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A Fast-Track Route to Open Access

In the last two years, since the REF 2021 open access policy came into force, the Open Access Team has received an ever increasing number of manuscript submissions for archiving in Apollo, Cambridge’s institutional open access repository.

We have been thinking long and hard about ways to cope with the workload, by scrutinising existing practices and streamlining workflows, because we want to provide the best possible service to our researchers, commensurate with the University’s world leading research.

This blog introduces what is perhaps the greatest overhaul of our workflows since the service began: a new ‘Fast Track’ deposit system.

Work it harder

Before the start of the REF OA policy (2014-2016), the Open Access Team would process and manually curate every manuscript submission we received. Authors could expect an initial response within 1-2 working days, after which (usually within a month) we would archive their manuscript in Apollo.

A simplified workflow for a typical manuscript was:

  1. Manuscript uploaded by submitter in Symplectic Elements.
  2. Item created in Apollo (DSpace) workflow
  3. Helpdesk ticket created (Zendesk).
  4. Open Access Team reviews manuscript, advises submitter and makes a decision.
  5. Open Access Team archives the manuscript in Apollo and informs submitter.

Both the decision (4) and archive (5) steps take time. For each manuscript we would need to decide whether the files we received could be archived, what funder open access policies were at play and the open access options available from the publisher. We could then advise authors about their open access choices.

To archive a manuscript the process was broadly the following:

  1. Review the helpdesk ticket (Zendesk) for the open access decision.
  2. Enter as many publication details as possible in Symplectic Elements.
  3. Retrieve the submission from the Apollo (DSpace) deposit workflow.
  4. Add licence and metadata to the record.
  5. Review the submission and approve for archiving.
  6. Move the item to the relevant departmental collection and apply an appropriate embargo (if required).
  7. Finally, update the helpdesk ticket and send the original submitter a link to their Apollo record.

Each manuscript took on average 18 minutes to archive, which, besides being manually tedious and prone to error, was extremely time-consuming. Add to this the time required to make the initial decision and each manuscript submission could easily take 30 minutes for the Open Access Team to fully process from start to finish, especially if an open access fee had to be paid.

Fast-forward two years and with the rate of new manuscript submissions now peaking at over 1,300 per month, simply processing manuscripts for the REF would require more than four full-time staff members. Whilst these manual processes were viable for a handful of submissions a day, they became unwieldy at scale.

Make it better

Our first attempt at speeding up our open access system began in August 2017. To start we made a number of operational changes to reduce the time spent processing manuscript submissions:

  • We would rely entirely on the metadata present in Symplectic Elements to populate the Apollo records (i.e. we would not curate manual records).
  • The Open Access Team would no longer update the helpdesk records, instead internal record keeping would be automated as much as possible.

Unfortunately, the number of steps in the Apollo workflow was still roughly the same as the previous process, but with one key difference: a new field to record what we call the ‘Fast Track’ decision. There were seven Fast Track options:

  • Submitted
  • Proof
  • Published (not open access)
  • Published (open access)
  • Accepted (published)
  • Accepted (not published)
  • Other

The first six options represent the vast bulk of all manuscripts received by the Open Access Team, and ‘Other’ option simply acts as a catch-all for anything else. By simply knowing what sort of manuscript has been uploaded much of the decision and archiving process can be automated. However, the agent still needed to retrieve the item from the Apollo workflow, check the version of the file and publication status of the paper, add some metadata fields, approve the item, and move it to an appropriate collection.

Figure 1. The Apollo workflow page of a typical manuscript submission, with the addition of the new ‘Fast Track’ field.

The choice of Fast Track decision leads to four possible outcomes which would ‘trigger’ actions in our Zendesk helpdesk:

  • Submitted, proof, published (not open access)
    • Email submitter, ask for accepted manuscript
  • Published (open access)
    • Archive in Apollo (no embargo) ⇒ Email submitter Apollo link
  • Accepted (published), accepted (not published)
    • Archive in Apollo (embargoed) ⇒ Email submitter Apollo link
  • Other
    • Refer to Open Access Team

Despite being a much faster process, it was still manually tedious. It could also require up to 33 actions from agents (29 mouse clicks) and 14 web pages to be loaded, still not very user friendly. However, the time to archive had decreased from 18 to 9 minutes – a 50% reduction from the previous fully manual system.

Do it faster

So what if all the steps involved in processing a manuscript submission could be reduced to the absolute minimum, and be actionable within a single webpage? After a short development sprint, the Open Access Team launched the ‘Fast Track Deposits’ interface last September. A snapshot of the user interface is shown below.

Figure 2. The Fast Track interface. Choosing one of the options in blue is enough to fully archive a manuscript, or process it for further action by the submitter or the Open Access Team.

At the top of the page, the agent can see a ‘publication summary’ including the item title, the journal title, and publisher DOI if available. Both the item title and publisher DOI are hyperlinked, so that the agent can Google-search the item or land on the publisher’s webpage with a single mouse click.

The agent must first inspect the file and check that it is a suitable version (i.e. either the accepted version or the open access published version). If wrongly labelled, they must relabel the file via a dropdown menu, and add/delete files as appropriate. The agent then ‘describes’ the manuscript (i.e. decides whether it is the accepted, published, submitted or proof version) and submits their decision. The decision determines the trigger behaviour in the automatically populated helpdesk ticket. The agent is then free to move on to the next item.

If the decision is ‘accepted’ or ‘published open access’, the item is deposited and the submitter is automatically notified via email. For submitted, proof, and non-OA published versions, the author receives an automatic email asking for the accepted manuscript. Items are archived in the repository under a generic collection, and any forthcoming publication details are added to the record via external source information in Elements.

To see just how efficient Fast Track is we’ve prepared a short demonstration video which captures some of the key features:

Video 1. Real-time demonstration of the Fast Track system.

Makes us stronger

Agents therefore need only make one decision: identify the file version. But the real ingenuity of the Fast Track system is that embargoes can be set automatically by:

  1. Taking into account the decision made by the agent (e.g. no embargo if published open access);
  2. Detecting publication status and publication dates from Elements; and
  3. Retrieving journals’ embargo policies via Orpheus (you can learn more about Orpheus in our previous blog post).

In some cases, usually because we don’t know the publication date, we can’t determine the embargo length of an accepted manuscript. In such cases we apply a 36 month embargo from the date of the Fast Track decision. We know that this embargo won’t always be correct, however, we routinely check manuscripts in Apollo and update embargoes accordingly.

Figure 3. Simplified overview of the Fast Track process. The key decision is to determine the type of manuscript that has been submitted. Everything else is handled automatically.

Since launching Fast Track the average time to process a manuscript is 1-2 minutes. More than 8,000 items have been processed since launching the phase two Fast-Track interface. If items processed under the phase one effort are included, the number goes up to just over 14,000. And since a picture speaks a thousand words, Figure 4 below shows the effect produced by the new interface launched in September on our backlog of unprocessed submissions.

Figure 4. Historical change in the number of unprocessed open access manuscript submissions. The total number of outstanding manuscript submissions peaked at nearly 2,400 in September 2018. Immediately after launching the Fast Track website the backlog dropped dramatically and was completely eliminated by March 2019.

We will continue to develop Fast Track to further streamline our processing of manuscripts. We have already started to partner with librarians and administrators across the University to leverage the collective knowledge about open access which now exists within the University’s professional academic services.

Get in contact: If you are running a DSpace repository and would like to implement Fast Track to work alongside your existing workflows email us at support@repository.cam.ac.uk

Published 23 April 2019
Written by Dr Mélodie Garnier and Dr Arthur Smith
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Where are we now? Cambridge theses deposits one year in

As the nights draw in and the academic year 2018/19 begins, we are preparing to enter our second year of compulsory e-theses deposits. Our university repository, Apollo, is close to holding 6000 digital PhD theses and it is the intention of the University that this valuable research asset continues to grow into the future. The Apollo repository will play a large part in making this happen. Until recently only hardbound copies of theses were collected and catalogued by the University Library. Users could read theses on-site in Cambridge or order a digitisation of the thesis, but the introduction of e-thesis deposit to Apollo has meant that University of Cambridge theses are more accessible than ever before. It’s been an incredibly busy year and we have made some great steps forward in our management of theses in Cambridge.

e-theses at Cambridge – the background

The e-theses deposit story at Cambridge started in October 2016, when the Office of Scholarly Communication upgraded Apollo to allow the deposit of theses and began a digital thesis pilot for the academic year 2016/17. 11 departments in the University participated in the pilot, asking their PhD students to deposit an e-thesis alongside a hardcopy thesis. Theses deposited in Apollo during the pilot could either be made open access on request of the author or were treated as historical theses had been up until that point, whereby hardbound copies were held in the University Library and requestors could sign a declaration stating they wish to consult a thesis for private study or non-commercial research. Following the success of the pilot, the Board of Graduate Studies, at its meeting on 4 July 2017, made the decision that from 1 October 2017 all PhD students would be required to deposit both a hard copy and an electronic copy of their thesis to the University Library.

What we learnt during the academic year 2017/18

The experience of depositing theses during the pilot had highlighted some issues that needed addressing. We had to make decisions on how to deal with third party copyright, sensitive material, library copy and supply rules, and the alignment of access levels for hardbound and electronic theses. In response to this, we decided that we should think through each of the different ways in which a thesis could be deposited in the repository, and consider the range of contentious material that could be contained within a thesis.

How do theses enter the repository?

Whilst students that are depositing in order to graduate do this directly, we also have the capacity to scan theses on request here in the library, and these scanned theses are subsequently deposited in Apollo. In addition to this, we led a drive to digitise University of Cambridge theses held by the British Library on microfilm and gave alumni the option to digitise their thesis and make it open access at no cost to them.

British Library theses

This year the OSC has made a bulk deposit of theses scanned by the British Library, which significantly augments the number of theses stored in the repository. In the culmination of a two-year project, nearly 1300 additional Cambridge PhD theses are now available on request in the Apollo repository.

Prior to being made available in the repository, these Cambridge theses were held on microfilm at the British Library. They date from the 1960s through to 2008, when digitisation took over from microfilm as a means of document storage. The British Library holds 14,000 Cambridge PhD theses on microfilm; in 2016 they embarked on a project with the OSC to digitise ten percent of the collection at low cost – read more about this in an earlier post, Choosing from a cornucopia: a digitisation project.

You can explore the collection in Apollo: Historical Digital Theses: British Library collection.  The theses are under controlled access, which means they are available on request for non-commercial research purposes, subject to a £15 admin fee.

Establishing access levels

We established that the level of access we could allow to the thesis could be determined by the route a thesis entered the repository, its content, or in some cases the author’s wish to publish. To address all of the potential issues, we decided to define a set of access levels which would determine what we, as managers of the repository, were able to do with a thesis and the way in which it could be accessed by a requestor.

The access levels were put in action in spring 2018 and this was followed by a survey of Degree Committees, conducted by the e-theses working group consisting of members of the University Library and Student Registry. The survey asked for feedback on the suitability of the access levels for research outputs for all departments in the University; the outcome confirmed that the access levels were working and covered the options well, although a few tweaks were needed. In light of the feedback, a set of recommendations was put to the Board of Graduate Studies by the e-theses working group, and these recommendations were considered and accepted at their meeting on 3 July 2018, ready to be put in place for the 2018/19 academic year.

eSales for theses under controlled access

At the same time as we were establishing our access levels, we were also working on devising an eSales process to facilitate the supply of theses under controlled access. Controlled access replicates the way that historical, hardbound theses were managed in the library, with the addition of an electronic version of the thesis being held in the repository, and follows the library copy and supply rules for unpublished works under copyright law. A thesis scanned by the library would be deposited under controlled access so it remains unpublished, but this access level is also available to students depositing their thesis directly. The eSales process we devised went live in July 2018 and this meant a large number of theses held in the repository were made more accessible, including those digitised by the British Library. As of 18 October, we have supplied 14 theses via the eSales route and the requests keep coming in at a steady pace.

Looking forward to the 2018/19 academic year

As we begin the 2018/19 academic year, our theses management is looking in good shape but we will continue to improve and refine our internal and external services. In consultation with the University’s Student Registry we are making the final changes to our deposit forms, access levels and communications and we endeavour to make this academic year the smoothest yet for e-theses management. University of Cambridge theses are more accessible than they have ever been. The collection will grow as more students deposit each year, and the valuable research of PhD students will continue to be disseminated.

Published 25 October 2018
Written by Zoë Walker-Fagg
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How open is Cambridge? 2017 edition

Welcome to Open Access Week 2017. The Office of Scholarly Communication at Cambridge is celebrating with a series of blog posts, announcements and events. In today’s blog post we revisit the question about the openness of Cambridge. 

For Open Access week last year I looked at how open Cambridge was using the extremely useful Lantern tool, developed by Cottage Labs, and which is the basis of the Wellcome Trust’s compliance tool. If you haven’t used it before, Lantern takes a list of DOIs, PMIDs, or PMCIDs and runs these through a variety of sources to try and determine the Open Access status of the publication. I found that, for publications in 2015, 51.8% of all of Cambridge’s research publications were available in at least one ‘Open Access’ source. How did Cambridge’s 2016 publications fair? Read on to find out.

Using the same method as last year, I first obtained a list of DOIs from Web of Science (n=9416) and Scopus (n=9124) for articles, proceedings papers and reviews published in 2016. Combining and deduplicating these lists returned 10,674 unique DOIs (~29 publications/day). I also refreshed the 2015 publication data using the latest Web of Science and Scopus information, which returned 10,090 unique DOIs. Year-on-year, this represents a 5.8% increase in the total number of publications attributable to Cambridge – more than inflation!

The deduplicated DOI lists for 2015 and 2016 (20,764 DOIs in total) were fed into Lantern and analysed in combination with information from Web of Science and the University’s institutional repository Apollo.

Figure 1. Distribution of papers, published in 2015 and 2016 which have a DOI, according to the Open Access sources they can be found in. 57.5% of 2016’s articles appear in at least one Open Access source, which represents a 4% increase over 2015. One third of all papers published in 2016 are available in Apollo.

Very pleasingly the percentage of publications available in at least one Open Access source increased to 57.5% in 2016 compared to only 53.4% for 2015 publications. Given that the total number of publications also increased during this period this result is doubly exciting. In raw numbers, this means that while 5384 publications were Open Access in 2015, an impressive 6135 publications were made Open Access in 2016.

Most of this increase can be attributed to the much larger share of publications that appear in Apollo, which is now the largest source of Open Access material for the University of Cambridge. An additional 822 publications were deposited in Apollo in 2016 compared to 2015, which is a 30% increase in one year alone.

You can now find more of the University’s research outputs in Apollo than in any other Open Access source. And because we operate an extremely popular Request a Copy service, potentially all of the publications held in Apollo, even those that are restricted and under embargo, are available to anyone in the world. You just need to ask.

Published 23 October 2017
Written by Dr Arthur Smith
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