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Where are we now? Cambridge theses deposits one year in

As the nights draw in and the academic year 2018/19 begins, we are preparing to enter our second year of compulsory e-theses deposits. Our university repository, Apollo, is close to holding 6000 digital PhD theses and it is the intention of the University that this valuable research asset continues to grow into the future. The Apollo repository will play a large part in making this happen. Until recently only hardbound copies of theses were collected and catalogued by the University Library. Users could read theses on-site in Cambridge or order a digitisation of the thesis, but the introduction of e-thesis deposit to Apollo has meant that University of Cambridge theses are more accessible than ever before. It’s been an incredibly busy year and we have made some great steps forward in our management of theses in Cambridge.

e-theses at Cambridge – the background

The e-theses deposit story at Cambridge started in October 2016, when the Office of Scholarly Communication upgraded Apollo to allow the deposit of theses and began a digital thesis pilot for the academic year 2016/17. 11 departments in the University participated in the pilot, asking their PhD students to deposit an e-thesis alongside a hardcopy thesis. Theses deposited in Apollo during the pilot could either be made open access on request of the author or were treated as historical theses had been up until that point, whereby hardbound copies were held in the University Library and requestors could sign a declaration stating they wish to consult a thesis for private study or non-commercial research. Following the success of the pilot, the Board of Graduate Studies, at its meeting on 4 July 2017, made the decision that from 1 October 2017 all PhD students would be required to deposit both a hard copy and an electronic copy of their thesis to the University Library.

What we learnt during the academic year 2017/18

The experience of depositing theses during the pilot had highlighted some issues that needed addressing. We had to make decisions on how to deal with third party copyright, sensitive material, library copy and supply rules, and the alignment of access levels for hardbound and electronic theses. In response to this, we decided that we should think through each of the different ways in which a thesis could be deposited in the repository, and consider the range of contentious material that could be contained within a thesis.

How do theses enter the repository?

Whilst students that are depositing in order to graduate do this directly, we also have the capacity to scan theses on request here in the library, and these scanned theses are subsequently deposited in Apollo. In addition to this, we led a drive to digitise University of Cambridge theses held by the British Library on microfilm and gave alumni the option to digitise their thesis and make it open access at no cost to them.

British Library theses

This year the OSC has made a bulk deposit of theses scanned by the British Library, which significantly augments the number of theses stored in the repository. In the culmination of a two-year project, nearly 1300 additional Cambridge PhD theses are now available on request in the Apollo repository.

Prior to being made available in the repository, these Cambridge theses were held on microfilm at the British Library. They date from the 1960s through to 2008, when digitisation took over from microfilm as a means of document storage. The British Library holds 14,000 Cambridge PhD theses on microfilm; in 2016 they embarked on a project with the OSC to digitise ten percent of the collection at low cost – read more about this in an earlier post, Choosing from a cornucopia: a digitisation project.

You can explore the collection in Apollo: Historical Digital Theses: British Library collection.  The theses are under controlled access, which means they are available on request for non-commercial research purposes, subject to a £15 admin fee.

Establishing access levels

We established that the level of access we could allow to the thesis could be determined by the route a thesis entered the repository, its content, or in some cases the author’s wish to publish. To address all of the potential issues, we decided to define a set of access levels which would determine what we, as managers of the repository, were able to do with a thesis and the way in which it could be accessed by a requestor.

The access levels were put in action in spring 2018 and this was followed by a survey of Degree Committees, conducted by the e-theses working group consisting of members of the University Library and Student Registry. The survey asked for feedback on the suitability of the access levels for research outputs for all departments in the University; the outcome confirmed that the access levels were working and covered the options well, although a few tweaks were needed. In light of the feedback, a set of recommendations was put to the Board of Graduate Studies by the e-theses working group, and these recommendations were considered and accepted at their meeting on 3 July 2018, ready to be put in place for the 2017/18 academic year.

eSales for theses under controlled access

At the same time as we were establishing our access levels, we were also working on devising an eSales process to facilitate the supply of theses under controlled access. Controlled access replicates the way that historical, hardbound theses were managed in the library, with the addition of an electronic version of the thesis being held in the repository, and follows the library copy and supply rules for unpublished works under copyright law. A thesis scanned by the library would be deposited under controlled access so it remains unpublished, but this access level is also available to students depositing their thesis directly. The eSales process we devised went live in July 2018 and this meant a large number of theses held in the repository were made more accessible, including those digitised by the British Library. As of 18 October, we have supplied 14 theses via the eSales route and the requests keep coming in at a steady pace.

Looking forward to the 2018/19 academic year

As we begin the 2018/19 academic year, our theses management is looking in good shape but we will continue to improve and refine our internal and external services. In consultation with the University’s Student Registry we are making the final changes to our deposit forms, access levels and communications and we endeavour to make this academic year the smoothest yet for e-theses management. University of Cambridge theses are more accessible than they have ever been. The collection will grow as more students deposit each year, and the valuable research of PhD students will continue to be disseminated.

Published 25 October 2018
Written by Zoë Walker-Fagg
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What do you want, and why do you want it? An update on Request a Copy

 As part of Open Access Week 2018, the Office of Scholarly Communication is publishing a series of blog posts on open access and open research. In this post Dr Mélodie Garnier provides some new insights into our Request a Copy service.

4,416. This is the number of requests for copies of material in our repository we’ve received over the past 12 months. Daunting, isn’t it? And definitely on the rise, with a 33% increase from the previous year. Two years and a half after its implementation in June 2016, our Request a Copy service is now more popular than ever. Our institutional repository Apollo hosts thousands of freely available research outputs, but also many that are under embargo.  People from all over the world and from all walks of life are keen to access them. But what exactly do requesters want? And why do they want it?

What do people want?

Our repository hosts a whole range of research outputs, but theses and journal articles are by far the most popular. Interestingly, the relative proportion of requested theses vs requested articles has shifted this year. From October 2016 to October 2017, requests for journal articles made up 56% of the total number of requests, and requests for theses made up 39%. Since last October, requests for journal articles have accounted for 38% of the total while theses have accounted for 59%.

Looking at the raw figures, the number of requests for journal articles has actually gone up (from 1,647 to 1,689), though only slightly. But the number of thesis requests has more than doubled, going from 1,145 to 2,586. This is partly explained by the University of Cambridge’s requirement for PhD students to upload their theses from 1st October 2017, leading to 1,279 new theses uploads. On top of these, we have added around 1,300 historical British Library theses and around 200 scanned historical theses from the Digital Content Unit. So between 2,500 and 3,000 theses have been added to Apollo this year alone (more on this tomorrow for #ThesisThursday).

Most wanted

Most items requested this year were only requested once, but 28 items were requested 10 times or more. Of the 20 most requested items, four are journal articles and 16 are PhD theses. Here’s our top 5:

Aside from the gold medal winner, all the other works were published this year and have only been available in Apollo for a few months. So it is striking to see how popular some of them have become in quite a short period of time. A case in point is the zoology article, which was deposited in Apollo only last month and first published shortly afterwards.

Word of mouth

Though it is sometimes unclear why particular outputs suddenly attract a lot of requests, Altmetric Attention scores can be telling – see the one below for the zoology article I’ve just mentioned:

Another interesting example (not included in the top 5) is a PhD thesis deposited in Apollo at the end of August. From 18 in September, the Apollo record has gone up to an astounding number of 911 visits in October (and counting), with a surge of requests. What happened in between? The author publicised her thesis on a Facebook society page, pointing to the repository record link for access.

We only became aware of this as requesters explicitly referred to that page, but it’s possible that similar things happen a lot of the time. So aside from traditional media outlets, the influence of social media on number of requests received can be quite dramatic, and probably greater than we could ever capture.

Tell us about yourself

When requesting a copy of an embargoed article or thesis, people are prompted to leave a message alongside contact details. This is so they can introduce themselves and explain why they are interested in accessing the work, mainly so that authors can make informed decisions on whether to accept or reject requests. Quite often these messages have little to no useful information, but some can be informative in a number of ways.

Through them we can get a glimpse of the range of people accessing the repository – their geographical provenance, background and professional occupation. We can also get a sense of the range of interests that people have (which may appear very specialised, if not a little obscure). And crucially they tell us what people want to do with the research – whether use it as reference, apply it in their professional sphere or simply read it for pleasure.

Why do people request work?

Broadly speaking, people request work in Apollo for the following purposes: reference/citation, personal interest/leisure, replication of results for research purposes, and need to inform professional practice. But those broad categories can include several sub-categories, for example personal interest can stem from hearing about the research in the media or knowing the author.

Getting the full detailed account of why people request work from our repository would require going through messages individually, and perhaps some degree of subjective judgement. Since launching the Request a Copy service we’ve had over 8,000 requests – so even if uninformative messages were excluded, the analysis could be fairly time-consuming. But certainly worth exploring, so watch this space.

Just a snippet…

What better way to advocate for Open Access than to show concrete examples of how research can impact on individual lives? Our Open Access team sees evidence of this every day through Request a Copy messages. So until we can offer a full-blown analysis of the output, let’s conclude this blog post with a selection of favourites:

  • “Our daughter is being investigated for Beckwith Wiedemann Syndrome. We would like as much information as possible about this area”
  • “I’m a pediatric radiation oncologist and this paper is a “practice changer” one!”
  • “My task is to convince policy makers in Sri Lanka to switch to circular economy. I am looking for all possible information to do this”
  • “I work in FE/HE and have a number of students experiencing/ or diagnosed with psychosis, I am very interested in intervention research and programmes for psychosis that can be implemented within our college environment”
  • “I would like a copy of this material for inspiring my high school students of physics”
  • “I hope to learn more about the potential risks of my decision to donate a kidney”

Although there is a definite cost to running Request a Copy in terms of staff time, it is clear how popular and valuable a service it has become. As its popularity increases so does the need for process efficiency, however. This is currently a big priority for us and something we’ll have to keep working on, but we think the benefits for researchers and the wider community are worth it.

Published 24 October 2018
Written by Dr Mélodie Garnier
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Text and data mining services: an update

Text and Data Mining (TDM) is the process of digitally querying large collections of machine-readable material, extracting specific information and, by analysis, discovering new information about a topic.

In February 2017, a group University of Cambridge staff met to discuss “Text and Data Mining Services: What can Cambridge libraries offer?”  It was agreed that a future library Text and Data Mining (TDM) support service could include:

  • Access to data from our own collections
  • Advice on legal issues, what publishers allow, what data sets and tools are available
  • Registers on data provided for mining and TDM projects
  • Fostering agreements with publishers.

This blog reports on some of the activities, events and initiatives, involving libraries at the University of Cambridge, that have taken place or are in progress since this meeting (also summarised in these slides).  Raising awareness, educating, and teasing out the issues around the low uptake of this research process have been the main drivers for these activities.

March 2017: RLUK 2017 Conference Workshop

The Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC) and Jisc ran a workshop at the Research Libraries UK 2017 conference to discuss Research Libraries and TDM.  Issues raised included licencing, copyright, data management, perceived lack of demand, where to go for advice within an institution or publisher, policy and procedural development for handling TDM-related requests (and scaling this up across an institution) and the risk of lock-out from publishers’ content, as well as the time it can take for a TDM contract to be finalised between an institution and publisher.  The group concluded that it is important to build mechanisms into TDM-specific licencing agreements between institutions and publishers where certain behaviours are expected.  For example, if suspicious activity is detected by a publisher’s website, it would be better not to automatically block the originating institution from accessing content, but investigate this first (although this may depend on systems in place), or if lock-out happens and the activity is legal, participants suggested that institutions should explore compensation for the time that access is lost if significant.

July 2017: University of Cambridge Text and Data Mining Libguide

Developed by the eResources Team, this LibGuide explains about Text and Data Mining (TDM): what it is, what the legal issues are, what you can do and what you should not try to do. It also provides a list of online journals under license for TDM at the University of Cambridge and a list of digital archives for text mining that can be supplied to the University researchers on a disc copy. Any questions our researchers may have about a TDM project, not answered through the LibGuide, can be submitted to the eResources Team via an enquiry form.

July 2017: TDM Symposium

The OSC hosted this symposium to provide as much information as possible to the attendees regarding TDM.  Internal and external speakers, experienced in the field, spoke about what TDM is and what the issues are; research projects in which TDM was used; TDM tools; how a particular publisher supports TDM; and how librarians can support TDM.

At the end of the day a whole-group discussion drew out issues around why more TDM is not happening in the UK and it was agreed that there was a need for more visibility on what TDM looks like (e.g. a need for some hands-on sessions) and increased stakeholder communication: i.e. between publishers, librarians and researchers.

November 2017: Stakeholder communication and the TDM Test Kitchen

This pilot project involves a publisher, librarians and researchers. It is providing practical insight into the issues arising for each of the stakeholders: e.g. researchers providing training on TDM methods and analysis tools, library support managing content accessibility and funding for this, and content licencing and agreements for the publisher. We’ll take a more in-depth look at this pilot in an upcoming blog on TDM – watch this space.

January 2018: Cambridge University Library Deputy Director visits Yale

The Yale University Library Digital Humanities Laboratory provides physical space, resources and a community within the Library for Yale researchers who are working with digital methods for humanities research and teaching. In January this year Dr Danny Kingsley visited the facility to discuss approaches to providing TDM services to help planning here. The Yale DH Lab staff help out with projects in a variety of ways, one example being to help researchers get to grips with digital tools and methods.  Researchers wanting to carry out TDM on particular collections can visit the lab to do their TDM: off-line discs containing published material for mining can be used in-situ. In 2018, the libraries at Cambridge have begun building up a collection of offline discs of specific collections for the same purpose.

June 2018: Text and Data Mining online course

The OSC collaborated with the EU OpenMinTeD project on this Foster online course: Introduction to Text and Data Mining.  The course helps a learner understand the key concepts around TDM, explores how Research Support staff can help with TDM and there are some practical activities that even allow those with non-technical skills try out some mining concepts for themselves.  By following these activities, you can find out a bit more about sentence segmentation, tokenization, stemming and other processing techniques.

October 2018: Gale Digital Scholar Lab

The University of Cambridge has trial access to this platform until the end of December: it provides TDM tools at a front end to digital archives from Gale Cengage.  You can find out more about this trial in this ejournals@cambridge blog.

In summary…

Following the initial meeting to discuss research support services for TDM, there have been efforts and achievements to raise awareness of TDM and the possibilities it can bring to the research process as well as to explore the issues around the low usage of TDM in the research community at large.  This is an on-going task, with the goal of increased researcher engagement with TDM.

Published 23 October 2018
Written by Dr Debbie Hansen
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