Tag Archives: open access

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
Creative Commons License

Cambridge Open Access spend 2013-2018

Since 2013, the Open Access Team has been helping Cambridge researchers, funded by Research Councils UK (RCUK) and the consortium of biomedical funders which make up the Charity Open Access Fund (COAF), to meet their Open Access obligations. Both RCUK (now part of UKRI) and COAF have Open Access policies which have a preference for ‘gold’, i.e. the published work should be Open Access immediately at the time of publication. Implementing these policies has come at a significant cost. In this time, Cambridge has been awarded just over £10 million from RCUK and COAF to implement their Open Access policies, and the Open Access Team has diligently used this funding to maximum effect.

Figure 1. Comparison of combined RCUK/COAF grant spend and available funds, April 2013 – March 2018.

Initially, expenditure was slow which allowed the Open Access Team to maintain a healthy balance that could guarantee funding for almost any paper which met a few basic requirements. However, since January 2016 expenditure has gradually been catching up on the available funds which has made funding decisions more difficult (specifically Open Access deals tied to multi-year publisher subscriptions). In the first three months of 2018 average monthly expenditure on the RCUK block grant alone exceeded £160,000. We are quickly reaching the point where expenditure will outstrip the available grants.

One technical change which has particularly affected our management of the block grants was RCUK’s decision last year to move away from a direct cash award (which could be rolled over year to year) to a more tightly managed research grant. In the past, carrying over underspend has given us some flexibility in the management of the RCUK funds, whereas the more restrictive style of research grant will mean that any underspend will need to be returned at the end of the grant period, while any overspend cannot be deferred into the next grant period. As we are now dealing with a fixed budget, the Open Access Team will need to ensure that expenditure is kept within the limits of the grant. This is difficult when we have no control over where or when our researchers publish.

Funding from COAF (which is also managed as though it is a research grant) has generally matched our total annual spend quite closely, but the strict grant management rules have caused some problems, especially in the transition period between one grant and another. However, unlike RCUK, the Wellcome Trust will provide supplementary funding in addition to the main COAF award if it is exhausted, and the other COAF partners have similar procedures in place to manage Open Access payments beyond the end of the grant.

Where does it all go?

Most of our expenditure (91%) goes on article processing charges (APCs), as perhaps one might expect, but the block grants are also used to support the staff of the Open Access Team (3%), helpdesk and repository systems (2%), page and colour charges (2%), and publisher memberships (1%) (where this results in a reduced APC). The majority of APCs we’ve paid go towards hybrid journals, which represent approximately 80% of total APC spend.

So let’s take a look at which publishers have received the most funds. We’ve tried to match as much of our raw financial information we have to specific papers, although some of our data is either incomplete or we can’t easily link a payment back to a specific article, particularly if we look back to 2013-2015 when our processes were still developing. Nonetheless, the average APC paid over the last 5 years was £2,291 (inc. 20% VAT), but as can be seen from Table 1, average APCs have been rising year on year at a rate of 7% p.a., significantly higher than inflation. Price increases at this rate are not sustainable in the long term – by 2022 we could be paying on average £3000 per article.

Table 1. Average APC by publication year of article (where known).

Year of publication Average APC paid (£)
2013  £1,794
2014  £1,935
2015  £2,044
2017  £2,187
2018  £2,336

Elsevier has been by far the largest recipient of block grant funds, receiving 29.4% of all APC expenditure from the RCUK and COAF awards (over £2.5 million), though only accounting for 25.5% of articles. In the same time SpringerNature also received in excess of £1 million (which as we’ll see below has mostly been spent on two titles). With such a substantial set of data we can now begin to explore the relative value that each publisher offers. Take for example Taylor & Francis (£107,778 for 120 articles) compared to Wolters Kluwer (£119,551 for 35 articles). Both publishers operate mostly hybrid OA journals and yet the relative value is significantly different. What is so fundamentally different between publishers that such extreme examples as this should exist?

Table 2. Top 20 publishers by combined total RCUK/COAF APC spend 2013-2018.

Value of APCs paid Number of APCs paid Avg. APC paid
Publisher £ % N % £
Elsevier £2,559,736 29.4% 971 25.5% £2,636
SpringerNature £1,050,774 12.1% 402 10.6% £2,614
Wiley £808,847 9.3% 279 7.3% £2,899
American Chemical Society £411,027 4.7% 251 6.6% £1,638
Oxford University Press £379,647 4.4% 169 4.4% £2,246
PLOS £267,940 3.1% 168 4.4% £1,595
BioMed Central £245,006 2.8% 153 4.0% £1,601
Institute of Physics £189,434 2.2% 98 2.6% £1,933
Royal Society of Chemistry £156,018 1.8% 106 2.8% £1,472
BMJ Publishing £144,001 1.7% 68 1.8% £2,118
Company of Biologists £140,609 1.6% 50 1.3% £2,812
Wolters Kluwer £119,551 1.4% 35 0.9% £3,416
Taylor & Francis £107,778 1.2% 120 3.2% £898
Frontiers £103,011 1.2% 61 1.6% £1,689
Cambridge University Press £77,139 0.9% 38 1.0% £2,030
Royal Society £73,890 0.8% 52 1.4% £1,421
Society for Neuroscience £69,943 0.8% 26 0.7% £2,690
American Society for Microbiology £63,056 0.7% 36 0.9% £1,752
American Heart Association £53,696 0.6% 14 0.4% £3,835
Optical Society of America £39,463 0.5% 17 0.4% £2,321
All other articles £1,654,228 19.0% 690 18.1% £2,397
Grand Total £8,714,794 100.0% 3,804 100.0% £2,291

Next, journal level metrics. The most popular journal that we pay APCs for is Nature Communications, followed closely by Scientific Reports. Both of these are SpringerNature titles, and indeed these two titles make up the bulk of our total APC spend with SpringerNature. Yet these two journals represent significantly different approaches to Open Access. Nature Communications, along with Cell and Cell Reports, are some of the most expensive routes to making research publications Open Access, whereas Scientific Reports and PLOS One sit at the lower end of the spectrum. It is interesting that we haven’t seen a particularly popular Open Access journal fill the niche between Nature Communications and Scientific Reports.

Figure 2. APC number and total spend by journal. In the last five years, nearly £450,000 has been spent on articles published in Nature Communications.


Managing the future

While the OA block grants have kept pace with overall expenditure so far, continuing monthly expenditure of £160,000 would risk overspending on the RCUK grant for 2018/19. To counter this possible outcome the University has agreed a set of funding guidelines to manage the RCUK (from now on known as Research Councils) and COAF awards. For Research Councils’ funded papers the new guidelines place an emphasis on fully Open Access journals and hybrid journals where the publisher is taking a sustainable approach to managing the transition to Open Access. We’ve spent a lot of money over the last five years, yet it’s not clear that the influx of cash from RCUK and COAF has had any meaningful impact on the overall publishing landscape. Many publishers continue to reap huge windfalls via hybrid APCs, yet they are not serious about their commitment to Open Access.

In the future, we’ll be demanding better deals from publishers before we support payments to hybrid journals so that we can effect a faster transition to a fully Open Access world.

Published 22 October 2018
Written by Dr Arthur Smith
Creative Commons License

Lessons learned from Jisc Research Data Champions

In 2017 four Cambridge researchers received grants from Jisc to develop and share their research data management practices. In this blog, the four awardees each highlight one aspect of their work as a Jisc Data Champion.

The project

All four Champions embarked on a range of activities throughout the year including creating local communities interested in RDM practices, delivering training, running surveys to understand their department better, creating ‘how-to’ guides for would-be RDM mentors and testing Samvera as part of RDSS. They were excited by the freedom that the grant gave them to try out whatever RDM related activities they wanted, which meant they could develop their skills and see ideas come to fruition and make them reusable for others. For example, Annemarie Eckes developed a questionnaire on RDM practices for PhD students and Sergio Martínez Cuesta has posted his training courses on GitHub.  

However, throughout the duration of the award they also found some aspects of championing good RDM disconcerting. Whilst some sessions proved popular, others had very low attendee figures, even when a previous iteration of the session was well attended. They all shared the sense of frustration often felt by central RDM services that it is getting people to initially engage and turn up to a session that is the hard part. However, when people did come they found the sessions very useful, particularly because the Champions were able to tailor it specifically to the audience and discipline and the similar background of all the attendees provided an extra opportunity for exchanging advice and ideas that were most relevant.

The Champions tried out many different things. The Jisc Research Data Champions were expected to document and publicise their research data management (RDM) experiences and practices and contribute to the Jisc Research Data Shared Service (RDSS) development. Here the Champions each highlight one thing they tried out, which we hope will help others with their RDM engagement.

BYOD (Bring your own data)

Champion: Annemarie Eckes, PhD student, Department of Geography

The “Bring your own data” workshop was intended for anyone who thought their project data needed sorting, they needed better documentation, or even they needed to find out who is in charge or the owner of certain data. I set it up to give attendees time and space to do any kind of data-management related tasks: clean up their data, tidy up their computer/ email inbox, etc. The workshop was, really, for everyone whether at the start of their project and at the planning stage or in the middle of a project and had neglected their data management to some extent.

For the workshop the participants needed a laptop or login for the local computers to access their data and a project to tidy up or prepare, that can be done within two hours. I provided examples of file naming conventions and folder structures as well as instructions on how to write good READMEs (messages to your future self) and a data audit framework to give participants some structure to their organisation. After a brief introductory presentation about the aims and the example materials I provided, people would spend the rest of the time tidying up their data or in discussions with the other participants.

While this was an opportunity for the participants to sit down and sort out their digital files, I also wanted participants to talk to each other about their data organisation issues and data exchange solutions. Once I got everyone talking, we soon discovered that we have similar issues and were able to exchange information on very specific solutions.

1-on-1 RDM Mentoring

Champion: Andrew Thwaites, postdoc, Department of Psychology

I decided to trial 1-on-1 RDM mentoring as a way to customise RDM support for individual researchers in my department. The aim was that by the end of the 1-on-1 session, the mentee should understand how to a) share their data appropriately at the end of their project, and b) improve on their day-to-day research data management practice.

Before the meeting, I encouraged the mentee to compile a list of funders, and their funder’s data sharing requirements. During the meeting, the mentee and I would make a list of the data in the mentees project that they are aiming to share, and then I would then help them to choose a repository (or multiple repositories) to share this data on, and I’d also assist in designing the supporting documentation to accompany it. During the sessions I also had conversations about about GDPR, anonymising data, internal documentation and day-to-day practices (file naming conventions, file backups etc.) with the mentee.

As far as possible, I provided non-prescriptive advice, with the aim being to help the mentee make an informed decision, rather than forcing them into doing what I thought was best.

Embedding RDM  

Champion: Sergio Martinez Cuesta, research associate, CRUK-CI and Department of Chemistry

I came to realise early in the Jisc project that stand-alone training sessions focused exclusively on RDM concepts were not successful as students and researchers found them too abstract, uninteresting or detached from their day-to-day research or learning activities. I think the aerial view of the concept of 1-on-1 mentoring and BYOD sessions is beautiful. However, in my opinion, both strategies may face challenges with necessary numbers of mentors/trainers increasing unsustainably as the amount of researchers needing assistance grows and the research background of the audience becomes more diverse.

To facilitate take-up, I tapped into the University’s lists of oversubscribed computational courses and found that many researchers and students already shared interests in learning programming languages, data analysis skills and visualisation in Python and R. I explored how best to modify some of the already-available courses with an aim of extending the offer after having added some RDM concepts to them. The new courses were prepared and delivered during 2017-2018. Some of the observations I made were:

  • Learning programming naturally begs for proper data management as research datasets and tables need to be constantly accessed and newly created. It was helpful to embed RDM concepts (e.g. appropriate file naming and directory structure) just before showing students how to open files within a programming language.
  • The training of version control using git required separate sessions. Here students and researchers also discover how to use GitHub, which later helps them to make their code and analyses more reproducible, create their own personal research websites …
  • Gaining confidence in programming, structuring data / directories and version control in general helps students to acknowledge that research is more robust when open and contrasted by other researchers. Learning how researchers can identify themselves in a connected world with initiatives such as ORCID was also useful.

Brown Bag Lunch Seminar Series: The Productive Researcher

Champion: Melissa Scarpate, postdoc, Faculty of Education

I created the Productive Researcher seminar series to provide data management and Open Access information and resources to researchers at the Faculty of Education (FoE). The aim of the brown bag lunch format was to create an informal session where questions, answers and time for discussion could be incorporated. I structured the seminars so they covered 1) a presentation and discussion of data management and storage; 2) a presentation about Open Access journals and writing publications; 3) a presentation on grant writing where Open Access was highlighted.

While the format of the series was designed to increase attendance, the average was four attendees per session. The majority of attendees were doctoral students and postdocs who had a keen interest in properly managing their data for their theses or projects. However, I suspect it may be the case that those attending already understood data management processes and resources.

In conclusion, I think that whilst the individuals that attended these seminars found the content helpful (per their feedback) the impact of the seminars was extremely limited. Therefore, my recommendation would be to have all doctoral students take a mandatory training class on data management and Open Access topics as part of their methodological training. Furthermore, I think it may be most helpful in reaching postdocs and more senior researchers to have a mandated data management meetings with a data manager to discuss their data management and Open Access plans prior to submitting any grant proposals. Due to new laws and policies on data (GDPR) this seems a necessary step to ensure compliance and excellence in research.

Published 2 October 2018
Compiled and edited by Dr Lauren Cadwallader from contributions by Annemarie Eckes, Dr Andrew Thwaites, Dr Sergio Martinez Cuesta, Dr Melissa Scarpate
Creative Commons License