Monday, 27 February 2012

The COAR Question

Those of you whom attended the Portsmouth meeting last month, and hopefully everyone on the list, should be aware of COAR.  As you know there have been some very tentative discussions going on behind the scenes relating to the question of should UKCoRR become a member of COAR. 

There are a number of obstacles to membership in our way - not least of which is the question of how as a lightweight unfunded organisation we would afford to pay the annual membership fee.  There are also broader policy questions about whether membership of COAR would be in the best interests of UKCoRR's long term Independence of action, policy and governance.  You only have to glance at the recent announcements from us both on the Elsevier question to see that while the two groups have for the most part allied goals that we are likely to come from two different angles on some issues.

COAR is an organisational membership body funded by subscriptions pushing ahead the interests of open access and repositories.  UKCoRR is a individual membership organisation unfunded and independent that pushes forward the representation and development of its members, as well as the role of repositories in the UK.  There are other differences but I encourage you all to study the goals of both COAR and UKCoRR and come to your own conclusion on the compatibility or otherwise of the two organisations.

As I said in Portsmouth, as Chair while I can see a certain simpatico in establishing strong lines of communication and liaison with COAR (or indeed any other similar body) I do have a number of concerns over formal membership for UKCoRR. 

Not least among these are these questions:
  • What does UKCoRR the organisation really get out of membership? 
  • What do UKCoRR members get out of our membership?
  • How closely does membership tie us to COAR's agenda and policy?
  • Is it better to maintain our independence rather than interdependence?
As Chair I wouldn't like to be in circumstances where UKCoRR couldn't be seen to disagree with COAR's position on an issue where our membership felt strongly.  COAR encourages participation of its membership in its governance, but as an unfunded body this would leave our Committee in the awkward position of requiring our employers to fund our travel to Europe to attend meetings on behalf of UKCoRR; something that in these budget conscious times I might anticipate would not be that easy a task to achieve
Rather than UKCoRR becoming a member, would it not perhaps be a better idea for our host institutions to become members of COAR (UK membership is currently negligible)?  Would this better suit the aims of both organisations, and our employers to boot?

As such I am looking to you the membership to give the Committee a steer on this.  Leaving aside the fee question, the core question is: Should UKCoRR explore routes to becoming a formal member of COAR?

Najla Rettberg of COAR has helpfully provided a bit more information from their perspective that I'd encourage you all to read before responding.

I await your thoughts with considerable interest - please feel free to comment here or if you prefer contact myself or any of the Committee offline.

[Update 2/April/2012: As UKCoRR members will know already; following the discussions on the list and inside the Committee it has been decided that membership within COAR is not something that will be pursued. As Chair I've written to COAR to inform them of our decision, and warmly welcomed them to consider entering into a memorandum of understanding and support with us; in much the same way as we have with the RSP and the DRF.]

Friday, 17 February 2012

Elsevier: The Big Bad or Walking with Dinosaurs?

You can't help but have seen in the last few weeks all the press about Elsevier in the blogsphere and news media, especially The Cost of Knowledge Petition.  It's been hard to avoid, and it's been a matter of debate within the UKCoRR Community as well.  One thing that raised my eyebrows more than their prices was the statement from COAR urging them " reconsider its prohibitive approach to open access and revise its policies to allow the deposit of research articles with minimum delay."  I think it's a brave move, although one fraught with political issues - coming down so heavily on the "anti" side of the debate.

UKCoRR certainly feels that the support of such retrograde ideas as the RWA by the AAP, and chief among them Elsevier, is something that has the potential to have significantly deleterious long term effects on the cause of opening access for all to the treasures of human knowledge.  As the Big Bad (it seems) for the RWA, we are not at all surprised that they are now reaping the whirlwind.  Not to mention their continued muddying of the authors licenses and permissions which causes each and everyone of us a headache I'm quite sure.  But they are not the only publisher to be guilty of these sins against open access, and part of me feels that singling them out for such a public barracking perhaps might let other issues or publishers slip back into the shadows.  I think we all need to remain vigilant and sound the alarm just as loudly should any other organisation or stakeholder in the scholarly publishing domain make such similar policy moves.

One thing UKCoRR has striven to do from our very earliest days is attempt to engage with publishers, along with other stakeholders, to seek a joined up future of scholarly communication.  To date I will confess these giants in the playground have ignored the minnows in the corner (from their perspective at least).  However, one only needs to point to the lessons of history and perhaps remind them that the massive and preeminent lifeforms that were the dinosaurs were once as all dominant while tiny rodents scampered around their feet.  When the sea change came in the shape of the K-T extinction event the dinosaurs were so locked into their evolutionary niche that they were unable to adapt, and their successors rose from beneath their claws.

Is open access the world killer for the publishing dinosaurs?  Personally I hope not, but seeing this increasing reactionary inflexibility from the big boys of publishing does certainly ring one or two points of commonality in my head.  The more they dig into their 19th/20th Century position as gatekeepers, guardians and protectors of the IP of the scholars of the world, and the more the 21st Century makes it easier, faster and simpler for others to fill the various roles, the more I think they're going to back themselves down into their very own Chicxulub crater.

But it also means that we in the repository sector have to remain just as agile if we are to survived the impact.  I often say to my team that what we do and how we work with repositories today is very much evolved from where we were when I entered the field in 2006.  We've been evolving, and we need to keep evolving if we are to meet the needs of our academics as they, hopefully, finally wise us to the fact that they don't need publishers like they used to; and that the apparatus and expertise to help them share, curate and celebrate their knowledge output is just a short walk across the campus to the repository office.

One thing I would charge all UKCoRR members with is going through the signatories on the petition to see if they can find any local authors and academics.  It is without a doubt a golden opportunity to make use of these self-declared opponents of restrictive knowledge exchange paradigms.  These fine people are willing to speak out, and up, about open access and should be approached as potential local champions of the cause.  Cherish them, support them and above all make use of their insights from the academic perspective; because I often sense that we repository workers don't always quite manage to chime to right bells for academics. 

As some UKCoRR members have said to me - the press visibility in the academic sphere over the restrictions that publishers make on access to our shared knowledge has never been higher.  If nothing else the Cost of Knowledge row is not going to go away quickly, and there will be more than a handful of previously unaware and perhaps uncaring academics who can be brought into the open access fold and the light of a new, better, more open tomorrow.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

UKCoRR members' meeting, University of Portsmouth, 27 Jan 2012

Here are some notes on the first event held for UKCoRR members this year:
Four boats

As you probably know, UKCoRR is an entirely unfunded organisation which relies heavily on the time and energy of its members, and on the generosity of universities to host our meetings – on this occasion our heartfelt thanks to the University of Portsmouth Library, and particularly to Andy Barrow and (associate university librarian) Ken Dick, for very kindly putting us up and keeping us fed and coffee-ed, and for Ken's warm welcome at the start of the meeting.

This was a very well-attended event: nearly 50 UKCoRR members and invited guests, from as far afield as Edinburgh (350+ miles away)… and a packed schedule. So packed, in fact, that we probably didn't leave enough breathing space. We'll build in more rest breaks and time for gossip professional networking at the next meeting!
  1. Slides from all the presentations below will shortly be made available on UKCoRR's slideshare account, at:

  2. Some of the speakers kindly agreed to be filmed, and videos will be made available at:

After Ken had welcomed us to Portstmouth, UKCoRR chair Gaz Johnson gave the first presentation of the day, with a science fiction gloss and a look at the possible future directions of UKCoRR. Gaz has already blogged about his talk. A few key points and questions:
  • The committee needs to consult with members, and these members' meetings are a good way of doing that!

  • Our priorities (validated by the user survey, 2011) should be best practice exchange, lobbying, and advocacy;

  • Is our lack of a membership fee our USP? It means we're beholden to no-one, we don't have to serve anyone's agenda (other than our members'), and it makes it easier to avoid conflicts of interest…

  • …but it's worth considering what we could do differently if we were funded;

  • Should membership of UKCoRR bring with it certain responsibilities?

  • Aren't repositories generally understaffed in the UK?
Next up, Andrew Dorward of EDINA on the UK RepositoryNet+ project to build "a socio-technical infrastructure to support repositories". Andrew gave an overview of the original RepositoryNet project, and the ongoing aim to build shared services for repositories. Recently, the new project interviewed a range of UKCoRR members, Open Access publishers, members of ARMA, and active researchers about the repository landscape — broadly, those interviews validated the current approach to services — but Andrew noted that in repository "ecology", there is some room for drawing together the range of services (search, deposit statistics, etc.) into fewer but more comprehensive tools. He also talked about the growth in OA publishing since the launch of PLoS in 2003: see doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001235.t001

Last up before lunch, Marie-Therese Gramstadt from the University of the Creative Arts gave us an update on the Kultivate project, the advocacy and decision-making toolkits, and the associated Kultur II group, sharing best practice in repository design for creative and visual arts research. Asked to show hands, about half the UKCoRR delegates had arts researchers 'at home' – about the same number of people also expressed an interest in continuing the work of Kultur II. Some Kultivate links:
After lunch – the lightning talks!
  • Talking about a new strategic marketing project for WRAP (the University of Warwick's repository) – Yvonne Budden explained the need to revamp the repo's image, and how WRAP piggybacked on a wider redesign project at Warwick and used an interesting methodology from the Kay Grieves at the University of Sunderland, summarised as: (1) Match services to users (2) Transform services into benefits (3) Translate benefits into messages! Freebie materials (highlighter pens, etc.) are being used as bribes to encourage depositors to take the message of the repo back to their colleagues. A really striking new black-and-yellow colour scheme!

  • Matthew Smith from the University of So'ton, on the EPrints Shelves project. Building a tool to give users more control over how results from their repository are displayed on author profile pages, etc., by allowing people to log in and add/remove items from a 'shelf'. Those 'shelves' can then be exported using normal EPrints export tools. Shelves should be released to the EPrints Bazaar soon. Lots of interest in the room about this plugin!

  • Tracey Kent on the use of a "request a copy" for e-theses at the University of Birmingham. Birmingham offer four options for access to e-theses: from [1] "full OA" through to [2] "request a copy" (with theses available through EThOS), [3] a more limited request (excerpts only; not on EThOS), and finally [4] fully-embargoed theses. They went from around 2,500 thesis requests per year to more than 250,000 requests/yr., with ~88% on some kind of Open Access (options [1] or [2]).

  • Margaret Feetham of Southampton Solent University talked about running their mixed-economy repository (research, student work, university publications) …with (very familiar to UKCoRR members!) little budget and few staff. SSU practice unmediated deposit, with academics given training on copyright and licensing issues. Margaret explained how they've still managed to get an impressive deposit rate by engaging keen users and advocates, and by working with the university's research services – with REF2014 as an attention-focuser!

  • From the STFC (Science and Technology Facilities Council), Catherine Jones explained how they are using CrossRef to create large numbers of (metadata-only) records in – scientific authors like the ability to use that repository's quick & easy DOI import tool to deposit records, but are now pressing to be able to speed the process up even further. Challenges of recording articles with hundreds or even thousands of collaborators – not uncommon in some areas of physics!
A quick breather, then straight on to the first of two invited speakers to wind the day up:

Sarah Gould of the British Library on some of the changes in the pipeline for the EThOS service. There's general recognition that some of the features of EThOS (e.g. the "checkout" process for supplying PDF copies of theses) are a bit old hat, and too rooted in old document supply processes. The limited metadata applied to many items in EThOS is also a barrier. EThOS are engaging a new development to drag the service kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and are also engaging on a big programme (working with the BL's library systems vendors as well as with panels of librarians) to improve the quality and range of metadata. There was an interesting discussion at this point about the possibility of EThOS linking to copies of theses in institutional repositories, rather than/as well as holding digitised copies – what might that mean for the responsibilities of the BL and institutions to ensure preservation of access?

Bravely accepting the final slot of the day, Phil Barker of JISC CETIS on the world of Open Educational Resources (OERs). Another show of hands: fewer than 25% of UKCoRR members in the room have involvement with OERs (either through projects, or through working institutional OER repos). That's not too much of a surprise: the issues involved in storing and managing repositories of OERs can be much more complex (multiple complex objects, quality control, metadata requirements, copyright and licensed re-use, the sheer number of people involved!) and many institutions have shyed away.

Phil talked about some of the motivators for universities to engage with OER, including the morals obligation of the university ("…charter to widen knowledge"), the role of OERs in marketing universities / acting as a shop window / leading to student recruitment, and the hope that the rigorous approach needed in creating of OERs will provide a beneficial 'trickle down' effect into the design and management of all educational materials. Some food-for-though OER links:
As always, there was a breathtaking amount of 'stuff' for us to get stuck into — useful advice, supportive discussions, and news of exciting work going on — and the recognised benefit of UKCoRR members' meetings as being a refreshingly practical, non-threatening and safe place for repository staff to talk to people faced with the same problems every day. Keep your eyes peeled for the next couple of UKCoRR events planned for this year: looks like 2012's going to be one of our busiest yet.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

It was the Year of Fire...

Those of you in Portsmouth last week had the chance to hear my Babylon 5 themed talk thinking about the future direction of UKCoRR.  The aim was to get not just the membership in the room talking and thinking about where we go next with UKCoRR, but also to give an idea of some of the obstacles and opportunities that currently exist.  You can view the slides here and view the quote that drove my thinking here.

New look for Repository Managers?
One of the reasons I picked the Babylon 5* is for the key questions that are asked that define a person I think perfectly transfer to help define or at least clarify what UKCoRR stands for, should be doing as well as aiming to do.  For those of you not familiar with Babylon 5 lore here are the questions.
  • Who are you?
  • What do you want?
  • Why are you here?
  • Do you have anything worth living for?**
  • Who do you serve?
  • Who do you trust?
  • Where are you going?
Leaving aside one of those these neatly give us a guide with which to look to how the membership of UKCoRR is comprised, how we can serve the needs of our membership and our members' stakeholders along with the more tricky questions of interactions with those entities and organisations who lie beyond the rim...or at least outside of UKCoRR itself.

Some of these questions I believe are easier to answer than others.  Some though need continued and protracted thought and consideration.  I can say, for example, the question of funding vs Independence is one that has vexed the Committee for some considerable time; and I suspect will continue to.  As Chair I'm personally ethically opposed to the introduction of any fee for membership structure, but at the same time conflicted as there are opportunities that would be far easier for UKCoRR if we had some form of funding stream.

Naturally there are those organisations out there whom might wish to provide us with an alternate funding stream - but with great funding comes great responsibilities (apologies, mixing my genres there) - to whit to accept a quid means there may a pro quo around the corner.

Likewise there is the prospect of UKCoRR entering into arrangements of mutual benefit with external bodies that may well serve the interests of our members well; but at the same time once again these come with strings attached.  Is it better to simply be in formal liaison with key players rather than partnership, or is loss of our Independence a small price to pay for advancing the cause of professional repository management and administration?  I remain to be convinced but over 2012 we will continue to talk to a variety of other organisations that do overlap with our concerns to explore where mutual benefits do exist, whilst not giving away the home world at the same time.  I'll be talking more about one of these in particular where I want you the membership's views in my next post!

There are two major reasons why I raised all these questions in this post and the talk.  Firstly because I believe that UKCoRR as an organisation, like open access and repositories, is a field that continues to evolve at a relatively cracking pace.  As the professional membership body for repository practitioners we too must evolve likewise.  And secondly because as part of the annual cycle which begins anew in April the Committee will be charged with drawing up a strategic and operational plan of action for the next year - and this is your opportunity to feed directly into the process.

So contact us, comment on this or catch us at the various repository events around the Country over the coming couple of  months because, as I never tire of saying, UKCoRR is the membership - we the Committee simply try and run it according to your desires and needs; not to mention enlightened best interests!

Because if we don't, it may all end in fire but this could also be the year of rebirth just as easily.
* Don't get me into who the Shadows, Vorlons and First Ones are in the repository world - that's a whole other talk!
** I think this one is a bit beyond us!