Tag Archives: advocacy

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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Promoting Open Access in a department – what works

At Cambridge University, the Open Access team offers a centralised service to help our researchers make their work open access and comply with their funder requirements. But getting researchers to visit www.openaccess.cam.ac.uk and engage with the service is proving to be a challenge. We estimate that only around a third of the University’s journal articles are currently being uploaded within the three-month window allowed by HEFCE.

We’re working hard to publicise the message at our end, but centralised services can’t reach all academics in the same way as their departments and colleges can. If we’re to ensure that as much of the University’s output as possible is available Open Access and eligible for the next REF, some of that work has to happen in departments.

Success story

One of the most successful departments in the University is the MRC Epidemiology Unit, which currently submits more than 80% of its manuscripts on time. We went to talk to Signe Wulund, the administrator there who looks after open access, about what she does and the systems she uses.


Click on the thumbnail below to open a high resolution version of the ‘MRC Epidemiology & CEDAR Open Access Process’.

MRC Epidemiology poster 1a

At the heart of her workflow is a detailed knowledge of what the department’s 120-130 researchers are publishing. Authors are encouraged to inform her of any articles accepted for publication and to send her their manuscripts. Frequent reminders in the form of posters, newsletter items and emails make sure they don’t forget.

Papers can be uploaded to www.openaccess.cam.ac.uk by either the academics themselves or by an administrator on their behalf. Since 2013 MRC Epidemiology has had a great deal of success with either Signe or her colleague Karen handling manuscript uploads rather than the authors themselves. The expertise they have developed in the policies and workflows makes the process run extremely smoothly. They also check that the version of the article they’ve been sent is the correct one and that funders have been correctly acknowledged. This all means that by the time we received the manuscript, it’s exactly what we need and we can get back to them with advice and information on any payments as quickly as possible.

Click on the thumbnail below to see a high resolution version of ‘Open Access Process Flowchart – who does what?’

MRC Epidemiology poster 2a

Added benefits

The most valuable aspect to this approach, however, is that it allows Signe to keep centralised records of the department’s publishing output. She maintains a spreadsheet that tracks all the Unit’s known papers, including where they are in the publication process and their open access status. This includes both papers authors have directly notified her about and those which she has found later through other sources like Symplectic.

This has uses well beyond Open Access, but also enables Signe to maintain an organised overview of the department’s output and to chase up any issues that might arise; it also allows the department to follow up with journals and post manuscripts eligible for green Open Access to Europe PubMed Central.

Open Access is strongly backed by the department’s leadership and made part of regular research group leader meetings, with papers included and discussed about open access performance. This maintains high awareness among researchers and allows group leaders to remind or inform colleagues who are not taking the appropriate action.

This is the key advantage that departmental administrators have over a centralised service – the fact that they are a regular part of department life and can reach researchers more directly and more often than the Office of Scholarly Communication can, however many events or presentations we hold.

There are, of course, resource implications. We know that many administrative staff within the University are overstretched. However, the time demands of the work Signe does on open access are not extravagant, and well worth the modest investment.

Take home messages

So the key things that the MRC Epidemiology Unit do that other departments could try to improve their open access rates are:

  • Consistent administrators with responsibility for open access, working on it regularly and so able to develop expertise.
  • Engage with researchers to keep track of departmental publications.
  • Administrators upload articles to Open Access website to increase efficiency.
  • Strong support from departmental leadership.
  • Frequent reminders and publicity about open access, using a variety of means.
  • Open access made a regular part of PI meetings, which can be used to increase engagement with open access.

The impact such measures can have speaks for itself. The MRC Epidemiology Unit’s submission and compliance rates are more than double the University average. But the key thing to note is that such work also needn’t be especially burdensome from a time or resource standpoint. Of course, different departments have different organisational structures, publishing patterns and needs, but many of these approaches are common sense and applicable anywhere.

If you’d like more detailed advice or suggestions for how to promote open access in your own department, please get in touch with us at info@openaccess.cam.ac.uk.

Published 7 March 2016
Written by Dr Philip Boyes

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