You might have seen we recently released the first episode of our open research podcast Opening Remarks. This is something we’ve been talking about doing for a while, but the transition to working from home sped things up a little bit. We now spend a lot of our time talking to each other on platforms that enable audio recording, so our feeling was this would be a good opportunity to put that technology to good use.
The idea behind Opening Remarks is simple – we want to have conversations with colleagues from across the University about open research; how open research is supported and facilitated, but also how researchers embed open principles in their practice. We want these conversations to be informal, interesting and informative.
Our intention is to record six episodes in this initial series, covering research data, open access, research communications, metrics and lots more besides. We’d been keen to hear from you about what you think we should be talking about, and we’d be even keener to hear from you if you’d like to be a guest! Come and talk to us about the open research that you do!
The first episode is already available on iTunes and, pending successful reviews, should be available on Stitcher, Spotify and Google’s podcast player in the next couple of days. Do give it a listen and let us know what you think! You can contact us on Twitter at @UoMLibResearch or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Opening Remarks is hosted by Clare Liggins and Steve Carlton, two Research Services Librarians with very little broadcast experience but lots of enthusiasm.
I’ve been a Research Services Librarian at Manchester since January 2019, specialising in open access and research communications. Before I arrived at Manchester I’d been working in open access at several other institutions across the north west, including spells at the University of Liverpool and the University of Salford.
I’m interested in open research and its potential to help researchers reach broader audiences, and outside work I’m into professional wrestling, non-league football, the music of Arthur Russell and the Australian TV soap Neighbours. If I can find a way to talk about any of those things in the podcast, I will.
I’m a Research Services Librarian in the Research Data Management Team. I’ve been working at the University since January 2019 (Steve and I started on the same day) and am interested in anything to do with promoting the effective practice of Research Data Management, including training, as well as anything to do with Open Research.
My background is in Literature and writing, and before working at the University I was a Law Librarian. Due to my background, I am also interested in finding ways of working with these areas to adopt Research Data Management processes more widely.
In my spare time I enjoy reading books about feminist writers, spotting beautiful furniture in films from the 1950s, cooking recipes written by Nigel Slater and making up voices for my cat.
As this is my first post for the Library Research Plus blog I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Bill Ayres, the new Strategic Lead for Research Data Management based here in the Main Library since January 2020. I previously worked in IT for over fifteen years, most of them in HE, and then more lately as Research Data Manager at the University of Salford. I’m passionate about open research in general, and how this can connect researchers to foster cross-disciplinary projects and also have real-world benefits for people who may not otherwise have access to scholarly findings, outputs and data (especially data).
One important thing:
Usually, I would link out to various examples and case studies When I Talk About Data Repositories, but I’m going to be more general here. We are currently considering various options that will provide a fully-fledged data repository for the University – this is a very good thing – so in the interests of impartiality and fairness I won’t mention any specific platforms or technology suppliers.
One less important thing:
Apologies to Haruki Murakami for borrowing / mangling his book title for this post. It felt like a good idea when I thought of it late at night, a bit less so now (but I can’t think of a better one).
What good can a good institutional data repository do?
From a system perspective, and for the libraries that run the service, it provides a home for “curated” files, datasets and other resources that support research findings and publications. It shouldn’t be a dumping ground for everything, but a place for these important research assets that allows them to be stored, published and preserved.
With some funders mandating that data supporting publications be made available open access, and others recommending this, a data repository can also provide a straightforward option to ensure that compliance is covered.
It can be a powerful complementary system to the main institutional repository, one which can link to this in many ways and provide an alternative route for discovery and reuse of outputs, but also have its own character and profile.
There are clear and logical integrations that the repository can have with other useful systems e.g. a main institutional repository to connect outputs and data so that there are persistent links between them. There are opportunities there for reporting and metrics that examine ways people search for and discover data and published outputs, and how these may differ. There is also an opportunity to add the home institution branding to data and create or strengthen an association that may not occur if data is always hosted on external or publisher repositories. These benefits of integration can also extend outwards to researcher focused platforms e.g. ORCID, DataCite and similar.
And from a security and administration perspective, implementing an institutional data repository can help ensure that research data is safe, secure, covered by ethics and related policies, and also can be subject to review or checking where appropriate.
What I’ve talked about so far – a focus on integration, compliance, security, and review processes – is all great from the point of view of the institutional teams who “own” the data repository, and we need these to effectively manage and support it. But experience tells us that any system or service intended, primarily, for use by researchers and academics has to provide real-world benefits to them, and *crucially* be easy to use, or they will not utilise it or engage with the service offering it relates to. That adds up to a wasted investment for the institution, and a missed opportunity to give researchers a great platform.
So what should the institutional data repository be doing for its primary users, researchers?
Alongside the ease of use mentioned, it can fill a fundamental gap by providing a platform to publish data more quickly, easily and effectively than via other routes. For a long time efforts have been focused on publishing research outputs as the final part of the lifecycle. But a good data repository can facilitate a “just in time” ability to make data available to a wider audience throughout the research lifecycle. Adopting a light touch approach to curation of data deposits means that researchers can choose to share initial data, illustrate novel mid-project findings with relevant datasets, and looking past their standard data types they can share conference resources like posters, slides, or videos.
Talking about video, a data repository can provide an excellent place to store and showcase file types that can bring research to life: images, audio files, video and film clips, and in some cases there will be functionality that can preview or render 3D models and complex graphical files.
Increasingly data repositories also provide the ability for researchers to create collections of their own (or related) data outputs; a curated selection of datasets that links to similar open access resources created by others in the discipline can provide a resource with great potential for reuse or further investigation.
Researchers often need a place to store data for the longer term too. Funders and institutional policies may mandate a 5 year, 10 year, or even indefinite preservation requirement for research data. It can make good technical and practical sense to integrate digital preservation into a data repository, from straightforward bit-level preservation to more holistic solutions which will automatically convert file types and formats as applications and technology move on. An institutional data preservation option can give researchers peace of mind that their data will survive for the long term.
From a perspective beyond the home institution
As a final thought on this topic, I’d like to reflect back on the principles which are at the heart of open research and open data, in making that data FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) and Open. Beyond the anticipated audience of researchers and academic investigators, a great data repository can be a powerful gateway for access and reuse by researchers in the developing world, healthcare professionals, or by members of the public. We often forget that the costs of journal subscriptions or other payment models to access outputs and data act as an impassable barrier to institutions or individuals that are unable to pay them. It’s our duty to make as wide a range of research data as possible freely and easily available as this can have benefits that go far beyond the original investigation or discipline.
Open Access (OA) books have been a fairly hot topic over recent months. My colleagues and I have responded to various surveys and contributed to UKRI’s review workshop and thought that sharing our experience of facilitating OA books might also be a useful addition to the debate.
Over the past 5 years we’ve agreed to arrange OA for 27 books. Mostly, these are monographs (25), but there’s also one edited volume and one trade book in our list. We have arranged OA for books that are already published and books that are still being written. The stage at which we pay normally determines how much we pay per title, but in the case of our highest Book Processing Charge (BPC) – £12,000, it’s the length of the book. The lowest BPC we’ve paid is £2,200, for backlist titles published by Manchester University Press (MUP).
While we’re pleased with the levels of enthusiasm for OA from scholars in the Humanities and keen to extend our OA support beyond articles and compliance, our funds are limited and we’re unable to support all the enquiries about OA books we receive. To date this hasn’t mattered too much, because we haven’t received requests from authors submitting their book to a fully Gold publisher but we’re mindful that this could change as awareness of newer publishers, like UCL Press and Open Book Publishers, increases.
We’ve very much ‘learned by doing’ for OA books, just as we did for journal articles back in 2013, and these are some of our learning outcomes.
Liaising with publishers about OA books is very different from journal articles.
Conversations tend to happen between the author and their editor, and when we’ve tried to intervene on an author’s behalf it’s been tricky to identify a contact on publisher websites. My enquiry to a general Bloomsbury email address over 12 months ago, remains unanswered to this day (!), and the author and I had to wait patiently for her editor to return from holiday to answer our questions. I resorted to a Twitter Direct Message to the University of Michigan Press after struggling to find a general email address and unsure of which listed staff member/role would know the answer to my question. I’ve even made use of contacts in publisher OA journal teams as an in-road (e.g., “I know this isn’t something you can help with but do you know who can?”). Luckily, the authors we’ve dealt with seem to accept this state of affairs and are generally happy to facilitate introductions. Especially when we’ve asked them to ask their publisher questions about OA licensing options.
A common conversation with publishers about OA books is when we’ll pay the BPC. In cases where we’ve agreed to cover the cost when the book’s still being written we often need to pay well in advance of publication. This is because payments are made either from the OA block grant we receive from UKRI or from our institutional funding. Pressure on the UKRI grant varies year on year, so we want to make payments when we are confident we can afford them. The same is true of our institutional OA fund, but another factor here is that committed expenditure (ie, unspent funds) can’t be carried over into a new budget year.
Some OA books are less discoverable than others.
In our discussions with publishers we’ve not dealt with before (even those via authors!) we ask how the book will be made available as OA. We’re hoping for multiple access points, including the publisher’s website, OAPEN and the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB). We don’t restrict payment of BPCs on the basis of the answer but we think we should be clearer about our expectations before we agree to cover the cost. When we discussed this with a colleague at MUP, she suggested, “With your institutional fund, you are like a research funder, so you could state your expectations as clearly as, say, the Wellcome Trust does”.
We’ve found variation in how publishers display information about the OA version of a title on their own webpages. Good examples include:
‘Cosmopolitanism and the Jews‘ (University of Michigan Press) – OA symbol and explanation (“Read for free on the web”) above the title and a link to the OA version in the same section as the options to buy a copy of the book;
Of the 18 published books we’ve paid BPCs for and that are now OA, 6 aren’t indexed in DOAB and 7 aren’t indexed in OAPEN. One Bloomsbury title on our list is missing a logo on the publisher’s website to identify the book as OA. Potential readers can easily see how to buy the book but don’t get a link to access the version we’ve paid for – see for yourself!
Discoverability in our own search system is also an issue. One of the books we have paid for has a single record in Library Search, which only lists the 3 print copies we hold, all of which are currently out on loan. Other books have multiple records, with the OA and print versions on different records. One of our professors queried how quickly her book would appear in OA format on our catalogue and Copac (recently replaced by Library Hub Discover) after we’d requested OA from her publisher. Because we didn’t know, our metadata experts manually updated records so the OA version was available when the prof wanted to promote it via social media. Making further improvements to our records and increasing the discoverability of our OA content needs a cross-library project, which is on our To Do list for 2020.
We haven’t always got what (we think) we’ve paid for.
Ok, so this bit is where there is definitely overlap between OA books and OA articles…
At the most basic level when we pay a BPC we expect to be able to find an OA copy of the book somewhere, and fairly soon after payment’s been made. But we realised last year that we didn’t know when books we’d paid for would be available as OA: we hadn’t asked in all cases, and publishers hadn’t let us know. We queried what we perceived to be delays following payment for a number of books. We had the response quoted above from the University of Michigan Press which proved very helpful in our understanding, and we followed this up with a really useful discussion with our colleagues at MUP about production processes.
So we know now that there’s no standard process or turnaround time for Gold OA, and it’s helpful to know this so we can better manage expectations of the authors we support.
Whilst preparing this post I’ve noticed that 3 of the books we paid BPCs for in July 2019 – books that are already published – haven’t yet been converted to OA. We’re contacting the publishers (Anthem Press, Bloomsbury, MUP) to check if this is an error or if the conversion process is scheduled and really does take 5 months. We’re also considering asking publishers to provide progress updates to us – the fee payer – on, say, a monthly basis before we commit our funding for a title. And in the meantime? Well, we’re slotting a regular check for monograph updates into our OA workflow, just like we have for journal articles.
On Friday I submitted the University of Manchester’s feedback on Plan S. We’d invited feedback from across campus so our response reflects views from a wide range of academic disciplines as well as those from the Library.
Our response could be considered informally as ‘Yes, but…’, ie, we agree with the overall aim but, as always, the devil’s in the detail.
Our Humanities colleagues expressed a number of reservations but noted “we are strongly in favour of Open Access publishing” and “we very much welcome the pressure, from universities and funders, on publishers to effect more immediate and less costly access to our research findings”.
The response from the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health also flagged concerns but stated “if Plan S is watered down, the pressure exerted on journal publishers may not be acute enough to force a profound shift in business model”.
A number of concerns raised assumed launch of Plan S based on the status quo. Updates from the Library have tried to reassure our academic colleagues that there’s work going on ‘behind the scenes’ which makes this unlikely and remind them that UK funder OA policies may not be exact replicas of Plan S.
We’ve been here before in the sense that when the UK Research Councils announced that a new OA policy would be adopted from April 2013, publishers amended their OA offer to accommodate the new policy requirements. Not every publisher of Manchester outputs did, but things did shift. For large publishers this happened fairly quickly, but for smaller publishers this took a bit longer, and in some cases required nudging by their academic authors.
It’s worth reflecting on how that policy played out as we consider Plan S: put simply, it cost a lot of money and most publishers didn’t provide options that fully met the Green OA requirements.
The key points in our response are concerns about affordability, Green OA requirements and the current ‘one size fits all’ approach. You can read it here: UoM_Plan-S_feedback.
Guest post by University of Manchester Library scholarship winner Chukwuma Ogbonnaya, PhD Student at the school of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering, and early career Lecturer in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Federal University Ndufu-Alike Ikwo in Abakaliki, Nigeria.
OpenCon is a unique conference because it brings Librarians, Publishers, Civil society organisations, Policy makers, Government agencies, Post-doctoral, Doctoral and Undergraduate students, across the globe together. These participants think, discuss, engage and co-create solutions to promote open philosophies. OpenCon2018, which was held at York University, Toronto, Canada between 1-4 November 2018, was my first Opencon attendance. I applied to attend the Berlin conference in 2017 but unfortunately was not selected. When I saw the notification for OpenCon2018 from The University of Manchester Library, I quickly applied because I wanted to be involved in open research based on my findings during the last application. I was pleasantly surprised when I was announced the winner and that was the beginning of a chain reaction of surprises.
Immediately the announcement was made, I was pleased and I did not waste time to share the news with my family, friends and my home University in Nigeria through the Vice-Chancellor (Professor Chinedum Nwajiuba). I quickly started my visa application the following day. It can be time-consuming and stressful for researchers from African countries and the Global South to obtain visas to travel to conferences, which is a real problem as it prevents researchers from these countries participating in important discussions – this tweet by Zaid Alyafeai sums up the problem. I was apprehensive, especially given the tight turnaround time – will it be possible to obtain a Canadian visa in three days for a Nigerian, I pondered? Now, here is the second surprise. I was given a multiple entry Canadian visa that will expire in 2022. What this means for me is that I can easily apply for conferences in Canada to present my research as well as listen to experts in my field. This has been made possible by the OpenCon2018 award.
The third pleasant surprise was the design and programming of OpenCon2018. The programme was so unique with collaborative and engaging sessions. It was highly participatory and everybody has multiple choices of what activity/topic/theme to participate in. There were discussion panels comprising presenters with practical experiences and those at the early stage of their career.
My favourite panel was “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” because it was simply outstanding. They focused on the need to include everyone in the emerging open infrastructure designs irrespective of gender, race, country and region. It was obvious that allowing people to have access to the knowledge infrastructure would empower them to contribute to the development of the wider society. Associate Professor Leslie Chan really made a long lasting impression on me during the panel discussion. He described a situation where open science should not just translate into an “automation of knowledge inequality” but should indeed be a “commitment to think critically and to push the boundaries to imagine a more inclusive, equitable and radical future”.
I want to share my experiences in some of the activities I participated in during the conference:
STORY CIRCLE AND STORY OF SELF
OpenCon2018 believes that “stories are at the core of how we identify and express ourselves, interpret and shape our worlds, and connect with others”. The intention of story circle was to create a safe space where participants can tell a small group of people about themselves as well as share their thoughts on what open science means to them. No comments or questions are expected to follow beyond highlighting what brought the participant to OpenCon2018. For me, it was good that it came quite early in the conference because it provided an opportunity for me to start networking as well as gaining insights into how others perceive open access.
DESIGN THINKING WORKSHOPS I & II
I participated in the Europe workshop. The interactive workshop was to inspire contextual culture change towards a more open, diverse, inclusive and equitable research and education system. We addressed the question of how we might, as open advocates, congratulate our peers on non-open successes while staying true to our values. Within the group, we were divided into clusters based on our current activities/work. I was in a PhD and Post-Doctoral group and we explored how design thinking can be used to understand, design and communicate Open Access solutions for PhD students. The process involves defining the problems based on an understanding of the system, empathising with a typical PhD student based on how they think and feel, brainstorming and ideating solutions, prototyping the solution, testing it and implementing it in the real world. The videos and slides were used for a systematic analysis of the personhood of a typical PhD student. Current experiences and future aspirations of a PhD student were captured in order to reveal where and how interventions can be implemented to help PhD students understand how Open Access can support their current and future career development. The skills and learning acquired from the design thinking workshop are transferable and I will be applying it in designing human-centred systems within my research projects in the future.
PUBLISHING WITH OPEN ACCESS JOURNALS (UNCONFERENCE SESSION)
The unconference session is a hands-on session in which a speaker lead participants through exploring critical questions on the topic. The session focused on how to identify predatory journals and legitimate Open Access journals. It was a discussion session with rich experience-sharing on how fake Open Access publishers can be identified and avoided. It was apparent that Open Access publications can contribute to making a researcher’s work more available, visible and accessible whilst giving the researcher more control on how and who can use their work. When a scholar’s work becomes accessible, it can increase citation, and such recognition can support funding applications to carry out further work. However, falling prey to fake/predatory Open Access publishers could be disastrous. Such predatory journals lack strong peer review mechanisms and reputation within the research community. Consequently, the time and money spent on undertaking quality research could be lost when the wrong choice of journal is made. The degree of openness of Open Access journals were discussed including types of Open Access copyrights. Finally, the presenter (Vrushali) shared how DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals), which indexes and provides access to peer-reviewed Open Access journals, can assist researchers identify recognised Open Access journals. In summary, the session was very informative and I would use the strategies discussed to make informed choices in the future, as well as guiding others.
DITCHING JOURNAL IMPACT FACTORS AND JOURNAL BLACKLISTS FOR GOOD (UNCONFERENCE SESSION)
The unconference session on spotting predatory journals influenced my choice of the discussion group. The discussion group led by Emma Molls focused on how impact factor metrics play a role in influencing researchers to publish in traditional journals instead of Open Access journals. The fundamental question was “how might we rethink journal quality in a way that it benefits authors, editors, and librarians without duplicating the faults of the past?” A critical discussion and questioning on whether impact factor captures the ideals of quality and impact were raised. For instance, a question on whether the impact factor of a journal should be equated to the impact factor of an article was raised. We also explored other possible metrics which can act as a measure of the impact of an article including citation, reproducibility, transparency and significance. We then considered the incentives that could motivate scholars to consider Open Access publishing. These include the recognition system in the research community/workplace and sponsors’/funders’ influence on where outputs should be published, among other factors.
This activity of the OpenCon2018 is the creativity and innovation session where new ideas and organisations are birthed through collaboration and networking. Individuals are encouraged to propose ideas no matter how sketchy they might be! Participants interested in a proposed idea come together and use their diverse skills to develop the idea and create a possible network that can allow them to continue collaborating on the idea after the conference. My group started developing a platform that can bring together those who have good ideas but cannot develop them due to lack of resources or expertise and those who can transform the ideas into reality. We applied a design thinking approach in seeking a solution. Afterwards, we set up a Whatsapp group to continue working on the idea. Members are from UK, Canada, Germany, Jordan and Tanzania and we held a Skype discussion on the project in early December 2018 to review progress on the assigned tasks at the conference.
OpenCon2018 may have come and gone but one thing is certain – it has opened a new world of possibilities for me in becoming an advocate for Open Access, open research, open data, open education, open government and indeed open philosophy. This was what I wanted and I now have it! I’m looking forward to working with The University of Manchester Library to contribute to the promotion of the Open philosophy across the University. My experience will also be promoted in my other institution, Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike Ikwo, Nigeria after I complete my PhD studies at Manchester.
Finally, I look forward to contributing towards supporting and volunteering with communities/organisations/institutions seeking to build tools, processes, systems and infrastructures that promote open philosophy to achieve an inclusive, fair, participatory and equitable system. I believe that applied open principles can empower people to bring on board their professional and personal diversities and uniqueness into the building blocks of a better society we all desire.
When we’re planning for Open Access (OA) Week we reflect on where we’ve got to in our services, both in the delivery and the level of researcher engagement with OA.
It’s always rewarding for us to remember how well established our service now is and the important part we play in increasing access to the University’s research and, of course, funder compliance. This year we worked with colleagues in the University’s Global Development Institute to showcase their OA research, which aligns with the theme of OA Week 2018, and highlighted our top 5 most accessed theses.
Levels of engagement with OA at the University are high – while it’s undoubtedly true that this is related to funder policies , it’s also partly because our services are designed to make the process easy for authors. OA isn’t always easy for researchers to understand but our process is, and it prompts conversations with us about what to do, and the reasons why, all year round. Our webpages underpin our current processes but now – we’ve just launched new-look webpages – also look ahead, encouraging and supporting engagement with Open Research more broadly.
What I’ve been reminded of as we’ve been preparing for OA Week is that however well we’re doing at the moment, there are still challenges to tackle. And I’m not referring to Plan S.
Working in an Open Access service
OA teams have formed and grown over the past 5 years. Most of us learned on the job and we’re now training the new colleagues on the job. I’m part of a national group considering how best to prepare the next generation of people for work in this area. One way we’re doing this is by inviting staff already working in this area to share their experiences.
We often receive applications for our vacancies that suggest a lack of understanding about the nature of the roles so I’ve asked Lucy May and Olivia Rye from our team to talk about what it means to work in a role with a strong focus on Gold OA at a large research-intensive university.
A further challenge is OA monographs and book chapters. We really need greater clarity on publisher processes as they relate to OA for these output types. Over the past week we’ve been reviewing the status of 14 payments we arranged for our School of Arts, Languages and Cultures from our 2017-18 institutional OA fund (last payment made in early September), totalling just over £61,000. Of these, 6 outputs are not yet OA. Another output, a monograph, is not flagged as OA on the publisher’s page. This may be an oversight, but it’s telling of developments still needed – the publisher of this book told the author that they don’t have processes in place for this yet.
Of the 6 outputs, two were book chapters, from a commercial publisher that I assume has a process, because they have a webpage offering OA for chapters as an option, but although I’ve had an apology I’ve not yet had confirmation of when the chapters will be OA. One was an article from a US University Press – I had a fast response and apology but have been told it will take at at least a week for the article to be made OA.
The 3 remaining outputs are monographs. From the responses I’ve had I’m understanding that there’s a delay in converting a monograph to OA once a Book Processing Charge is made – what I’ve yet to learn is how long this is likely to be. We can’t have meaningful discussions with authors without this kind of information and the lack of publisher procedures affects confidence in engagement with OA.
So, this is now on my To Do list both here at Manchester and for the RLUK Open Access Publisher Processes group. By the time we’re planning OA Week activities next year, and reflecting on how far we’ve come, I’m determined we’ll have answers.
We’ve now assessed all applications for our sponsored OpenCon 2018 place and are pleased to announce that the successful applicant is Chukwuma Ogbonnaya. Chukwuma is a PhD Student at the school of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering, as well as working as an early career Lecturer in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Federal University Ndufu-Alike Ikwo in Abakaliki, Nigeria.
Chukwuma’s application stood out due to his ability to combine passion with practical ideas for improving openness in research, based on his own experiences as a researcher and student. Having experienced both the frustration of gaining access to the supporting data of other scientists, and the substantial effort required to manually explain his own data to ensure it’s meaningful to readers, Chukmuna is motivated to explore the development of systems to support effective and systematic sharing of important research artefacts such as contextual data and code to aid analysis and reproducibility of published research findings.
The panel was particularly impressed with Chukwuma’s ideas for establishing a researcher network to support and encourage research staff and students across The University of Manchester to embrace the Open philosophy. Chukwuma plans to achieve this through both developing strategies for and engaging in outreach activities to explain the benefits of open research and learning.
Chukwuma was keen to attend OpenCon 2018 to network with like-minded fellows to develop his knowledge and critical skills. Collaboration is essential to developing serious challenges to established norms of scholarly communication, and we’re hoping Chukwuma will meet equally passionate delegates to help him develop and hone his ambitious plans.
We look forward to hearing from Chukwuma on his experiences at OpenCon 2018 and working with him on upcoming open research activities, including Open Access Week 2018 and our next Open Research Forum in November.
I was delighted to win a tuition scholarship to attend this year’s Force11 Scholarly Communications Summer School in San Diego, California. The demanding pace of our work in the Library’s Research Services division means it’s tricky to take time out to consider our work in broader contexts. I was therefore grateful for the opportunity to spend a whole week debating pressing issues and potential innovations in the scholarly ecosystem with researchers, fellow librarians and thought leaders, especially in such a beautiful location with the chance of a trip to the beach!
Force11’s Summer School (#FSCI) is more intense than a conference, both in duration and active participation: I signed up for classes, not talks, taking place over 5 days. I chose classes on the nature of collaboration in research; alternative approaches to peer review; and exploring what we mean by public Humanities – topics that I hoped would allow me to both apply and stretch my existing practical experience of supporting research dissemination. On the whole, classes were well-structured with a combination of expert insight, stimulating practical activities, and thought-provoking discussions. These were my highlights from each class:
I loved hearing from Daniel O’Donnell and Maryann Martone on the concept of the Scholarly Commons, developed from considering what our system of scholarship would look like if we started it from scratch nowadays, with access to the internet and public funding. The Commons is ‘an extension of the Open Science concept,’ a ‘conceptual space or spaces onto which we can map principles, best practices, service and standards that govern the production and dissemination of scholarly and research works so that they are maximally useful to all who need or want them.’ Its underlying principles are still being developed, and we were encouraged to contribute our suggestions. We considered how implementation of the Commons principles could disrupt the scholarly ecosystem, with my group envisioning a dynamic system of research communication centred on the connections between research objects, allowing continuous, versioned peer review rather than final, formal publication. Our instructors likened this approach to Cameron Neylon’s aggregation model of scholarly communication.
This provocative class unapologetically generated more questions than answers. We’re increasingly comfortable thinking about Digital Humanities, but what about Open or Public Humanities? Can we have a Humanities which is Open or Public without being Digital? Can the Humanities be Public without being Open? (I think not). What do we even mean when we talk about the Humanities? Faced with instructor Samantha Wallace’s challenging question, ‘Can the University be removed from the Humanities?’, I was forced to confront my proprietorial stance, realising for the first time my assumption that expression or culture only become ‘the Humanities’ when the academy gets involved. I also recognised unpleasantly cynical and paternalistic notes to my thinking about Public Humanities, with assumptions about outreach work or community engagement as impact-demonstrating add-ons to research projects. I was grateful for UCSD Library’s Erin Glass’ insight that it’s unhelpful to refer blandly to ‘the public’ – this is an anonymous signifier for what are in reality distinct, identifiable communities with whom we in academic institutions should seek to build real relationships. Despite the often abstract discussion, I left this class with a practical takeaway. Prompted by Sidonie Smith’s comment on platforms and tools that ‘Just trying to stay abreast of what’s out there becomes a dizzying affair,’ I want to explore the Library’s role in supporting Humanist researchers interested in working more publicly and openly, perhaps through developing expertise with relevant platforms, tools and methods and sharing this with Humanities researchers through personal consultation. I’ll also be considering the class reflections of Micah Vandergrift, one of our instructors, for further thinking and ideas.
Aside from deepening my understand of scholarly communication, especially problematic aspects of the traditional research publishing ecosystem and emerging challenges to these, the most valuable aspect of the Summer School was the opportunity to meet colleagues from around the world. Delegates represented six continents (no applicants from Antarctica sadly!), and it was amazing to share experiences of managing Open Access funds with a librarian from Canada; discuss our Library’s DMP service with a research student from Chile; hear the plans of one of the first Scholarly Communication librarians to be appointed in Nigeria; and consider new theories of research collaboration developed by sociologists from Russia. Everyone I spoke to was passionate about open scholarship, generous with their insights and unafraid to challenge assumptions with nuanced arguments. The people – instructors, delegates and organisers – made FSCI a stimulating and inspiring event, and I left California with a refreshed sense of purpose and creativity which I hope to channel into enhancing our scholarly communication support at Manchester.
We’re excited to be sponsoring a Manchester PhD student or early career researcher with a passion for Open Research to attend OpenCon 2018 in Toronto, Canada, from 2nd – 4th November.
Organised by SPARC, the Right to Research Coalition and a global conference committee, OpenCon encourages the exploration of opportunities to advance Open Access and Open Data in a positive and supportive environment (see Code of Conduct). This is a great opportunity to learn more about Open Research issues, develop critical skills, contribute to collaborative projects and meet members of a growing global community advocating for a more open system of sharing the world’s information.
The travel scholarship covers the cost of the registration fee, flight and shared accommodation. The University Library will reimburse the cost of sundries not covered by the scholarship. In return we’ll ask the successful applicant to contribute to one of the Library’s upcoming Open Research Forum events and write up their conference experience in a short report for our Library Research Plus blog.
At The University of Manchester Library, we’re passionate about supporting and facilitating Open Access (OA) research and helping our Postgraduate research (PGR) students to thrive. These concerns form two key elements of our new Library Strategy to support the University in producing world class research. Last year I worked with colleagues across the University to target these important areas simultaneously, by introducing an Open Access policy for postgraduate research theses. One year and 999 thesis submissions later, 88% of final theses have been approved to be immediately OA or OA within 12 months of submission. The success of the policy so far suggests an appetite for OA amongst PGR students and their supervisors at Manchester.
Motivations for an Open Access policy for theses
Manchester is committed to ensuring as wide an audience as possible can read the outputs of its research. In 2016, following the launch of Research England (previously HEFCE)’s OA policy, we introduced our long-planned institutional policy, requiring all staff to make their published papers OA. The University recognises postgraduate theses as valuable research outputs, and Manchester Doctoral College champions the importance of treating PGR students as academic staff wherever possible. We were keen to bring PGRs and theses in line with Manchester’s other academics and research outputs, to ensure everyone can benefit from this important work, complementing ongoing work by the Library’s Content, Collections and Discovery team to digitise older, paper-based theses.
We’ve supported electronic submission of PhD theses since 2010, and around 1,000 PGRs use our bespoke eThesis submission system developed by the Library each year. Having expert developers in-house who built and maintain this system allows us to offer a consistently high level of support, as well as being able to adapt the system to support the OA policy without having to submit costly work requests to external developers.
PGRs are supported by a range of University departments, from administrators in Faculties, to development officers tasked with training, and senior leaders responsible for graduate education, so it was important to consult with key stakeholders throughout the project. The outcome was a refreshed submission form, enhanced submission management system, and brand new supervisor approval portal which have all proven straightforward for students, supervisors and administrators to use. We’ve also improved our eThesis Support Service webpages, with dedicated pages for different stakeholders offering a more personalised user experience, and developed robust guidance materials and well-received student and supervisor training.
Access decisions: a clear preference for Open Access
Our PGRS can choose from two access levels within the terms of the policy: immediate OA or OA with a 12 month embargo, or they can request an exception to the thesis OA policy. If they request an exception, they select from five formally agreed reasons, related to sponsorship or sensitive content, plus a free text ‘Other’ box. They can then select an exceptional access level: a 2 year or 5 year embargo, or indefinite closed access.
To ensure that appropriate access levels are applied to theses, we added a supervisor approval step to the thesis submission process. Supervisors access a dedicated portal to either approve or override their student’s access level selection, based on their understanding of the policy and the specific requirements of the student’s thesis. The final thesis is made available via the University’s Research Explorer according to the supervisor’s approved access level.
Since we launched the policy in June 2017, 999 students have completed eThesis submission, and 877 (88%) of these have selected an access level in line with the policy: either immediate OA or a 12 month embargo. This suggests that the majority of students feel it’s appropriate to make their thesis open within 12 months of submission, and are therefore able to comply with the policy. Although the data suggest an overall increase in OA for Manchester theses, introducing the option of a 12 month embargo means that a higher proportion of our theses are only becoming OA after a delay. Prior to the policy, approximately 60% of theses were made immediately OA, compared to around 52% now. Although we’d like to see the selection of immediate OA increase, on the whole I feel this dip is a reasonable trade-off for improved thesis access long-term.
Most supervisors have endorsed their student’s preferred access level, approving the selection in 71% of cases (708 submissions), and only overriding 35 selections (3.5%). Where students requested exceptions to the policy, the most common reason was that the thesis contained data likely to be included in future research by supervisor or collaborators (39 cases, 4% of all submissions). We deliberately omitted publishing plans from the agreed reasons for requesting an exception, as we wanted to avoid prejudicing students against making their work open within 12 months for this reason. As most academic publishers don’t consider a thesis to be a prior publication, we opted to handle this issue by exception, providing guidance on our support website, and less than 2% of submitting students opted for a longer embargo for this reason.
One year on: embedding Open Access into the thesis submission process
A year on from launch, both the policy and revised submission process are well-established. The system architecture has worked consistently and effectively, including during our peak submission period in late September – its first major test – when 314 submissions took place in one week. We’ve only had a small number of enquiries from students and supervisors concerned about access levels, and responses are generally favourable once the policy’s motivations and requirements are explained.
Some follow-up work was required to address a handful of issues including handling redacted theses; improving back-end functionality to aid monitoring of access levels; and enhancements to how theses are displayed in our Research Explorer. Aside from these issues, we’ve succeeded in embedding OA considerations into the PhD submission process, and we’ll continue to explore ways in which we can support PGRs on their academic journeys, and open up Manchester’s research to the world.