New to OA? Top tips from the experts

We have a fantastic community in the Scholarly Communication space. And this is one of the clear themes that emerged from a recent exchange on the UKCORR discussion list. The grandly named UK Council of Research Repositories is a self-organised, volunteer, independent body for repository managers, administrators and staff in the UK.

The main activity for UKCORR is a closed email list which has 570 members and is very active. Questions and discussions range from queries about how to interpret specific points of OA policy through to technical advice about repositories.

Recently, the OSC’s Arthur Smith (the current Secretary of UKCORR), posed the first ‘monthly discussion’ point, asking the group two questions:

  • What do you wish you were told before you started your job in repository management/scholarly communication?
  • What are your top three tips for someone just starting?

What followed was a flurry of emails full of great advice. Too good not to share – hence this blog. In summary:

  1. This is a varied and complex area
  2. Open access is bigger than mandates
  3. Things change fast in scholarly communication
  4. Don’t panic
  5. Work with your academic colleagues
  6. The OA community is strong and supportive

Top tips for someone just starting in Scholarly Communication

1. This is a varied and complex area

It’s complicated! Terminology, changing guidance and policies, publisher’s rules… everything is complicated and it takes time to learn it all.

You will experience A LOT of frustration (with publishers, financial constraints, lack of policy alignment, issues with interoperability, ) but there will be moments when it all comes together and you realise you have made a difference to someone and it is all worthwhile.

You’re not mad for wondering why open access policies/dates etc. are not easily found…

How varied and exciting the role is, with requirements (and opportunities) to develop expertise in diverse areas: communication/advocacy, copyright, systems, researcher training, project and team management, budget management…to name but a few.

To remember that this is an industry we have not traditionally been involved in, that it is a constantly changing landscape, that the community is incredibly supportive and endlessly useful, that Sherpa Romeo is still vital, that publishers really vary in their responses to open access – from behemoths to start-ups, and that everyone should back the collaborative effort behind the Scholarly Communications Licence!

2. Open access is bigger than mandates

Remember the bigger picture – open access/open research should not be about compliance; don’t allow yourself to become jaded.

Remember that it is not all just about compliance (the REF). Yes, it is concentrating researchers minds wonderfully at the moment but Open Access/scholarly communications should be about selling the benefits– the carrot not the stick.

Efface mandates & policy when possible – while the REF (along with funder and institutional) mandates are powerful driving forces, some people are not motivated by them, and OA and Open Science are bigger and better than any mandates.

It’s not all about compliance…

It’s not all about the REF.

3. Things change fast in scholarly communication

It’s not finished yet – we’re still building it and nothing is set in stone, so what do you think?

My advice is be adaptable – change is good. This field is rapidly evolving which demands that you remain flexible. What was true yesterday may not be applicable tomorrow.

It is a fluid constantly-changing field to be involved in and it will continue to evolve, so enthusiasm (or nosiness) and an enquiring mind helps

Identify ways to keep up-to-date as it is a rapidly evolving area and it’s impossible to keep on top of everything

Keep the big picture alive alongside the ‘how-to’, operational aspects. Reflect this in your communications.

Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something – a lot of things in this area are based on interpretation of policies etc

Stay passionate (even when the details are dragging you down).

There is a lot more to it than meets the eye – and that is what is appealing – variety and challenge.

Don’t be afraid to try and change things.

4. Don’t panic!

Open Access Emergencies are very rare. If you’re sent a takedown notice, hide the record immediately and then think about what to do (I’ve had two in something like 6 years, they’re pretty rare). Other than that, very few things are actually urgent and you can afford to spend a bit of time thinking about them.

You’re not going to get everything right – mistakes can be made and for the most part easily rectified (in my position at least!)

Don’t worry about asking questions– Green? Gold? Need some context? Get some context!

5. Work with your academic colleagues

Recognise that some of your best allies will be researchers, although they will often be silent partners working away in the background. It’s easy to moan that they always get it wrong, but no amount of lecturing about policies will ever be as effective as a casual conversation between two researchers over lunch. Catalysing those discussions is what we should be aiming for.

Your academics do not care about the vagaries of policy and probably weren’t listening when you told them. Keep the message very simple. If a specific funder is more complicated you may best off targeting those authors directly with an additional message that explains the difference.

Take time to understand the daily and yearly calendar of academic staff to better understand their pressures.

Engage academics in conversations – for me that is the most interesting and rewarding part of the role.

Be confident, you know what you’re doing. And if you don’t? Find out-  you’ve checked the embargo/copyright regardless of what the academic might want you to do!

Customer focus is important – support rather than appear to police (even though we might be doing a bit of policing).

You have to remember that even if you are relatively new, that you will probably know more than the academics/researchers themselves, so don’t panic when you don’t know/understand something they ask/request. They are usually fine with the standard “I’ll get back to you….” to give you time to find out. Plus, a lot of them are happy that you are dealing with it so they don’t have to.

6. The OA community is strong and supportive

It takes time to build knowledge, so build your networks.

Make use of your colleagues’ expertise – it’s ok not to know everything about everything and you’ll become a stronger team.

Engage on Twitter – it’s where I find a lot of useful resources, updates and share ideas.

Join UKCORR (but I would say that).

You are part of a community that works together – UKCORR is a great platform for discussion, keeping up with news (eg the release of multiple REF2021 related guidance papers within a few days of each other) and finding out the answers to questions.

Network as much as you can; UKCORR is a fantastic community.

Use the support networks that are available –Colleagues/Local Groups/UKCoRR/ARMA – people are genuinely helpful and supportive and repetition of questions does not offend.

Join the Open Access Tracking Project or at least subscribe to notifications. I read the email digest every morning, there is always plenty going on.

7. General advice

The validation queue will vary rarely reach zero. Your academics are publishing all the time. Don’t try to get the queue to zero, for that way madness lies. Instead set a time period (e.g. 2 weeks) and aim to have nothing take longer than that to validate. Don’t worry if this slips a bit during the busy times.

Don’t be intimidated by copyright – get expert advice when you need it, but most re-use & sharing rights are written down somewhere (in the agreement to publish, or in a publisher’s pages).

Don’t forget the Arts & Humanities – much of the lingo (& policy) in OA, e.g. “pre-print”, PubMed/EPMC deposits, etc. comes from the STEM side of the Two Cultures, and the Humanities tradition can be slightly different (for one thing, more publishing in books).

I’m also happy to admit that I was rather overwhelmed by acronyms and abbreviations. It took me an age to figure out that CRIS was Current Research Information System. Don’t be afraid to stop someone if they’re using a term that you don’t know.

Learn a little bit about code and the underpinnings of your platform so you can communicate more effectively with developers.

If you have the opportunity to learn how the technical infrastructure works, eg coding, APIs, go for it. This is on my wish list – so often I can’t tell if a development/improvement hasn’t happened because it’s technically not possible or if it’s for other reasons.

Published 20 August 2018
Compiled by Dr Danny Kingsley from responses amongst the UKCORR community
Creative Commons License

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