Tag Archives: Research Support

Opening Up the Research Support Ambassadors

This Open Access Week sees the launch of the fully open version of our popular Research Support Ambassador programme. This initiative has been running in Cambridge libraries since 2015 and has seen over one hundred staff from across the library network enhance their knowledge of scholarly communication. It has also been through several different versions, transitioning from a taught face-to-face programme to an internal online course. The time is now right to open up this content to a wider audience and launch the programme as a resource for anyone who wants to make use of it. You can watch an online trailer for the programme on our OSC YouTube channel.

Research Support Ambassador logo
Research Support Ambassador logo

The Ambassador programme offers interested library staff the chance to learn about the fundamentals of scholarly communication and research support from data management and open access to copyright and assessing impact. It was first conceived in 2015 as part of the initial phase of training offered by the newly established Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC) which was tasked with improving the support offered to researchers by the library network. The OSC quickly realised that Cambridge library staff were keen to get more involved but perhaps that they needed a thorough grounding in the basics in order to improve their confidence levels. The Research Ambassadors were launched as a way to get people up to speed at the same time as producing an output which could be shared with the wider community. As with all new initiatives, it was not without its problems and these are highlighted in the case study that I wrote about the programme a couple of years ago. When I took over the programme in late 2015 I listened to the feedback from participants and began to evolve i into its current form as an educational programme. Initially this was delivered in a series of face-to-face workshops with participants being asked to work on a project like an online resource as an outcome that they could point to but it soon became obvious that this was too much for many busy library staff to commit to and so the project element was dropped and we focused on developing key knowledge. The next run of the programme used a blended learning approach with a mixture of in-person and online training but even this proved difficult for many staff to complete and so the programme was moved completely online in 2018. Feedback indicated that participants found both the content and the format useful, especially as they had the flexibility to learn around their other commitments and could dip back into the content as needed to refresh their knowledge. At the same time the OSC were starting to get a lot of enquiries from people outside Cambridge wanting to know if the content was available for everyone and so we have decided to open it up to anyone who wants to see it. As the programme was Cambridge focused this was not just a case of transferring the content so I took the opportunity to update and refresh all of the content.

The programme is now a resource and this terminology is deliberate. I didn’t want to call it a course as this comes with the expectation that people need to complete everything in order to get the best out of it. Learners can of course go through all of the units in turn and build their knowledge that way but they can also dip into content as needed as a refresher. The resource has six units which loosely follow the research lifecycle:

  • an introduction to scholarly communication 
  • research data management 
  • open access 
  • publishing research 
  • copyright
  • metrics and impact   

Each unit comes with a suggested completion time and learning outcomes but these are there to offer learners some guidance before they invest their time. The six units offer a brief introduction to the topic using a mixture of content from text and videos to podcasts and activities so it there should be something for everyone. Although of this content is optional, it helps to increase the flexibility of the resource so that it becomes truly open to more people. 

Research Support Ambassador screen shot showing part of the website
Research Support Ambassador screen shot

Turning an in-house programme into an open educational resource was not without other challenges. Obviously the original programme had a defined audience of Cambridge librarians who have a shared history and terminology. In the process of making the resource open I had to make sure that it was more accessible to a wider audience so I removed anything that was ‘Cambridge specific’ and gathered wider examples that I could use to illustrate the points I was making. I also had to make sure that I considered accessibility including making sure that images were labelled with alt-text and providing transcripts for videos. This was a good learning experience for me and something especially useful ahead of new government accessibility guidelines being introduced. However, this was very much a solo project and there will inevitably be something I have missed so we are launching the Ambassadors as a Beta resource with an option for people to offer feedback. I very much hope people will take us up on this and offer suggestions for inclusions and improvements. The resource is largely being released under a CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 licence which means that others are free to adapt and build on the content. If anyone does this I would be really interested to learn about it! You can also find a ready-made information leaflet and a cartoon abstract of the case study which can be downloaded and shared if you want to promote the resource to a group of people.

On a more personal note, the launch of the online Research Support Ambassador resource marks the end of my time working in the Office of Scholarly Communication. I will still be involved in projects to educate the library community in research support including some future plans for the Ambassador programme but day to day I am moving to be a research support librarian within the wider university. I’ve enjoyed educating librarians in research support so much and I really hope that people will find the online Ambassador resource useful. The main message I want librarians to take away is that they have a lot to offer in this area. The theme of Open Access Week 2019 is ‘open for whom’ and I really hope that by collating what I have learnt in the last four years I can help make research support and scholarly communication open for the wider library community.

Published 24 October 2019

Claire Sewell (Research Support Skills Coordinator turned Research Support Librarian, Cambridge University Libraries) @ces43

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Open Research at the University of Cambridge: What have we done so far?

At the start of 2019 the University of Cambridge announced its Position Statement on Open Research. This blog looks at what has been happening since then and the current plans for making research at Cambridge more open.

Our Position

In February 2019, the University of Cambridge set out its position on open research to support and encourage open practices throughout the research lifecycle for all research outputs. The Position Statement made clear that both the University and researchers have responsibility in this space and that there would be no one size fits all approach to how to be open. As part of forming a position on open research, the University also created the Open Research Steering Committee to oversee the open research agenda of the University. This Committee is currently looking at three key areas –training, infrastructure and Plan S.


In 2018, we ran a survey on open research [available to Cambridge University only] which highlighted our research community’s desire for more training on open research practices and tools. In order to delve into this further, a pilot was run with the Faculty of Education who submitted a disproportionately high number of responses to the survey, suggesting a strong interest in open research. The pilot, run earlier this year, encompassed six face-to-face training sessions on topics around open research, such as managing digital information, copyright, and publishing. These sessions were well received by both PhD students and postdocs.

In tandem to this, work is also being carried out to make the provision of open research related training more strategic, sustainable and efficient. For example, some of the courses the Office of Scholarly Communication run have already been embedded into existing PhD programmes, such as Doctoral Training Centres or the centrally run Researcher Development Programme but we could still increase the opportunities to work more closely with other parts of the University. With so many other pressures on time, it is essential we work together with all stakeholders involved to ensure we get the balance of training offered correct, so that we maximise the time benefits/costs of both the trainer and the student.

Finally, the question of sustainability for open research training is also being investigated. How can we ensure open research training reaches the 9,000 or so academics and postgraduate students we have at Cambridge? One answer to this question is online training. We are currently developing a digital course which will introduce the basics of open research, complementary to the soon-to-be-launched online research integrity training. However, we know that researchers value face-to-face sessions too, and intend to continue to develop our face-to-face offer, where we can provide deeper knowledge and discuss issues in more detail. Within the libraries at Cambridge we are also starting to work more closely with research support librarians and others in department libraries who can offer expertise and guidance that is tailored to the discipline.


The University Position Statement on Open Research says “University support is important to make Open Research simple, effective and appropriate” and a key part of that support is in the form of infrastructure. This is a complicated area because it involves a number of service providers at the University who all have different priorities as well as the large body of researchers, who have a huge variety of needs and technical abilities. Finding common solutions or tools will always be difficult in a large, research intensive institution like Cambridge, which has Schools spread across the spectrum of arts, humanities, social sciences and STEMM subjects.

The Open Research Steering Committee is made up of representatives from across the University both from different academic Schools and University services. This is key to ensure that the drive towards open research infrastructure is holistic and proportional in the context of other University agendas. A landscape review of the services already provided has been carried out as has a ‘wish list’ of IT infrastructure that researchers would like. Whilst the ‘wish list’ has been carried out in a context wider than open research, it is really heartening to see many ‘wishes’ relate to systems that would improve open research practices.

There is also work underway to look at how research notebooks (or electronic lab notebooks if you prefer) are being used across the University. A trial of notebooks run in 2017 resulted in the decision not to provide an institution-wide research notebook platform, but guidance instead. This new work under the auspices of the Open Research Steering Committee aims to build on this work by extending the guidelines to include principles around data security, data export and procurement.

Plan S

Plan S looms large on our horizon and will present a challenge when it comes into force in 2021. Whilst we are waiting to see to what extent UKRI’s updated open access policy will reflect Plan S principles, we are busy contributing to the Transparent Pricing Working Group. This group was convened by the Wellcome Trust in partnership with UKRI and on behalf of cOAlition S to bring together publishers, funders and universities to develop a framework to guide publishers on how to communicate about the price of the services in a practical and transparent manner. The University is also looking into how we can implement the principles of DORA, which are supported by cOAlition S. This work is being led by Professor Steve Russell, an academic advocate for open research, and the work will very much be done in consultation with our academic community.


Cambridge is showing its commitment to enabling open research by taking seriously its role in providing infrastructure, training and the right culture for our academics. These areas need to be tackled holistically and the oversight of the Open Research Steering Committee should allow this to happen. It is important that we are collaborative with our research community and we hope that we have got that balance right with the inclusion of academics in the main Committee and working groups. Ensuring open research is embedded in everyday practice at the University will, of course, take time but we think we are making a good start.

Published 22nd October 2019

Written by Dr Lauren Cadwallader

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Having Information to Hand: Research Support Handy Guides

If there is one thing I’ve learnt over the last few years of training library staff it’s that they really love a handout! Whether it contains extra information or a copy of the slides, in print or as a digital document, they really want something tangible to take away from a training session and refer back to. However I’m also a realist and I know that many of these handouts end their lives in a desk drawer never to be seen again so I wanted to create something that would be both attention grabbing and useful. Our series of Research Support Handy Guides were born as a result.

These short, four page guides are designed to be used as mini-booklets which summarise complex topics related to scholarly communication in an accessible way. They all follow a fairly consistent format with an eye-catching cover, a short synopsis of the topic, a list of factors to consider and links to further information. Having a page limit means that only the most important information can be included and this forces me to think about what people really need to know about a topic. It also means that I need to use clear language rather than lots of text which really helps me to distill a topic to its most important point. Although the guides are aimed at library staff we have discovered that they have other uses. All of the guides are made available under a CC-BY 4.0 licence on our website so that people can adapt the information as needed and we have added downloadable versions upon popular demand. Library staff are able to print these out or add them to their own websites as resources for researchers which saves them time having to come up with similar content from scratch and reinventing the wheel. The guides are also available via the online publication tool ISSUU which opens them up to a wider audience and makes them interactive. It doesn’t hurt that all of this provides a bit of stealth advocacy for the OSC either! I designed the guides using Canva. If you have never come across this site before I thoroughly recommend checking it out as it makes designing good looking materials really easy. I often have an idea in my head of how I want something to look but I can never quite seem to translate that to the (digital) page. Canva provides lots of support, graphics and importantly templates to help you create really engaging materials. I simple chose an appropriate template, uploaded some (CC0) images, edited the colours to reflect our palette and added the text.

So far there are eight guides in the series covering topics from data management plans to peer review. The guides are often created in direct response to a need identified by our library community – something that often happens when someone starts a sentence with the phrase “I wish I knew more about…” Some guides are created to tie in with an event such as Open Access Week or the recent Fair Use Week. One topic which is particularly suited to this format is copyright and there are currently three guides where it features heavily: Academic Social Networks, Anatomy of a Creative Commons License and the Fair Dealing Fact Sheet. This last title covers a topic that often causes confusion for both researchers and librarians and has been particularly useful to produce in our recent information sessions on copyright Based on the positive reaction I have received both in person and online I think more copyright related titles will definitely be added to the series!

If anyone else is thinking of using something similar I would definitely say give it a try. The guides have proved popular with both the Cambridge library community and those further afield and there have been over 3000 hits across all titles so far plus it’s always useful to have something ready to hand out at events or to point to when asked a question. Although much of the information has been adapted from existing information on our webpages the guides offer a much more accessible and visually appealing format that reading pages of dense text. There are lots of different design tools available to help and of course you might just have more talent than me! Creating something that looks professional is surprisingly easy and can really help to engage users in complex topics and potentially be used as a way to start a longer conversation – and you never know where that might lead.

Published 19 March 2019
Written by Claire Sewell
Creative Commons License

This blog was originally published on UK Copyright Literacy, 15 March 2019