Monthly Archives: March 2015

A review of the RCUK review of implementation of its OA policy

The RCUK released its ‘Review of the implementation of the RCUK Policy on Open Access’ today and it makes interesting reading. First I should state that I think this is a good report, it seems well researched and balanced in tone and it is well written and laid out. Jisc also welcomes the report.

Overall findings

It seems that a ‘common factor’ amongst all of the people and groups interviewed was ‘a general acceptance and welcome given to the concept of open access’. However, the administrative effort to implement the policy and distribute the funds is significant. This is not helped by a level of confusion about different funding policies, particularly relating to embargo length, licence usage and expectations of data collection for compliance monitoring.

Not only is this an administrative problem but it is ‘leading to researchers ultimately not engaging with open access at all as it was perceived as being ‘too difficult’.’ (p16) Certainly there have been instances of this view expressed by researchers at Cambridge University.

This blog will concentrate on a few aspects of the review I thought interesting – support or otherwise of hybrid, reporting issues, non-compliance amongst publishers, lack of awareness amongst researchers and licenses. It finishes with an observation that the review validates some of the decisions Cambridge has made in relation to implementing the RCUK policy.

I should note the review includes some interesting information about learned societies, embargo periods and monographs but these are big issues that need teasing out on their own.

Supporting hybrid

As the Wellcome Trust found in their recent analysis of open access spend in 2013/2014 the RCUK reported that the amount charged for APCs for hybrid open access continue to be ‘consistently more expensive’ than fully OA journals, ‘despite the fact that hybrid journals still enjoyed a revenue stream through subscriptions’.

The review recommended that this should be monitored and ‘if these costs show no sign of being responsive to market forces, then a future review should explore what steps RCUK could take to make this market more effective’ (p25).

The reported amounts being spent on APCs are also interesting. The average APC paid during the first year, at £1,600 inc VAT was £472 less than the average APC assumed by the Finch Group, which was used as a proxy when calculating the size of the RCUK block grant (£1,727 + VAT = £2,072) (p11). While this in itself is not surprising as the amount quoted in the Finch report was seen to be high by open access advocates at the time, it is interesting to note that the average APC paid by Cambridge in 2014 was higher than the average quoted in the review at £1891.63.

Despite this large amount of money being spent on APCs, publishers offering hybrid – not the fully open access publishers, it should be noted – ’questioned’ level of the block grant currently offered by RCUK. These publishers expressed the view that the block grant ‘was too low to properly fund the transition to gold. Publishers felt that the transition to full gold open access publishing would be successful only if it was fully funded’ (pp15-16). It does beg the question as to what ‘fully funded’ means in this context.

Researcher awareness

Researchers appear to remain unaware of the tsunami that is occurring in scholarly communication. By centralising the payment of APCs we once again have a situation where researchers are divorced from the economic realities of publishing, in the same way libraries have traditionally been the foil between the economics of subscriptions and the access to the materials.

This concern is supported by the review’s observation that: ‘There is little evidence to suggest that the introduction 
of the RCUK policy had much of an impact on author behaviour, with publishers reporting that authors did not seem to be changing their choices on where to publish.
’ (p15)

If anything it has had a negative effect where ‘RCUK’s preference for gold has therefore been, at times, seen as a barrier to implementation and ‘buy-in’ from various communities across the disciplines’(p26). Anecdotally we are seeing this happening at Cambridge.

The review did note that ‘further transparency on what is being paid in APCs by institutions to publishers will be crucial in helping to change behaviours and ease the transition towards open access’.

Reporting issues

The review noted at several stages that there have been difficulties with collecting data and that they ‘have been more reliant on opinion than perhaps
 we might have liked to at the outset of the review’ (p4). They acknowledge the process would have been assisted greatly if there had been some standardisation in what the RCUK was asking for as the ‘template was, understandably, interpreted in a variety 
of ways’ (p9) I should note that Jisc is attempting to standardise the reporting.

When Cambridge was asked to report on compliance levels for the RCUK we were hampered by our inability to articulate the complete number of articles being published that have been funded  by RCUK. The review recognises that this was a widespread problem, particularly in ‘larger, distributed institutions (such as the research intensive universities)’. (p9). Many institutions provided estimates for the compliance reporting.

The review also looked at the (substantial) costs associated with collecting this data and noted that publishers could help given that the sources of data held by publishers ‘would be administratively simpler to collect’ (p10).

Not only could publishers reduce the costs of compliance by providing data, but, the review noted that  ‘complexities in working with publishers [was] one of the areas that had generated considerable administrative effort’ (p21). The problems include initial negotiations and ensuring that licences and invoicing were correct. The cost for this is borne by authors, library and administrative staff and the finance team.

Non compliant publishers

This then moves the focus to the compliance of publisher – which can be taken in a couple of ways. First, the review panel looked at how 
the publishers had helped institutions and researchers to comply with the policy by ensuring that their journals were ‘compliant’ (p11).

It seems that a considerable amount of funded research where an APC has been paid is not compliant with the RCUK policy because the license is not a CC-BY license. For example Elsevier stated that around 40% of the articles from RCUK funding that they had published gold were not under the CC-BY licence and are therefore not compliant with the policy. The American Society of Plant Biologists noted that its journal was not compliant as it did not offer the CC-BY licence and that was unlikely to change in the near future (p19).

Other publishers offer more than one type of license which makes it confusing for the authors, indeed  there was clear evidence that some publishers were offering a choice of licences, even when they knew that the author was RCUK-funded..

The question of publishers not making articles available even after an APC was paid was not singled out in the report but is implied in a  few of the statements in the review, particularly in the institutions having to double check if work is available post publication. This is an area which needs further analysis.


The issue of the CC-BY licenses was a recurrent theme in the review. Many arts, humanities and social science disciplines hold ‘principled and practical objections to the use of CC-BY licences’ (p18). This is partly because work under a CC-BY license ‘could be both used commercially in ways of which the author does not approve and also might not be properly acknowledged as their work’ (pp19-20).

This does demonstrate a lack of full understanding of what a CC-By license allows, but  this is not surprising as  ‘Many publishers … reported a significant number of researchers were signing licence agreements without understanding what they were signing’ (p19).

Also highlighted in evidence was an issue with third
party copyright in that some rights owners (for example, image libraries) are reluctant to license material for digital reproduction, let alone for reproduction in an article that
is published under a CC-BY licence.

Support for the University of Cambridge approach

It was heartening to read of a couple of areas that support the position that Cambridge University has taken towards the implementation of the RCUK and HEFCE policies.

The review mentioned visits to institutions and noted how long it takes 
for researchers to learn about open access including the requirements, expectations and processes they need to follow. ‘One senior researcher commented that it had taken a full half a day to learn about open access.’ At Cambridge University we have taken a very soft touch approach to the researcher who simply has to fill in a few fields and upload a file through a simple interface and the Open Access team takes care of the rest.

Cambridge University has also taken a ‘first in best dressed’ approach to expenditure of the block grant. This seems to have been a good decision as the review has noted that there were concerns raised within both written and oral evidence that where institutions had distributed the block grant by department or faculty, as it had a detrimental impact on some disciplines.

About the review

The review covered the period from April 2013 to July 2014. When the RCUK policy was announced they did say that there would be a review within a year, however there was a need for a full year of implementation before they collected the data so hence the delay.

Chaired by an independent researcher, Professor Sir Robert Burgess, the review panel consisted of ‘knowledgeable members of the various communities and sectors with an interest in the policy and open access’. The evidence collected was through over 80 submissions,  some verbal evidence and a small number of visits to institutions to talk informally with researchers, librarians and institutional administrative staff about their experiences of implementing the policy.

The report mentions on no fewer than three occasions that it is a review of the policy implementation not a debate on the merits of open access.

The next planned review will be in 2016.

Published 26 March 2015
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
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Cambridge expenditure on APCs in 2014

Cambridge (along with many other institutions) were recently approached by Jisc to report on our article processing charges (APC) payments for 2014  as part of Jisc’s APC data collection project to address the Total Cost of Ownership of scholarly communication. Stuart Lawson, who is compiling these datasets has made the files available on Figshare.

A couple of caveats – This dataset only contains APCs which were paid centrally; there will be many other APCs paid by the University of Cambridge and its staff which are not included in this dataset.

Also we ended up listing the publications that were submitted to our system in 2014 because that was our starting point, rather than considering the payments from 2014 and working back. This might be an issue for the analysis – it will depend on which way people have interpreted ‘2014’. I should note that 74 (12.13%) of the invoices listed in this data were actually paid in January 2015.

Headline numbers

  • 610 funded articles were submitted in 2014 to our system for publication
  • 495 have been invoiced and paid as at March 2015
  • The amount spent on APCs (including VAT) for these invoices was £936,224.86
  • This gives an average cost per APC paid (including VAT if charged) of £1891.36
  • The range of APCs is from £94.61 for an article published by Magnolia Press, to £3,869.72 for an article published by Wiley

What does this mean?

It means we are spending a lot of (RCUK) money on APCs.  We also have supported payment of page and colour charges and have paid for researchers to join memberships that offer a discount for APCs out of the RCUK fund – neither of those categories of expenditure was captured in this data set.

The University is participating in the various Jisc Collections series of offsetting programs with publishers and we are discussing other ways of managing this expenditure. However, we really need to consider whether this is the way of the future.

Issues with reporting

Pulling the information together for this list revealed a few issues. First, while we agree with the collection of data to allow aggregation across the sector, for us to pull the required information together was challenging because we do not collect the information in this way.

However there are some indications this type of detail will be requested on a standard basis for reporting. Certainly Jisc suggesting this as a way forward. In their ‘APC data collection’ blog  they state:

HEIs will be able to benchmark their APC data. Using a standard template will help to produce comparable data between institutions which can be more easily aggregated. The data fields to be completed have been chosen from careful analysis of HEI needs. This means that the spreadsheet can be used for both internal reporting and also external reporting including to the Wellcome Trust for compliance monitoring of the Charity Open Access Fund, and potentially RCUK.

 So we therefore need to consider this information when designing new systems.

Issues with invoices

We have a considerable block of Purchase Orders that have not been invoiced. While there will always be a delay because of the length of time between acceptance and publication in some instances, some of these are very old.

The issue of items not being invoiced can partially be explained by the cancellation of Purchase Orders. In some cases the team has contacted the author and found that the email is bouncing because the author has moved to a different institution. In other cases the author decided not to go ahead with open access publication, so we have raised a Purchase Order against something that no longer exists.

Long standing Purchase Orders (over 14 months) are potentially a problem because it is money being held as committed funds. We are now adding the process of checking older  un-invoiced Purchase Orders to the ever-growing list of things to do in the workflow for ensuring compliance.

Published 26 March 2015
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
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Evolution of Library Ethnography Studies – notes from talk

Today Susan Gibbons, the University Librarian & Deputy Provost at Yale University came to speak to the Cambridge Library community about her work for more than a decade on the ethnography of library users.

The premise of the work Susan has done in collaboration with anthropologist Nancy Fried Foster is that libraries should get to know their users better rather than assume that ‘we know what they need’. They recognised that often we base our assumptions of what students experience and need on our own experiences as students which are clearly dated.

The reality of a rapidly changing world is that we need to adapt to the changing needs of the students. It is easier for the library to change than to expect our users to change.

I should note that I have followed Susan and Nancy Fried Foster’s work for many years. I based the design of my empirical work for my PhD “The effect of scholarly communication practices on open access: an Australian study of three disciplines” on their early studies. I am a bit of a fan.

Ethnographic research

Their work began on 2002 and 2003 with analyses of ‘faculty’ (academics’) work practices, before moving to undergraduates, graduate students, analysing how people search for information, asking what is the point of science library buildings in the electronic age, before most recently returning to the undergraduate student body.

There is a circularity in this type of  ethnographic research:

  • Start with a basic question – such as what are the barriers to completion of a PhD, or why do people still use the buildings in science when the content is all online
  • Methods – These can vary wildly from photos to observations, and analysis of academics diaries
  • Data Gathering – these first three constitute the ethnography
  • Findings – which is getting into user design. Analyse the data to start looking for patterns.
  • Change – you can only do this process once maybe twice, and if you do not make a change that is visible to the patrons then they won’t engage. There is a huge investment of time and trust in the process. This needs a commitment from the top down not just the bottom up to have the changes.

At the end of the process, there needs to be an analysis of whether the change has worked and if not, start again. Susan noted that they do not presume to know what the answers were when beginning the process. The area is so unknown they would not even be able to create a survey to ask A, B or C.

We need to embrace experimentation. Libraries have to have a tolerance for failure and change – otherwise the whole process will not work.  We need to have R&D thinking – try it and see if it works. We should not worry about every contingency because then we have lost the opportunity because someone has stepped in and started something. Don’t worry about scale until you find it is an appropriate method.

Changing role of the library

Once of the big messages from the talk was that increasingly the literature and the technology re intertwined. As librarians it is not just good enough to know the literature. If supporting social sciences then you need to know statistical packages and data visualisation. If the librarian can’t help with that then there is a break in the service. There needs to be a fluency with the digital tools as well in the library staff. Libraries are defined by their services but not by their collections. If we don’t have the services to support those collections then we may as well not have them.

This observation raised the question from the floor – do we employ specialists or employ librarians and train them up? Susan responded by saying increasingly Yale University was employing more people who have a PhD in the specific area. That way there is no expectation that everyone is an expert in every tool but there can be a go-to person.

However there has been a push to training people up in the library to be ‘librarians as teachers’. There is an emerging program to teach librarians on how to be teachers – very focused on professional development.

Increasingly the university is asking librarians to have outreach as part of their role. Professional assessments ask if they have created any subject guides, how many classes they have taught. Outreach is valued in the evaluation process. For some existing staff this was not comfortable – they wanted to be curators. The feeling for these people was they ‘changed the rules on me’ – so the university helps them make the transition. Some have come along the outreach path, others have moved somewhere else – and the university helps them with that move.

Studies at Rochester and Yale Universities

Susan did describe two examples  – one from her current institution Yale University and one from her former, the University of Rochester. She prefaced these descriptions with the disclaimer that all institutions are different – these findings are not translatable. That is why ethnography is so important – it is very locally focused. The questions that can affect the outcomes include whether students live on campus or off campus.Are students full or part time? Is it an engineering based institution. In addition weather and climate impacts behaviour.

The question behind the undergraduate student study was: “How can we improve the experience for the students?” That behind the graduate student study was “What are the barriers to the completion of a dissertation?”

Despite her findings being fascinating I won’t go into detail here partly because of the specificity of the findings to her institutions. Susan did note this was not a talk where we should take her group’s solutions and adopt them, rather we need to undertake our own research to determine what we need to do. However for those who are interested there is a considerable body of publications about the various projects:

However the methods are instructive and some of what emerged from the work is universal.


With the undergraduate students they undertook a ‘retrospective study’ of students who were responsible for writing a big paper. They ‘followed’ the students by contacting them one a week or fortnight and asking basic questions on how they were going. Then the day they handed the paper in they interviewed the students. This produced two outputs – a transcript of the interview but also during the interview the students were asked to draw the process out as they were explaining their experience.

The graduate students were asked to do an in-situ interview – in the place they do most of their work. Sometimes a lab, a coffee shop, where they lived. Then they were asked all sorts of information like showing us when they decided to print out an article and how did they keep track of them, about the books on the shelves – how they decide whether to buy one or take it our of the library and how are things filed on their computer. Other questions included the tricks of the trade of how they got through the writing process, what software they were using and the time of day and when they work.

Findings that spanned both studies included what Susan described as ‘the magical summer’. This is the time between finishing their bachelor degree and start the graduate school. The researchers asked professors what they thought the abilities were of those that leave as bachelors, and what the expectations were of new graduates, which was much higher. Hence the magic of the three month summer – how did the students manage this raised expectation? They knew they could not change those expectation of the professors. But we could help the students reach their expectations and help them through the process. This was a good time for the library to say ‘we are safe, work with us and we can help you’.

Another question is what is the best time to introduce research tools? People working on a thesis will need to use some sort of research tools – but when do you introduce that into their toolkit. The group found that once the student’s dissertation prospectus was approved their toolbox was locked – they were not able to ‘take a risk’ at that stage. So the introduction of tools has to be early in the process. The library had to ensure that professors were encouraging students to use the library services when they were writing their shorter papers.

They also found the importance of the human network – learning from other students, following other researchers – people texting information or attending a conference and seeing a book that is perfect for a colleague so they take a picture and send to their friend. So the question is how do you get the relevant librarian into that social network so they see the librarian as another resource?


Susan summarised the talk by saying there are so many things that drive the students away including physical and other barriers. Barriers can include use of acronyms, the scattering of collections and not knowing  how to get access to them. The Library needs to ask of itself is this barrier still necessary? If not change it. Some things are necessary but if we can’t change it we should explain it.

There is a continued importance of libraries as physical spaces – when the students want a place to go to get their work done they go to the library because it is a place of intellectual gravity. There are important symbolic aspects of libraries. They had asked students to circle a map of the university where you don’t feel welcome. Students answered ‘I’m not an athlete and that’s a gym’ for example. But the Library is a place where we all feel welcome. There is neutrality there.

Published 18 March 2015
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
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