Category Archives: Open Research at Cambridge Conference

Cambridge Open Research Conference 2023: The stage is set

By Nicola Swann and Mandy Wigdorowitz, Office of Scholarly Communication, Cambridge University Libraries

The programme is ready, spaces are nearly full, and we are nearing Cambridge University Libraries’ annual conference on Open Research (OR), taking place at Downing College or online on Friday 17 November 2023. This year’s theme is Open Research for Inclusion: Spotlighting Different Voices in Open Research at Cambridge.

OR is designed to promote equity and inclusion by ensuring that research is accessible to all, regardless of research background, location, or affiliation. The conference will acknowledge that OR can look different in different areas, with the common goal of advancing knowledge and understanding. Giving a voice to OR from diverse perspectives can propel learning, collaboration, and allow us to learn from one another’s approaches to openness.

“The conference looks fantastic! It’s a really fabulous mix of papers and speakers, and really exciting in terms of moving Open Research conversations into different disciplinary practices. It is the first programme I’ve seen that truly integrates research and open into a joint conversation. It’s brilliant!”

Dr Jessica Gardner, University Librarian & Director of Library Services, Cambridge University Libraries

This blog post highlights the speakers who will be joining us on the day and the topics they will explore. We’re delighted to host OR experts who will show the value of open practices in typically under-represented disciplines and contexts. These include the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, the GLAM sector (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums), and research from and about the Global South.

The day starts with a welcome address from Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith CBE FRS FMedSci, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and International Partnerships and the Arthur Balfour Professor of Genetics, who is a key proponent of OR – see her views about OR on the Office of Scholarly Communication’s (OSC) website. Our Keynote speaker, Dr Siddharth Soni, Isaac Newton Trust Fellow at Cambridge Digital Humanities and affiliated lecturer at the Faculty of English, will then addresses us with a talk on Common Ground, Common Duty: Open Humanities and the Global South, providing an account of how to think against neoliberal conceptions of the ‘open’ and to reimagine what openness might look like if the Global South was viewed as a common ground space for building an open and international university culture.

Dr Stefania Merlo from the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and Dr Rebecca Roberts from the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and Fitzwilliam Museum will further explore the theme of the Global South in their practical perspective on how they managed the curation of digital archives for heritage management from their work on the projects: Mapping Africa’s Endangered Archaeological Sites and Monuments (MAEASaM) and Mapping Archaeological Heritage in South Asia (MAHSA).

We will then change pace with an OR panel session comprising panellists with diverse backgrounds and expertise who will address registrants’ pre-submitted questions. There will be engaging insights and debate amongst the panellists, led by Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy, Professor Alexander Bird. He will share the platform with Philosophy of Science Professor, Professor Anna Alexandrova, Psychiatry PhD student Luisa Fassi, Cambridge University Libraries (CUL) Interim Head of Open Research Services Dr Sacha Jones, Cambridge University Press & Assessment’s Research Data Manager Dr Kiera McNeice, and Cambridge’s Head of Research Culture Liz Simmonds.

The spotlight switches to the GLAM sector in the afternoon, with a second panel chaired by CUL’s Scholarly Communication Specialist Dr Samuel Moore. This panel brings together experts who will showcase their diverse work in the GLAM sector, from software development and museum practices to infrastructure and archiving support. The panel includes Dr Mary Chester-Kadwell, CUL’s Senior Software Developer and Lead Research Software Engineer at Cambridge Digital Humanities, Isaac Newton Trust Research Associate in Conservation Dr Ayesha Fuentes from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Dr Agustina Martinez-Garcia, CUL’s Head of OR Systems, and Dr Amelie Roper, CUL’s Head of Research. They will each expand on specialist areas, including OR code and data practices in digital humanities, collections research, teaching and learning collections care, and OR infrastructure. 

In a workshop session, Tim Fellows, Product Manager for Octopus, will outline how Octopus is an alternative publishing model that can foster OR. To round the day off, Professor Joanna Page, Director of CRASSH and Professor of Latin American Studies, will present on the considerations of OR and the coloniality of knowledge with a specific focus on the questions of possession and access.

In true Cambridge tradition, a drinks reception will bring the event to a close, allowing attendees a chance to mingle and continue the discussions.

Make sure to book your place so you don’t miss out. Take a look at the programme to register and join researchers, students, librarians, administrators, and publishers across the University of Cambridge at every career stage. Get in touch if you have any queries info@osc.cam.ac.uk.

The Data Picture

I was recently named one of “the next generation of [library] leaders” as part of the CILIP 125, having been recognised as an individual who contributes energy and knowledge to improving and impacting their organisation. My area of expertise, and thus recognition, lies with the use of data within libraries. As a data analyst for the Office of Scholarly Communications at Cambridge University Library, my role focuses on empowering decisions with data driven understanding – such as supporting the Springer Nature negotiations. To develop my understanding of data, and its role within a wider organisation, further, I engage with data beyond the library – such as the Big Data London conference and the Carruthers and Jackson Data Leaders’ Summer School. Reflecting on the use of data in the wider world, what can be expected of the library and data?


The summer school provided practical advice, proven methodologies, and guidance that could apply across a variety of businesses. The course is designed to provide insight on the workflow of data officers, and their role within an organisation – no matter its stage of data maturity and literacy. Over the course of the ten weeks, leading experts discussed the role of a chief data officer (CDO), both as a business development opportunity, and as a career path for individuals. It explored the risk and governance of data within an organisation, and the final weeks focused strongly on the role of people and teams associated with data.

Peter Jackson and Caroline Carruthers addressed the differing types of CDO and described a pendulum between ‘risk aversion’ and ‘value added’. Understanding the balance between secure and proper data governance (GDPR for example) and providing value through data (such as setting up automation). The pendulum of risk to reward is relevant to many roles, including those within the library. Understanding the need to divide time and energy between creating policies and getting decision making results, is just as relevant to my role as a chief data officer. In my role I have supported decision making staff through data production, but equally, to instil a culture of data, time and energy must be dedicated to risk aversion, through tasks of researching data management, preparing training sessions for data storage, and supporting staff in data preparation.

Another important concept introduced was the DIKW pyramid – Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom – for understanding the value created from data. The base of the pyramid is (raw) Data, which can be processed into (useful) Information. This Information is data with meaning and a purpose and can be organised into (insightful) knowledge. Knowledge combines experiences, values, insights, and contextual information, which can then transcend to (integral) Wisdom. Wisdom is considered a deeper understanding with ethical implications and the ability to define ‘why’. The DIKW pyramid provided a frame of thought for presenting and approaching future data projects. Understanding the requirement to provide, data, information or knowledge, to better support a decision-making team.

To develop communication skills, expert Scott Taylor, known as The Data Whisperer, spoke about the three V’s for data storytelling: Vocabulary, Voice and Vision. Combining an accessible vocabulary, with a common voice will illuminate the business vision, and why that is important. This overarching concept for an organisations data approach can be scaled down to support individual data workers, to provide value – which should either grow, improve or protect the business case. Understanding how to communicate the data is a key skill as “Hardware comes and goes, software comes and goes, but data remains”. And that data that remains should be used to either grow, improve or protect the business, such that data gathered should be usable data!

At Big Data London, the organisation Women in Data hosted conversations about nurturing a culture of learning within data teams. Pulling from their experiences from minority backgrounds, the speakers highlighted the power in upskilling, sharing skills across teams and being an advocate on oneself and skills. As for what to upskill, data literacy was a hot topic across the conference. Data literacy, also called data fluency and data confidence, is the combination of ability, skills and confidence surround data and its uses. Data literacy enables more efficient work, and begs the question, what is the base level of data literacy / confidence across the library? Librarians use data daily; checking in/out material, answering students’ queries, or tracking the use of space, but are all librarians confident to use that data? This is an area I hope to explore further at the CUL, to ensure staff can use the data they have to support decisions.


Engaging with the world of data provides a big picture of the possibilities within the library. Conversations of AI (Artificial Intelligence), data policies and maturity, and shiny-new databases, software, and services, demonstrate the growing adoption of data, and therefore, libraries should follow suit. Actively taking snippets of larger conversations, developing ideas within the library space, and exploring the possibilities with data will help libraries thrive in this world of technological growth.


Should the UK make a deal with Springer Nature?

This is a guest post by Prof. Stephen J. Eglen on the concurrent negotiations between the UK academic sector and the publisher Springer Nature. Prof. Eglen is a Fellow of Magdalene College and Professor of Computational Neuroscience in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. This post does not necessarily reflect the view of Cambridge University Libraries.

The UK academic sector is currently in discussion with Springer Nature around a renewed ‘read and publish’ deal for journal content. I understand that most institutions are likely to reject the current deal, but wish to continue negotiations. My position is that further discussions with Springer Nature are futile; we should stop accepting ‘transformative deals’. The likely effect of this deal would be that more of Springer Nature’s content may be openly available to read, but with the ‘paywall’ shifted to the publish side. Here I list my key objections:

  1. There is still no justification for the high APCs (9500 EUR + taxes) for Nature tier journals. Accepting a deal, regardless of the level of discounts that could be achieved, is implicitly accepting their business model. Springer Nature declined to engage with the Journal Comparison Service run by cOAlition S that aims to help understand how costs are determined.
  2. Springer Nature’s view is that ‘gold OA’ is the only viable way to open access. Other models for open access are available, and show promise, including diamond OA journals and Subscribe to Open. However, Springer Nature assert that “they haven’t found a way of making them financially sustainable”.  If we accept a gold-only view of open access,  how can we objectively assess the sustainability of alternative models?
  3. A move to a ‘gold only’ OA world would shift the barrier from reading to publishing content. Springer Nature recently announced a waiver policy for researchers from about 70 lower income countries. This still excludes many researchers worldwide e.g. from Brazil and South Africa, perpetuating neo-colonial attitudes towards the creation of scholarly content and reinforcing existing institutional inequalities within countries. Any waiver programme for APCs should be “no-questions-asked” regardless of where researchers are based. This would need to be properly costed and part of the justification of the APC (point 1).
  4. As of January 2023, several UK institutions have rights retention policies in place, with more expected to follow in the coming months. Individual researchers can also use rights retention strategy by themselves. Rights retention statements allow researchers to meet UK funder’s requirement by depositing their author-accepted manuscript without embargo. I believe Springer Nature should publicly state that they will allow any author worldwide to maintain their rights on their own author-accepted manuscripts.
  5. Over half of Springer Nature’s hybrid journals failed to meet their 2021 targets for open access articles within hybrid journals.  Those hybrid journals that fail again this year to meet their targets will be removed from cOAlition S’s transformative journal program.  Having some journals ineligible for cOAlition S funding but part of a UK read-and-publish deal would further complicate an already confusing system.  It would also question Springer Nature’s commitment to open access.

A detailed public critique of the deal is not possible because of the confidential nature of the negotiations.  Finances aside, I feel there was one element that was simply unworkable and unethical due to it requiring scholars to keep one aspect confidential if the deal were accepted.

The UK is one of only a few countries with a  heavy reliance on transformative agreements.  Sweden has already decided that transformative agreements are not sustainable and the transition period should finish at the end of 2024. Coalition S has also confirmed it will end its support of hybrid journals by the end of 2024. I would like to see the UK move away from transformative agreements. We could instead work internationally to promote more ethical and sustainable alternatives that put scholars at the heart of scholarly communication. In particular, the APC model has been tried, and introduces as many headaches as it has tried to solve. 

It is time instead to try new approaches.  There are several interesting models being developed by forward-looking organizations that the UK could endorse.  For example, MIT press recently launched shift+OPEN as a way to flip subscription based journals to diamond open access model.  Another interesting approach is Subscribe to Open where journals drop their paywall if a threshold amount of subscriptions are received.  Money saved on dealing with legacy publishers like Springer Nature is better spent investing in our own infrastructure and new approaches.