE’s OA policies.

World map with Shanghai Ranking

Academic Ranking of World Universities: the Shanghai Jiao Tong table

Where in the world?

Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) has just published its latest annual Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). This is one of the most widely used global league tables for universities. The top university (for the twelfth year running) is Harvard. The US has 52 universities in the Top 100, and the next-best performing country is the UK, with eight. Cambridge is the top UK university this year – ranked 5th in the world.

Our own university, Manchester, has risen three places to 38th in the world, and ranks 5th in the UK. Like many other universities, Manchester is keen to rise even higher in the rankings, and the Library’s Citation Services team is providing expert bibliometric analysis to help inform discussion of how to achieve this.

Measure for measure

The many global league tables, such as the ARWU and those produced by Times Higher Education and QS, all use different metrics for ranking universities, ranging from the number of publications produced by a university to its reputation for research excellence among its peers as measured by a survey.

Most of the metrics which the ARWU uses are based on how many articles a university publishes in top journals or how many citations these articles receive. These include

  • how many articles a university publishes in science and social science journals covered by the Web of Science, the most long-established multidisciplinary bibliographic database
  • how many articles a university publishes in Nature and Science, generally considered the most prestigious of all multidisciplinary science journals
  • how many of a university’s academics are included in the list (based on Web of Science) of Highly Cited Researchers.

Open the box!

A frequent early criticism of the ARWU was that, although SJTU gave details of the elements used for creating the ranking, it did not explain how these elements were converted into scores, and so the results were not reproducible. However, recent research has succeeded in reproducing the results, and has thus ‘opened the black box’ of the ARWU.