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News about City University's open access repository, philosophical musings about Open Access

Research Libraries UK conference 2012

Last week I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Research Libraries UK conference 2012. It was held at St James’ Park in Newcastle, a rather huge football stadium (though of course we used the conference centre rather the terraces!) The conference was “high level” insofar as it examined big-picture issues relating to research libraries. In this it reflected the membership of RLUK, and attendees were mainly senior library managers as well as the odd interloper such as myself.

The reason for my attendance was hearing Janet Finch talk about the report her committee produced, which has become known as the Finch Report. Below, I summarise the interesting points of the other plenary sessions and examine in more detail the session in which Finch and others talked about open access. For reasons of space I have omitted reporting on some very lively Pecha Kucha sessions and one of the plenary sessions, as well as Stephen Curry’s excellent and engaging researcher’s perspective on open access, since I reported on a very similar presentation of his recently.

Roly Keating, British Library. Starting off the conference at a very high level, new BL Chief Executive Keating explained how he viewed the BL’s place in the “library ecosystem”. it was a dense presentation, but a few things in particular that he said stuck with me:

  • That the BL is a guarantor of information for future generations- and that this guarantee now extended (by statutory remit) to web content.
  • That the BL (and by extension other libraries) is a cultural institutions in its own right, as well as a traditional library in the sense of being a repository for physical objects.
  • Data management is a new horizon for the BL- for example they partnered with the BBC recently to digitise and turn into a dataset the Radio Times, giving the BBC for the first time a complete record of its broadcasting schedule since its inception.
  • The power and value of the physical object has not diminished in this new digital world; in fact it is enhanced.
  • The move to non-physical legal deposit is the biggest challenge on the BL’s horizon, but presents some amazing opportunities, e.g. turning the UK’s entire web domain into a dataset to allow its programmatic analysis.

User-centred cataloguing: thinking differently. This session was on the opportunities presented by shared services for cataloguing, in light of recent developments in data interoperability (not least that old library favourite, linked data). Economies of scale can be derived from a shared approach to the re-use of cataloguing data. The question is how to usefully do this.

Redefining the Research Library Model. A report on the RLUK project of the same name, which summarised new thinking in this area (and the website above includes some very interesting position papers on this subject). Most interesting was news from JISC on their forthcoming changes, which (for repositories at least) seem to lay emphasis on research data management.

Hidden Gems: Revealing or Special Collections. An overview of the state of play with special collections in research libraries. Some provocative points were made here, including one from Andrew Green, National Library of Wales, that perhaps those collections of uncatalogued material should be gotten rid of- how useful are they really?

Open Access to UK Research Outputs. As mentioned above, this session was of the most interest to me personally. Janet Finch kicked off, summarising how the Finch Report came to the conclusions it did, and the implications of those conclusions for libraries. The Finch Report has been discussed at great length elsewhere (in particular the way it favours Gold Open Access (OA) over Green) so I won’t rehash that discussion here, but some of the points and questions I took from Finch’s presentation were as follows:

  • Finch made very clear that there was no ministerial or other governmental influence over the findings of the committee and its report.
  • Finch stated that the remit of the report was (among other things) to make peer reviewed research available “free”, but free for whom? The emphasis on Gold OA means that journal publishing will move from a “reader pays” to an “author pays” model. Moreover, the cost of Gold OA author processing charges has been estimated at £60m per year on top of (or taken out of) the UK’s research budget, which will go directly to publishers.
  • Finch stated that “Maintaining the viability if the publishing industry” was one of the Committee’s success criteria, but it’s unclear to me why this should have deemed a criteria for success, if the goal was free access to research and if there was no Ministerial influence on the Committee.
  • Finch made some reassuring (from my perspective as a repository manager!) remarks about the expectation that we will be in a “mixed economy” of Green and Gold for the foreseeable future.

Following on from Janet Finch, was Mark Thorley from RCUK, to explain RCUK’s also much-discussed and recently revised open access policy. This policy puts into practice the Finch Report’s recommendations by enforcing open access for research it funds, with a clear preference for the Gold over the Green route (which at first glance seems to say that researchers with RCUK funding must, when they publish, go Gold if they can; and if they can’t go Gold they must go Green). When asked about whether this would circumscribe authors’ choices, Thorley was very clear that the policy applied at the level of journals rather than individuals. In other words, RCUK won’t be policing the choices of individuals as long as they have made their work openly accessible whether that is by going Gold or Green (or indeed both). What remains unclear to me is how researchers themselves are supposed to know this, given the wording of the current policy and the advice that surrounds it.

All in all the conference was very interesting for the “core” aspects of my role (i.e. open access), but it was also fascinating to find out about the many other hot topics around research libraries. I also managed to catch up with some old friends and meet some new people, which is always good!

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