Engagement, infrastructure and roles: themes at #ScholComm19

Dr Beatrice Gini, the Office of Scholarly Communication’s new Training Coordinator, recently attended the inaugural Scholarly Communication Conference at the University of Kent. In this post she reviews the main themes and discussions from the event.

ScholComm19 – a brand new conference, a supportive community, an inclusive space: what a treat for a newcomer to scholarly communication! Having recently started a job within the Office of Scholarly Communication, I had high expectations for this conference as an opportunity to learn a lot from fellow practitioners, and I was not disappointed. Sarah Slowe and the team at the University of Kent should be congratulated for their drive in starting up a new gathering that draws together all the different strands of Scholarly Communications, giving those working at the coalface a chance to get together and share best practice.

With the whole of Friday given over to lightning talks, there were too many speakers for me to do them justice individually, so instead I will attempt to summarise the major themes, as I understood them. The full conference programme can be found here.

Engaging researchers

Many of the speakers focused on the way we work with researchers. Hardly surprising, perhaps, as our jobs tend to involve as much advocacy and training as they do practical support. While at times this is a challenge, many have found ways to deliver our messages more effectively:

 

  • A personal touch – Cassie Bowman from London South Bank University was faced with a lack of researcher engagement, due to the limitations of the technological platform, the complex terminology, the conflicting demands of policies, the difficulties in correcting initial misunderstandings, and the researchers’ fear of getting it wrong. She overcame these not by commissioning large scale change, but through her own personal touch. Her one-to-one sessions are carefully tailored to each researcher and produce long-lasting changes in attitudes. She reaches people through posters and infographics, sprinkling on a little competition (for the highest download figures) to boost interest. Lucy Lambe also spoke on the benefits of one-to-one sessions, alongside workshops and advice on the web, for her publishing advice service for researchers at LSE.
  • A bit of fun – The Publishing Trap game is now well-known in ScholComm circles, but it was new to me, and I was blown away. It takes players through a cleverly-crafted path from PhD student to retired researcher and beyond – all the way to gravestone, in fact – replicating the emotional highs and lows of a research career. Most importantly, though, it asks players to make crucial decisions that spark discussions on Open Access, copyright, skills, and more. Why not organise a fun session to surprise those who may (crazily!) believe that copyright is boring?
  • Useful information – We need to deliver information that is trustworthy and useful. Kirsty Wallis (University of Greenwich) stressed the importance of over-preparing and tailoring sessions to the needs of the people in the room. Her talk gave a useful blueprint of how we could teach academics to ‘speak social media’ through a flexible and hands-on workshop. ‘We need to be a credible source of information’ – this was one aspect of Julie Baldwin’s (University of Nottingham) exploration of why academics ‘get copyright so copywrong’. Engaging researchers with copyright issues is more important than ever now, at a time of change in the law. The University of Kent’s Chris Morrison gave a whistle-stop tour of the history of copyright law, followed by a sneak preview of the way the law may change once the new EU directive is implemented (yes, Brexit did flash briefly on the screen at this point, but it should not have a significant impact on copyright decisions).

Compliance vs culture change

Ian Carter’s talk on the study he ran with JISC on Research Data Management and Sharing raised a strong theme, which was echoed in many of the discussions I had during breaks. His interviews with representatives from 34 institutions revealed that there is a tension in the way we attempt to engage researchers with RDM and open data: on the one hand we say ‘you must do this to receive money/progression/recognition’, on the other we say ‘doing this benefits science and the wider world’. My belief is that the former is likely to generate small, short term wins on compliance rates, but potentially generate resentment. The latter requires more advocacy, but it is likely to generate true buy-in from researchers. Dr Carter advocates that the second approach, which aims for culture change, is indeed the most likely to succeed in the long term. He throws a challenge to all of us when he reports that researcher engagement is variable, RDM leadership is often fragile, responsible staff can be isolated, and few institutions consider all important aspects in their strategies. There is hope, however. As repositories develop better functionality and we find better ways to evidence the benefits of RDM and open data, we may see this area of research support grow into new strengths.

Infrastructural headaches

Repositories are the bread-and-butter of any Open Access support team: they are wonderful digital treasure troves, opening up our university’s invaluable research to the world and preserving it in perpetuity… but at times they can cause tremendous headaches too! A number of speakers shared the challenges they faced, as well as their solutions, saving the rest of us a lot of time and paracetamol. While there is still a split between institutions on the issue of whether depositing in a repository is done by researchers or mediated by support staff, it looked to me as though the trend is towards self-deposit by academics, which will mean more and more of us require automated systems for checking and updating records.

  • Nicola Barnett focused on how staff at the University of Leeds deal with the need to update repository records after they are officially published, for instance to set the correct embargo deadlines. She shared a useful set of instructions to automatically generate a list of recently published publications using Excel and a CrossRef API.
  • The diversity of publishers’ policies was arguably the greatest time-consuming hurdle in Suzanne Atkins’ work on making more monographs Open Access at the University of Birmingham. She ran a very successful pilot project to open up book chapters from one department, which had a glut of materials that could be made instantly OA, if the authors consented. While this work was very worthwhile and likely puts the team ahead when it comes to the next REF, it was hindered by the need to check every single policy and by the publishers’ insistence on relying on case-by-case decision, rather than applying blanket policies.
  • If your current system is just not up to requirements, switching to a new one can be a good time investment in the long run, but it can come with its own demands. Catherine Parker and her team at the University of Huddersfield found this out when they had to manually migrate all previous records – a great feat that really brought out their community spirit and was accomplished in (only?) two and a half months of intensive work. Stuart Bentley from the University of Hull highlighted some of the challenges of switching to Worktribe, as well as considering the improved functionality in the new system.

Roles and time

Finally, several speakers examined the way teams are structured, often in the context of the age-old question of how to get it all done in the time we have.

  • Surveys run by Catherine Parker and Ian Carter revealed a great disparity in the size of the research support and data management staff between institutions, with teams varying in size from one to well over a dozen. Even the areas where they are employed vary, with most being in libraries, but some belonging to research strategy offices. Lone workers have the blessing and the curse of having to take on all aspects of the work, from maintaining the repository to liaising with faculty members and running training, while large teams can specialise their staff.
  • Jane Belger and Anne Lawson talked about their experience of sharing the role of Research and Open Access Librarian at the University of West England at Bristol. Having worked out the logistics of syncing schedules and the questions of when to divide up projects and when to collaborate, their main conclusion is that two people can be ‘more than the sum of their parts’.
  • The multiplicity of roles was evident both in the talks and in the chats during breaks. Almost every speaker gave an introduction to their institution, which was key to understanding their perspective. A case in point was from Isabel Benton, from Leeds Arts University. She highlighted the peculiar challenges of working at a place where as many as 43% of outputs are in non-traditional format such as art show or exhibition: how do you capture those in a repository? (Hint: with a creative mix of media, check out the repository to know more.

*****

There was lots to think about on the train home. The overwhelming feeling, though, was of a community that genuinely cares about doing our very best to support researchers, and is dedicated to helping each other, both within institutions and beyond.

Published 30 May 2019
Written by Dr Beatrice Gini
Creative Commons License

A Fast-Track Route to Open Access

In the last two years, since the REF 2021 open access policy came into force, the Open Access Team has received an ever increasing number of manuscript submissions for archiving in Apollo, Cambridge’s institutional open access repository.

We have been thinking long and hard about ways to cope with the workload, by scrutinising existing practices and streamlining workflows, because we want to provide the best possible service to our researchers, commensurate with the University’s world leading research.

This blog introduces what is perhaps the greatest overhaul of our workflows since the service began: a new ‘Fast Track’ deposit system.

Work it harder

Before the start of the REF OA policy (2014-2016), the Open Access Team would process and manually curate every manuscript submission we received. Authors could expect an initial response within 1-2 working days, after which (usually within a month) we would archive their manuscript in Apollo.

A simplified workflow for a typical manuscript was:

  1. Manuscript uploaded by submitter in Symplectic Elements.
  2. Item created in Apollo (DSpace) workflow
  3. Helpdesk ticket created (Zendesk).
  4. Open Access Team reviews manuscript, advises submitter and makes a decision.
  5. Open Access Team archives the manuscript in Apollo and informs submitter.

Both the decision (4) and archive (5) steps take time. For each manuscript we would need to decide whether the files we received could be archived, what funder open access policies were at play and the open access options available from the publisher. We could then advise authors about their open access choices.

To archive a manuscript the process was broadly the following:

  1. Review the helpdesk ticket (Zendesk) for the open access decision.
  2. Enter as many publication details as possible in Symplectic Elements.
  3. Retrieve the submission from the Apollo (DSpace) deposit workflow.
  4. Add licence and metadata to the record.
  5. Review the submission and approve for archiving.
  6. Move the item to the relevant departmental collection and apply an appropriate embargo (if required).
  7. Finally, update the helpdesk ticket and send the original submitter a link to their Apollo record.

Each manuscript took on average 18 minutes to archive, which, besides being manually tedious and prone to error, was extremely time-consuming. Add to this the time required to make the initial decision and each manuscript submission could easily take 30 minutes for the Open Access Team to fully process from start to finish, especially if an open access fee had to be paid.

Fast-forward two years and with the rate of new manuscript submissions now peaking at over 1,300 per month, simply processing manuscripts for the REF would require more than four full-time staff members. Whilst these manual processes were viable for a handful of submissions a day, they became unwieldy at scale.

Make it better

Our first attempt at speeding up our open access system began in August 2017. To start we made a number of operational changes to reduce the time spent processing manuscript submissions:

  • We would rely entirely on the metadata present in Symplectic Elements to populate the Apollo records (i.e. we would not curate manual records).
  • The Open Access Team would no longer update the helpdesk records, instead internal record keeping would be automated as much as possible.

Unfortunately, the number of steps in the Apollo workflow was still roughly the same as the previous process, but with one key difference: a new field to record what we call the ‘Fast Track’ decision. There were seven Fast Track options:

  • Submitted
  • Proof
  • Published (not open access)
  • Published (open access)
  • Accepted (published)
  • Accepted (not published)
  • Other

The first six options represent the vast bulk of all manuscripts received by the Open Access Team, and ‘Other’ option simply acts as a catch-all for anything else. By simply knowing what sort of manuscript has been uploaded much of the decision and archiving process can be automated. However, the agent still needed to retrieve the item from the Apollo workflow, check the version of the file and publication status of the paper, add some metadata fields, approve the item, and move it to an appropriate collection.

Figure 1. The Apollo workflow page of a typical manuscript submission, with the addition of the new ‘Fast Track’ field.

The choice of Fast Track decision leads to four possible outcomes which would ‘trigger’ actions in our Zendesk helpdesk:

  • Submitted, proof, published (not open access)
    • Email submitter, ask for accepted manuscript
  • Published (open access)
    • Archive in Apollo (no embargo) ⇒ Email submitter Apollo link
  • Accepted (published), accepted (not published)
    • Archive in Apollo (embargoed) ⇒ Email submitter Apollo link
  • Other
    • Refer to Open Access Team

Despite being a much faster process, it was still manually tedious. It could also require up to 33 actions from agents (29 mouse clicks) and 14 web pages to be loaded, still not very user friendly. However, the time to archive had decreased from 18 to 9 minutes – a 50% reduction from the previous fully manual system.

Do it faster

So what if all the steps involved in processing a manuscript submission could be reduced to the absolute minimum, and be actionable within a single webpage? After a short development sprint, the Open Access Team launched the ‘Fast Track Deposits’ interface last September. A snapshot of the user interface is shown below.

Figure 2. The Fast Track interface. Choosing one of the options in blue is enough to fully archive a manuscript, or process it for further action by the submitter or the Open Access Team.

At the top of the page, the agent can see a ‘publication summary’ including the item title, the journal title, and publisher DOI if available. Both the item title and publisher DOI are hyperlinked, so that the agent can Google-search the item or land on the publisher’s webpage with a single mouse click.

The agent must first inspect the file and check that it is a suitable version (i.e. either the accepted version or the open access published version). If wrongly labelled, they must relabel the file via a dropdown menu, and add/delete files as appropriate. The agent then ‘describes’ the manuscript (i.e. decides whether it is the accepted, published, submitted or proof version) and submits their decision. The decision determines the trigger behaviour in the automatically populated helpdesk ticket. The agent is then free to move on to the next item.

If the decision is ‘accepted’ or ‘published open access’, the item is deposited and the submitter is automatically notified via email. For submitted, proof, and non-OA published versions, the author receives an automatic email asking for the accepted manuscript. Items are archived in the repository under a generic collection, and any forthcoming publication details are added to the record via external source information in Elements.

To see just how efficient Fast Track is we’ve prepared a short demonstration video which captures some of the key features:

Video 1. Real-time demonstration of the Fast Track system.

Makes us stronger

Agents therefore need only make one decision: identify the file version. But the real ingenuity of the Fast Track system is that embargoes can be set automatically by:

  1. Taking into account the decision made by the agent (e.g. no embargo if published open access);
  2. Detecting publication status and publication dates from Elements; and
  3. Retrieving journals’ embargo policies via Orpheus (you can learn more about Orpheus in our previous blog post).

In some cases, usually because we don’t know the publication date, we can’t determine the embargo length of an accepted manuscript. In such cases we apply a 36 month embargo from the date of the Fast Track decision. We know that this embargo won’t always be correct, however, we routinely check manuscripts in Apollo and update embargoes accordingly.

Figure 3. Simplified overview of the Fast Track process. The key decision is to determine the type of manuscript that has been submitted. Everything else is handled automatically.

Since launching Fast Track the average time to process a manuscript is 1-2 minutes. More than 8,000 items have been processed since launching the phase two Fast-Track interface. If items processed under the phase one effort are included, the number goes up to just over 14,000. And since a picture speaks a thousand words, Figure 4 below shows the effect produced by the new interface launched in September on our backlog of unprocessed submissions.

Figure 4. Historical change in the number of unprocessed open access manuscript submissions. The total number of outstanding manuscript submissions peaked at nearly 2,400 in September 2018. Immediately after launching the Fast Track website the backlog dropped dramatically and was completely eliminated by March 2019.

We will continue to develop Fast Track to further streamline our processing of manuscripts. We have already started to partner with librarians and administrators across the University to leverage the collective knowledge about open access which now exists within the University’s professional academic services.

Get in contact: If you are running a DSpace repository and would like to implement Fast Track to work alongside your existing workflows email us at support@repository.cam.ac.uk

Published 23 April 2019
Written by Dr Mélodie Garnier and Dr Arthur Smith
Creative Commons License

Having Information to Hand: Research Support Handy Guides

If there is one thing I’ve learnt over the last few years of training library staff it’s that they really love a handout! Whether it contains extra information or a copy of the slides, in print or as a digital document, they really want something tangible to take away from a training session and refer back to. However I’m also a realist and I know that many of these handouts end their lives in a desk drawer never to be seen again so I wanted to create something that would be both attention grabbing and useful. Our series of Research Support Handy Guides were born as a result.

These short, four page guides are designed to be used as mini-booklets which summarise complex topics related to scholarly communication in an accessible way. They all follow a fairly consistent format with an eye-catching cover, a short synopsis of the topic, a list of factors to consider and links to further information. Having a page limit means that only the most important information can be included and this forces me to think about what people really need to know about a topic. It also means that I need to use clear language rather than lots of text which really helps me to distill a topic to its most important point. Although the guides are aimed at library staff we have discovered that they have other uses. All of the guides are made available under a CC-BY 4.0 licence on our website so that people can adapt the information as needed and we have added downloadable versions upon popular demand. Library staff are able to print these out or add them to their own websites as resources for researchers which saves them time having to come up with similar content from scratch and reinventing the wheel. The guides are also available via the online publication tool ISSUU which opens them up to a wider audience and makes them interactive. It doesn’t hurt that all of this provides a bit of stealth advocacy for the OSC either! I designed the guides using Canva. If you have never come across this site before I thoroughly recommend checking it out as it makes designing good looking materials really easy. I often have an idea in my head of how I want something to look but I can never quite seem to translate that to the (digital) page. Canva provides lots of support, graphics and importantly templates to help you create really engaging materials. I simple chose an appropriate template, uploaded some (CC0) images, edited the colours to reflect our palette and added the text.

So far there are eight guides in the series covering topics from data management plans to peer review. The guides are often created in direct response to a need identified by our library community – something that often happens when someone starts a sentence with the phrase “I wish I knew more about…” Some guides are created to tie in with an event such as Open Access Week or the recent Fair Use Week. One topic which is particularly suited to this format is copyright and there are currently three guides where it features heavily: Academic Social Networks, Anatomy of a Creative Commons License and the Fair Dealing Fact Sheet. This last title covers a topic that often causes confusion for both researchers and librarians and has been particularly useful to produce in our recent information sessions on copyright Based on the positive reaction I have received both in person and online I think more copyright related titles will definitely be added to the series!

If anyone else is thinking of using something similar I would definitely say give it a try. The guides have proved popular with both the Cambridge library community and those further afield and there have been over 3000 hits across all titles so far plus it’s always useful to have something ready to hand out at events or to point to when asked a question. Although much of the information has been adapted from existing information on our webpages the guides offer a much more accessible and visually appealing format that reading pages of dense text. There are lots of different design tools available to help and of course you might just have more talent than me! Creating something that looks professional is surprisingly easy and can really help to engage users in complex topics and potentially be used as a way to start a longer conversation – and you never know where that might lead.

Published 19 March 2019
Written by Claire Sewell
Creative Commons License

This blog was originally published on UK Copyright Literacy, 15 March 2019