Open Access for Librarians: Putting Together the Puzzle

Claire Sewell, Research Support Librarian, Betty & Gordon Moore Library

This Open Access week I’ve been reflecting back on my time training library staff in research support. As anyone working in this area will know, an understanding of the principles of open access is key to getting to grips with many of the issues covered by the scholarly communications remit so it’s important that librarians get a good grasp of the basics. Open access is a topic rich in terminology and interconnected concepts which can make teaching it a little bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with no finished image to guide you. Many introductory sessions begin with an overview of what open access actually means – the process of making the outputs of funded research available online for anyone to read. So far, so simple but even this assumes some knowledge of the current academic publishing system. I often need to spend longer talking about this than I had planned before we can move onto the rest of the session and the pauses don’t stop there. Outlining the importance of open access involves explaining the REF, describing the practicalities means defining what we mean by a repository and describing the different types of OA can be hard when your audience don’t understand the concept of an embargo. 

No two audiences are ever the same as everyone has a different view of the finished picture and I need to be able to provide them with the pieces they need to complete their own OA puzzle. As a result, every session has to be adaptable to the needs of the people in the room. Whilst I still have an overall plan for any open access session, I find it’s a good idea to have some small pre-prepared slides or activities which embed key concepts that I can include if needed. I’ve also come to the realisation that it doesn’t matter which order you place your slides in as you will have to shuffle through them at random as your audience asks questions! This is not always a bad thing as it keeps me on my toes and improves my practice.  

The most common questions I get are detailed below: 

  1. Definitions of various terms – audiences need to know what things such as embargoes, repositories, author accepted manuscript and APC are, but it can be hard to explain one without an understanding of some element of another. Having some type of primer on hand can really help people to understand the language you’re using. 
  2. Manuscript versions – something a lot of people struggle with is which version of a manuscript is which and how this impacts sharing via OA. I find that a visual representation offers the best explanation and often rely on this graphic from our OA FAQs – something I’ve been told makes all the difference. 
  3. Practicalities of OA – this will vary between institutions but a common question is how you actually go through the process of making outputs open. If you can, building in time for a demonstration and/or some hands-on experience can really help learners to understand the process and find all sorts of tricky problems for you to explain! 

So, the message is – no matter who your audience is, it pays to be flexible. Much like the rest of the open access landscape one size definitely does not fit all! 

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