Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Princeton bans transfer of academic copyright

As you'll have seen from the UKCoRR discussion list Princeton University in the US has taken the dramatic step of banning academics from handing over all copyright to publishers. I think this is an interesting development, and perhaps is the next step on from institutional mandates. While I can only applaud the bravery of the faculty of the institution and wish them every success, I do think that just like mandates that a note of caution must be sounded.

Mandates, if you listen to some proponents, are the cure-all of the open access world. Those of us in UKCoRR know the practical truth though, that while they are indeed powerful statements of commitment to open access from an institution's SMT getting academics to comply with them can be a struggle. Mandates are the stick when contrasted with the carrot of open access benefits that most of us advocate to our academics. However, they are a toothless stick (if I may mix my metaphors) in most cases - I've yet to hear from any UK institution where an academic whom has ignored a institutional mandate has ended up in hot water over it.

They're also a stick that we repository managers and administrators can't wield - the image of the reaction I'd get from telling an academic to they HAVE to deposit or else...well it ends with me being unceremoniously tossed out of their office to derisory laughter. Mandates only really work for the vast majority of staff when they are applied and enforced - a role for far more senior staff to engage with.

And that's where I wonder how the Princeton policy will be applied. Will we hear of an academic, whom wanting to publish in a prestigious journal that requires the standard rights transfer flaunting the policy getting into hot water, being suspended or sacked as a result? I seriously doubt it. No institution worth its research salt is going to want to damage it's reputation in this way.

Although it seems in the case of Princeton that this policy has come from the faculty themselves, so perhaps each and everyone of them is indeed highly enlightened and switched onto the broad benefits of open access. If so, someone send me details of how to apply for a job there as it sounds like a place I want to work!

Years ago I remember Bill Hubbard quoting me a factoid that the UK HEI sector was worth more to the UK economy by billions of pounds that the UK academic publishing industry. I suspect the same may be true in the states, so perhaps this is the rousing of the sleeping giant, no longer willing to passively accede to the publishers' dominion over them. Will Yale or Harvard or other Ivy League institutions follow suit? If they do, then perhaps this trickle of affirmative open access action will become a tidal wave that may spread to Europe.

What happens over the coming months will be interesting. Will publishers, in fear of offending one of the US' most prestigious institutions bend to their will? I try to think of what would happen if Oxbridge went down the same route in the UK - I think some smaller publishers would change their policies, but the big multinationals? Doubt it, I really do.

At the end of the day as the article says, chances are the path to open access will continue to be complicated by publishers as they defend their established economic model. But at least that means for us repository types that the world we work in will continue to be a complex and engaging, if not a little frustrating, one.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

LSE Library and a REF call-out: lessons

In the second of his two guest posts, Neil Stewart identifies lessons from managing a call-out for publications for REF assessment at the London School of Economics.

If you would like to contribute a guest-post to the UKCoRR blog, please contact a member of the committee.

At the recent RSP event on Readiness for REF (which I blogged about on this blog), my former LSE colleague Dave Puplett and I presented on our experience of managing a call-out for publications for REF assessment. The presentation was qualitatively different from the other presentations at the event, because it was on the managerial and organisational issues surrounding management of publications for REF purposes.

The slides from the presentation, which detail LSE Library's experience (full disclosure: I have now moved on to City University London, where I manage City Research Online) of managing the call-out and subsequent influx of publications, can be downloaded from the RSP site (Powerpoint link). Instead of re-hashing the whole presentation, I thought I would take the opportunity to detail some of the lessons learnt, which are hopefully of general applicability to repository people.

Lesson 1: dealing with REF matters puts you at the heart of things
When LSE Research Online (LSERO) was chosen as the de facto method of managing REF data, LSERO became a much higher strategic priority for the School. This is of course excellent for the service, and it had been the case that the LSERO team and Library management had been plugging away to make this happen for a very long time. However, it's also an opportunity that must be seized, because missing it could have meant that the repository would have been side-lined, and new methods to manage this process would have been found. At LSE, this meant that resources to adequately manage things had to be found, which meant diverting resources from elsewhere to allow this to happen. The REF is too important to ignore: get it right, by allocating adequate resource and managerial effort, and the repository gains profile and prestige; but getting it wrong could be disastrous.

Lesson 2: if you didn't talk to the Research Office before, you soon will
The REF call-out at LSE was instigated by the Research Office. While that team had been close allies during the RAE in 2008, the call-out meant that we really had to start working with them more closely well in advance of the REF. This soon fostered a productive relationship, and allowed us to use the Research Office's channels of communications with which to talk to departments. It also gave us the authority to standardise the way in which publications data was reported upon, since the combined weight of the LSERO team and Research Office left departments with little choice!

Lesson 3: it's possible to use the ePrints (and presumably DSpace) back-end to perform database query magic
If you're lucky enough to have a friendly IT person who can run SQL database queries (or if you have that skill yourself) then get in touch with them when you have to start thinking about REF matters. Being able to access then manipulate data direct from the repository's database is invaluable, because it allows you to create customised reporting data based upon any criteria you might wish to include.

Lesson 4: issues of disambiguation get thrown into sharp relief
Dealing with REF publications data brought up those old librarianship questions which are probably familiar to all of us. Two in particular came into relief particularly strongly:
  • Which department do academics really live in? Academics can have multiple allegiances, to their department(s), research centre(s) and other parts of the university (e.g. the senior management team). Where, for REF purposes, should an academic be placed? If "units of assessment" do not correlate with departments, how does the repository map this? These are of course as much questions for the Research Office as they are for repository teams, but nevertheless they must be tackled.
  • When do academics start (and finish) their careers with parent institutions? How much data from before (and after) these dates should the repository hold, for REF purposes?
The above points (and I'm sure other people can think of others) points to the need to have a CERIF-ied repository system, which links into other university-wide systems, and which may be able to solve these problems of ambiguity.

Lesson 5: in-press and submitted publications are hard to deal with
Be very careful about how forthcoming publications are dealt with. The problem here is one of recording this data in a non-public forum, which can still be reported back to departments in a useful fashion. Many academics will feel that you are jeopardising their chances of publication by including a citation to an in press item in the live repository without their say-so.

Lesson 6: don't let Open Access be forgotten about!
All of the above sounds like work that could usefully be done by a CRIS, and makes no mention of the primary goal of (most) repositories, which is providing openly accessible research. There is a great danger, in my view, that open access can be overwhelmed by the needs of REF reporting, particularly if the repository team has to devote extra resource to dealing with this. How to balance open access and REF is an open question, and one that the LSERO team are still pondering. One benefit of the REF exercise is that it has made LSERO "complete" (regarding citations, at least), which might be a way of further pushing the open access agenda from a position of strength.

I'm sure there are plenty of other lessons that people could add to this list, judging by discussions at this event and elsewhere- please add them (or any other comments) in the comments section below.

Friday, 9 September 2011

RSP Readiness for REF (R4R) workshop, 5th September 2011

In the first of two guest posts, Neil Stewart reflects on the RSP Readiness for REF workshop.

If you would like to contribute a guest-post to the UKCoRR blog, please contact a member of the committee.

My name is Neil Stewart, and I'm the repository manager for the newly minted City Research Online repository, at City University London. I normally blog at City Open Access, if you want to keep an eye on developments of a repository which is still on a project footing, rather than a fully-fledged service.

The reason you find me writing here is because I was recently the recipient of two invitations: to present at the RSP Readiness for REF (R4R) workshop, held on Monday 5th September in London, and to blog about that event here at UKCORR's blog. I was happy to take up both invitations. What follows summarises some thoughts about the workshop, and on the Research Excellence Framework (REF) as it relates to repositories in general. It should be noted that the opinions below are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of UKCORR. I'll be writing another post soon, which outlines the R4R workshop presentation which I delivered with my former LSE colleague Dave Puplett.

The event's emphasis (apart from the presentation which Dave & I delivered) can fairly be characterised as macro-level, since it discussed REF data submission in very general terms, and with specific reference to the CERIF metadata standard. CERIF is a flexible, extensible model for metadata about research-producing institutions, including (but not limited to) publications data. It is possible, using the CERIF schema, to model an institution's structure, then show how researchers and research outputs relate to that structure. This has obvious benefits for an exercise like the REF, which will (amongst other things) require submission of data on "REF-able" (i.e. high quality) publications at a department (or at least department-like "unit of assessment") level.

The morning sessions dealt with laying out the details of how CERIF and CERIF-compliant repositories could assist with REF submissions. The first session was an overview of the JISC-sponsored Readiness4REF (R4R) Project, and was delivered by Richard Gartner of Kings College London. R4R, just in the process of closing, has looked at the way in which repositories and other data management tools can provide CERIF-compliant data for REF submission purposes. Second was Keith Jeffery from euroCRIS, who gave the bigger picture as to how CERIF was developed and what it can do. This was followed by a panel discussion on the Measuring Impact Under CERIF (MICE) project, which is attempting to build in research impact data into the CERIF schema, and hence make it readily submissible for REF.

After Dave & my presentation and lunch, there were demonstrations of R4R plug-ins for the three major repository software types (Fedora, DSpace and ePrints). As an ePrints user, I was interested to see a demonstration of ePrints v. 3.3, which is to be released in the next few weeks, and contains some "CRIS-like" functionality. This is a kind of CERIF-lite approach, by which it is easy to create associations between researchers, research grants, research centres etc. to express CERIF-like linkages between them. These linkages can then be exposed in useful ways using ePrints web pages, but also exported as CERIF data to be re-used in other systems, or for a REF submission. This seems to me an interesting development, and one we may have to look at here at City.

The final session featured the obligatory break-out groups. I was assigned to a group which discussed the question: "Do you think CERIF is now a more viable option for your institution to use for its REF submission?" A variety of subjects were covered, as ever with these type of discussions. The two main points I took from it were the fact that CERIF provides the opportunity to provide an "open" citation model by modelling linkages (including positive and negative citations) between publications, outside of the "walled gardens" provided by Scopus and Web of Science; and that, for CERIF to work within my institution, there is the somewhat intractable problem of knowing to whom to speak to find out if, for example, the HR database can be plugged into the repository to transfer CERIF-formatted data between the two systems.

All in all, an interesting and timely event. Keep an eye out for my post on LSE Library's experiences of conducting a mini-REF, coming soon!