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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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Open Access Week 2012: Opening Research and Data

Last week, as part of Open Access Week 2012, colleagues at LSHTM, Birkbeck, LSE, and SOAS (as well as myself) organised an event, Opening Research and Data. It was intended to be a broad overview of “where we’re at” with open access. As such, we were lucky to be able to put together a bill that was eminently capable of taking a high-level look at the open agenda, particularly in light of recent developments such as the Finch Report and the new RCUK policy on open access.

The first presenter was Frederick Friend, Honorary Director Scholarly Communication at UCL.  Frederick gave a broad overview of the development of open access up to the present day. The strongest message I took from his presentation was the flaws in the Finch Report, and as a result the flaws in the RCUK open access policy. He noted that there was (unjust) antagonism towards institutional repositories (IRs) , particularly since IRs are the medium of by which the vast majority of the 20% of open access journal content has been made available. He also characterised the Gold option recommended by Finch and RCUK as being uncosted and to the detriment of cheaper Green OA. He likened the policy to trying to make an aeroplane flight to open access with just one (Gold) engine- something much easier to do with two (green and gold) engines!  He also asked academic colleagues to question what exactly they will receive in return for potentially very high Gold OA article processing charges. You can view Frederick Friend’s presentation here.

Next up was Professor Stephen Curry from Imperial College London. Prof Curry is, as he admitted, someone who has recently become interested in open access, and has blogged prolifically on the issue recently, as well as writing on open access and other scientific matters for The Guardian. His general message was that it had been a positive year for open access, since the “fundamentally unanswerable” argument for open access had been won, and awareness of open access was greater than ever before. He had a few concerns, which echoed those of Fred Friend, in particular that Finch & RCUK’s emphasis on Gold will benefit commercial publishers, and that the open access movement must show more unity given the sometimes divisive and rancorous nature of the Gold v. Green debate. Finally, he mentioned that the spurious indicator of academic worth, the Impact Factor, should be done away with. You can view Prof Curry’s presentation here.

Providing a couple of “real-life” experiences of open access were Dr Melissa Terras and Dr Antonio Gasparrini. Dr Terras, a Digital Humanities scholar at UCL, presented about her experiences at using social media (in particular blogging and Twitter) to promote papers made available in UCL’s Discovery repository. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a combination of well-nurtured social networks and openly accessible research equals lots of downloads and hence wide dissemination of research (and see here for a fuller account of a previous version of this presentation). You can view Dr Terras’ presentation here.

Dr Gasparrini is an early-career medical researcher at LSHTM. His presentation focussed on navigating the often confusing open access environment to ensure he complied with open access policy, in this case that of the MRC. In his experience, it was often a question of trading off limited funds assigned for Gold OA against a journal’s reputation, as summarised by Impact Factor. Dr Gasparrini’s best find was that of the Journal of Statistical Software, a fully-open access journal with an APC cost of £0, and a good Impact Factor too.  Dr Gasparrini finished his presentation by pointing to the open software movement, which seems to have gotten far further towards “open” than scholarly communications (though there are structural and commercial reasons for this, I would argue). You can view Dr Gasparrini’s presentation here.

Finally it was the turn of the funding agencies to give their perspective, in two presentations. The first was from David Carr from the Wellcome Trust, who detailed Wellcome’s open access policy. Open access to research is covered by an RCUK-like policy, which emphasises Gold over Green open access. David also laid some emphasis on Wellcome’s plans to better enforce already required research data management plans, which should further the open data agenda (something covered in passing, rather than in depth, by the day’s presentations). You can view David’s presentation here.

Last up was Ben Ryan from EPSRC, who was wearing his RCUK policy hat. Ben had the somewhat unenviable task of explaining RCUK’s open access policy to an audience comprised of a large number of those likely to be critical of RCUK’s policy, not least repository managers. Criticism of the policy has been well-rehearsed elsewhere, but one notable statement from Ben was that RCUK would not be prescriptive within institutions about how they complied with the policy; instead it would be down to individuals to choose, within the criteria laid down by RCUK. The possible perverse effects of the policy have also been documented (briefly, journal publishers may up embargo periods to prevent Green OA being an option); Stephen Curry, in the later discussion, noted that any publisher changing embargo periods to exclude Green OA as an option would be likely to see authors vote with their feet. Ben’s presentation can be viewed here.

The day was rounded off with a lively discussion, proving that people had been thinking about and engaging with the issues raised. Despite being somewhat biased, as I helped organise the event, I think it was a great success and a worthy and thought-provoking way in which to celebrate Open Access Week 2012.

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