Author Archives: Gaz Johnson

Have We Not Heard the Chimes at Midnight?

This will be my final Captain’s log in charge of the USS UKCoRR (or should that be HMS UKCoRR?), and I thought I’d mark the occassion with a few remarks.  So if the assembled crew would forgive my indulgance for a few moments, I’d like to reflect a little on what’s going through my mind at the moment.

Oh, and before anyone takes me to task for mangling Shakespeare; I am of course quoting from the Immortal Bard as translated from the original Klingon.  There’s a reason for that title too. As does the story line of Star Trek VI mark the end of an era and the beginning of a new one in uncertain times so does the end of July for myself.  My time as UKCoRR Chair is over, and shortly after that I’ll be warping out of the repository sector altogether.

Yes, I do believe USS UKCoRR has a multi-vector assault mode if you're asking.I will admit that it is with a genuine and profound regret I say goodbye to my time at the helm of UKCoRR.  It really has been the best of times, working with a team of dedicated, inspirational and all round delightful committee members.  I’ve certainly enjoyed all the discussions both public and private with the membership as well.  I’ve often said the role of the Chair is to be the mouth piece of the membership; but in order to speak on their behalf it means I’ve had to listen. A lot.

(Something that many of you who know me well will be aware would have been the biggest challenge of them all!)

What the well dressed repository manager is wearing todayLike the United Federation of Planets (UFP), UKCoRR is made up of members with a diverse range of experiences, drivers and needs.  I would hope that like the Federation that you’ve continued to find that UKCoRR has provided you with a voice, a safe, supporting environment that encourages the freedom of expression and progression without fear of reprisal or nay saying.  While it would be delightful to suggest that repositories are driven solely by logic, we all know too well that local politics and emotion can shape their direction too.  Hopefully the security found within UKCoRR’s discussion list’s warp bubble has continued to offer a subspace beacon emitting rationality and assistance in equal measure.  A community that can be relied on to provide that level one diagnostic, offer a range of options or just somewhere to share your frustrations with those who understand.

I hope that in my year and a half that I’ve been able to steer the good ship on a steady heading through the sometimes turbulent photonic wakes that of late of been hitting us all with an increasing regularity.  In the past month especially it seems that new policies impacting on repository operation seem to pop up every few minutes.  In particular I’m sure the fallout from the Finch Report will continue to resonate across the entirety of the UK repository community, for good or for ill, for a considerable time to come.  While it is perhaps not quite as epoch making as it first appeared it has certainly galvanised the Government to take a firm pro-OA stance.  I’m sure I’ve not been alone in seeing senior managers sit up and take note of the OA agenda like never before; although how much their local repository registers on their sensors may be more variable.

Take that GoldFinch!I have been fascinated to see the reactions to Finch from other stakeholders.  These have run the full spectrum from excited welcome through to outright suspicion and in a few cases a full cascade of quantum torpedoes.  I hope that if anything is the lasting legacy of Finch for our community, that it is a reigniting of the OA debate within our institutions like never before.  I’m sure there are academics in our institutions today whom have suddenly woken up to the changing reality of scholarly communications of which they may have remained previously blissfully unaware.  While UKCoRR’s initial position on Finch decloaked a while ago, I think only time will allow us to come as a community to really review what it has wrought.

The REFulons attack when you least expect itIt is safe to say that is not to say that it is plain sailing ahead for repository workers.  Lurking in the research funding Neutral Zone is the REF.  As academics face the three line whip to make sure their submissions are locked on target or face the agonizer booth, and as the whole coordinated information apparatus of the university swings behind them; there’s a risk that those working with repositories might find their interests side-lined.  I think this reinforces once again the importance UKCoRR in both taking a stand and supporting the needs and value of repository workers locally; but also in forging our own equivalent of the Khitomer Accords with people like ARMA, UKRepoNet+, SCONUL and DRF.  Only through establishing strong alliances and enhanced visibility can UKCoRR provide the kind of impactful ambassadors that our members need and our Charter requires.

Never place open access before profit? Yes, that should be Rule number 301Like the UFP one of the issues that we keep coming back to is the importance of keeping UKCoRR independent from other influences.  While we acknowledge and have strong, cordial relationships with people like the JISC; at our heart we are servants to the membership only.  Maintaining this independence has, to date, meant a very careful eye kept on the issue of finances.  I can only applaud those institutions who’ve hosted UKCoRR meetings at their expense as well as those that have provided the latinum for our speakers to attend.  Without them we certainly wouldn’t have been able to host events at all (or at least nothing with a lunch or at a national level).  As UKCoRR continues to evolve though, I do keep coming back to the 3rd Rule of Acquisition “Never spend more for an acquisition than you have to”.  One of the reasons we won the Jason Farradane award last year was through achieving so much, with essentially nothing more than enlightened goodwill and volunteer effort.

(I’m also resisting here any potential analogy here between the Ferengi and certain scholarly communication stakeholders!)

UKCoRR is an unfunded but gated community, where membership is based on the simple premise of working directly with repositories.  Unlike publishers we have never erected a payment force shield between potential members and achieving membership.  I think that has enriched our community considerably by including those members of staff whom may not ordinarily have considered or have been able to afford joining a professional body.

At the same time the lack of funding does limit our manoeuvrability; and certainly the capacity to transport the committee members into the same space/time coordinates.  Perhaps thanks to the continued funding of the RSP over these years we have remained in a goldilocks position that has allowed us to sidestep the funding issue for now; but this may not always be so.  Certainly during my time opportunities have arisen where funding could have allowed us to take a different course; all be it while introducing larger complexities into the running of the organisation.

Independance is beyond latinumWe have had offers of sponsorship, although I’ve always had my concern about the strings that might have come attached to them (the 47th Rule perhaps applies here).  Then again perhaps a benefactor will step forward at some future time with whom we can do business, and mayhaps apply the 1st Rule (“Once you have their money, you never give it back”).  How this will balance with the essential independence of UKCoRR is luckily something I leave to the future Chair to deal with.

If there was one thing that I were to pick as the highlight of my time in command, it would have to be the membership itself.  YOU are the heart of UKCoRR’s crew.  You have been welcoming, insightful, diverse, vocal, intelligent and above all as engaging a group of professionals as it has ever been my pleasure to work for.  I know full well that as I leave the Committee and shortly after it UKCoRR itself, it’s the daily interactions with you all that I will miss the most.

To boldy go, where no Chair has gone before.The future of repositories in the UK is more than ever truly the undiscovered country, but it’s one I know that the Committee and members of UKCoRR will help steer us all through.  Together.  As a collective enterprise.

The centre seat is yours now Captain Budden, and I stand relieved.

Hailing frequencies open. Thrusters on full.  Inertial dampeners to optimal and course laid in. Prepare to take her out of Space Dock!

Engage.

Captain LlordLlama, out.

(all images (c) their respective owners)

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Changing of the Committee Guard

As most UKCoRR members know both myself and Jackie Wickham will be standing down from the Committee as of the end of the month.  This means there will be a new Chair and Secretary as of 1st August onwards through to the end of the year when the whole Committee structure will be changing a little bit.  Jackie’s moving on to an exciting new role at the University of Nottingham and I’m taking a step back from the world of paid employment for a (hopefully) short while.

In our place Yvonne Budden (Warwick) and Katie Evans (Bath) will be stepping into the challenging but highly energising roles as Chair and Secretary respectively.  I’m sure you’ll all join with Dominic, Paul and Nick in welcoming them on-board and wishing them every success.

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UK Research Councils (RCUK) Announce New Open Access Policy

In the wake of the Finch Report on the 16th July 2012 the RCUK has finally unveiled their revised Open Access policy, which brings with it a harmonization across the councils as well as introducing significant changes.  The policy will apply to all qualifying publications funded entirely or in part by a RCUK source from 1st April 2013. While the policy could be read as a further endorsement of the UK’s move to Gold Open Access, it is notable that repositories have at least some reasons to be cheerful within it.

The policy requires that peer-reviewed research papers can only be published in journals that are compliant with the RCUK Open Access policy.  Furthermore the papers must also include details on the funding that supported the research as well as information on how and where to access the data, samples or models that support the findings.  The RCUK along with HEFCE and other funding bodies will actively monitor compliance with this new policy.

Open Access, as defined by the policy, means an unrestricted online access to peer review and scholarly research papers.  Potential readers of the papers should be able, free of any publisher-imposed charge, read the publications online and to search and reuse content manually; as well as through the use of automated text/data mining tools.  Given the recent discussions on permitting or excluding text mining functions under copyright restrictions, this is perhaps a notable addition to the policy.

Journal titles can comply through (1) offering a pay to publish route funded through author publication contributions (APCs), or (2) by allowing deposit in a subject or institutional repository like LRA after the maximum permissible embargo period.  In the event that option (1) is not applicable then no APC will be payable to the publisher.  Where an APC is required by a journal publisher, the resultant work is required by the RCUK to be shared under a Creative Commons By Attribution (CC-BY) licence, allowing for others to build upon the work provided the original authors are credited in the subsequent outputs.  To help facilitate the payments for APCs the RCUK will provide block grants to institutions, who will themselves be expected to set up and manage their own publication funds.  Previously these have been included as direct and /or indirect costs of grant funding, but this will be discontinued.

In terms of a delay (embargo) to the research publications being available through open access the RCUK policy states that they “will accept a delay of no more than six months between on-line publication and a research paper becoming Open Access, except in the case of research papers arising from research funded by the AHRC and the ESRC where the maximum embargo period is 12 months.”  It will be interesting to see the reactions from those publishers whose embargo periods are very much in excess of this.

It should be noted that some research councils (MRC and ESRC) have a requirement that papers must be deposited in specific repositories.  See SHERPA/JULIET for more on complying with the specifics of individual Research Councils’ policies, although I suspect some of these will be updated in the coming days.

Further RCUK guidance on complying with the policy is also available.

As always UKCoRR welcomes input from the membership on the reactions and responses to this announcement; both individually or at an institutional level – either on the list or here as comments.

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The Finch Report: Optimism, Hope and Frustration for Repository Staff in Equal Measures

The issue of open access within academia has never been higher during the recent academic spring coupled with the publication of the PEER project results. As a consequence, like most people working in the academic scholarly communications arena, UKCoRR has been awaiting the publication of the Finch Report with heightened anticipation. Given the assemblage of stakeholders involved in the discussions, expectations were high that the impact of the report would resonate for some years to come and potentially revolutionise and revitalise open access (OA) to research outputs.

However, as representatives of the UK’s repository manager and worker community, on reading the report this week we must express a feeling that can be best summed up as one of some disappointment. While we acknowledge the contribution of the academic publishing sector over the years in helping to enable scholarly communication, it seems that the majority of the recommendations of the Finch Report are heavily slanted in their favour.  That an estimated additional £50-60M must be found from various sources particularly in a time of financial austerity across the academic sector in order to shore up the publishing industry seems at best a disappointing response from the group.

Gold vs Green Open Access
Recent media coverage has tended to focus on so-called Gold OA which means publishing a research article in an Open Access journal. This by definition requires an alternative cost recovery model to subscription, usually achieved by charging the author’s institutions or their research funders to submit their articles. By contrast the Green OA route means publishing in non-OA journals but also self-archiving by depositing an author-produced version of a published paper in an open access archive. Typically these repositories are subject or institutionally based, a practice that, due in part to the work of UKCoRR and other initiatives, are formally permitted by the majority of academic publishers.

There continues to be considerable misinformation around Green which is often equated with a lack of peer review. This is demonstrably false and UKCoRR would like to emphasise the continued validity of Green OA as a cost effective route for institutions to provide Open Access to their research outputs, notwithstanding the ongoing development of publishers’ business models and the scholarly communication infrastructure.

It is perceived that the publishing industry continues to consider Green OA as a threat to their business models, in spite of considerable evidence that it has not impacted on journal subscriptions. That the Finch Working Group does not seem to support or promote Green OA is a disappointment as this presented a valuable opportunity to push ahead with a more cost effective alternative. Publishers would continue to receive income through stable journal subscriptions. For institutions as well this would seem to be the less costly route to achieving sustainable OA. UKCoRR will watch in particular for the outcomes from the JISC Open Access Implementation Group on the impact of article processing charges (APCs) on institutions.

Responses to Finch Recommendations
On points i and ii we acknowledge the importance of gold open access in terms of freeing research from subscription barriers for the end user, although whether this can be made financially viable in many institutions is uncertain, and while, under the proposals, the brunt of the funding requirement would appear to fall to Research Councils, that there is also an expectation on institutions to make considerable contributions is unhelpful in the current economic climate. UKCoRR is also concerned that this may see funding streams moved away from more niche, but valuable, research in order to assure the publication of a more limited selection of key research. This is something that would potentially damage the research output of UK PLC. As has been noted elsewhere this would also have the effect of locking out or significantly reducing the published contribution of independent scholars whom are not attached to an institution.

One of the prime advantages of repositories is that they are able to archive this work, and while this will continue given the request that a “clear policy direction should be set towards support for publication in open access or hybrid journals” we have concerns for our members and the repository sector as a whole that their invaluable contributions to the availability of scholarly publication will be either sidelined or reduced in value. As the professional body for repository workers and managers this is very much an outcome that we whole heartedly refute.

We broadly support point iii in that policies restricting reuse and sharing should be reduced. This we acknowledge is a much needed nod towards green open access. However, on point iv once again we raise the same issues as above that additional funds should be somehow found and sacrificed to the publishing sector in order to maintain access during an transition period. That there appears to be no clear vision of how long this transition period is to endure, UKCoRR questions the realistic sustainability of such a policy. In addition the time commitment, and hence staffing expense, required to “rationalise current licences” is also a concern.

On point v we are concerned as to how our colleagues in the already cash strapped public library sector are to fund walk-in access. At a time when job posts and libraries are under threat of reduction like never before, that there is an expectation upon them to deliver an unspecified additional portion of their funds to the publishers is questionable at best. On point vi we welcome the involvement of key sectors in the discussions of these terms and licenses. However, we must note as a professional organisation that UKCoRR would have an expectation of representation of the interests of repository managers in this area, which we believe was not present on the Finch Working Group. On point vii we note once again that the importance of the financial impact on the publishing sector is stressed as being of paramount concern.  It is UKCoRR’s belief that this does not take adequate account of the impacts of recommended changes to other stakeholders.

However, on points viii and ix we must sound a note of optimism. As a forward thinking body UKCoRR can only welcome progress towards open access to scholarly monographs, and would encourage the consideration of experimentation to include making use of repository infrastructure as potential publishing platforms as well as more traditional publishing routes. We especially welcome the support for the infrastructure, complementary and unique contribution of repositories to the open access publication, data, curation and preservation fields.

As a consequence of this high profile report’s publication we call upon all organisations with a repository to resource and crucially recognise this unique contribution. In addition, we would ask them to reflect whether their current resourcing arrangements in terms of staffing and support are sufficient to meet the needs and aspirations of the institution and funders in achieving open access for all their work. We also call on them in the light of the Finch Report to recognise the exceptional skill set and knowledge possessed by repository workers and staff, and to remember they are evolving roles that should be celebrated and enabled within organisational frameworks.

Finally on point x, it seems that once again the bias is towards the publishing sector. Given that academics produce and give away their rights to publishers in order to publish, we are especially disappointed that there is no consideration given here to the more wide scale adoption or promotion of alternative licences such as the SPARC Addendum or the JISC/SURF Licence to Publish. That the ability for academics to retain a greater proportion of their rights and deposit to repositories, while still respecting the publishing industries economic exploitation of their work on the global stage was not championed here is a lamentable oversight.

Conclusion and Impact
It would be easy to forget that while it is UKCoRR’s considered opinion that the short comings of the Finch Report’s recommendations are greater than its benefits; that benefits there are within its 141 pages. Like never before the topic of open access is on the agenda of the most senior of institutional managers, and as such this report represents a golden opportunity for repository managers and workers to capitalise on. The Report can be used to frame discussions with departments, schools, colleges and faculty alike. As with the cost of knowledge petition earlier this year as much value may be garnered in the reactions of academic staff to this output, as from the content of the report itself.

However, it is UKCoRR’s belief that the legacy of report will be far less than was anticipated, and if anything may regretfully further muddy the waters and result in a general slowing of the move towards a greater open access in the UK. Potentially in the coming months we believe that UKCoRR’s membership will come to regard the Finch Report as a missed golden opportunity for progressing or even revolutionising open access to scholarly outputs.

As always we welcome the comments and input from our membership on their own personal views and insight into this issue.

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