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Requesting permission: reflections and perspectives from the University of St Andrews

Kyle Brady of the University of St Andrews here expands on his popular presentation from our recent UKCoRR members day in the below post:

In July I attended the UKCoRR Members Day and delivered a presentation on the subject of approaching publishers for permission from the perspective of someone working in open access/repository support. The title of the presentation was ‘Requesting permission: approaching publishers, lessons learned, and the many successes!’ Here’s the presentation in the St Andrews Research Repository.

In this blog post I’ll go over some of the points from the presentation that I think struck a chord with the audience, with the overall intention of explaining the rationale behind our processes. Before I begin, I must say that I am very grateful to the other attendees on the day who shared their experiences in the Q&A, as well as after the event. It was really encouraging to hear from so many colleagues who have experienced similar stumbling blocks as we have, and it was especially useful to hear from those who do things differently to us at St Andrews.

I had noticed the issue of publisher permissions popping up on the UKCoRR email list on a number of occasions, often in relation to specific publishers who don’t have a public open access or author self-archiving policy. Additionally, a Google Doc listing publishers and their responses to requests to archive book chapters has been circulated many times, and indeed was the subject of numerous discussions on the Members Day as well. This brings me to the first point from my presentation that I felt was perhaps the most illuminating, and this is the fact that most of our permission requests are actually for articles published in journals and conference proceedings. Perhaps not the most shocking expose on the face of it, but if you factor in REF2021 compliance it is in fact quite significant. This is because 60% of our permissions requests are for outputs potentially in scope for the REF open access policy. So, I argued, having an effective permissions policy can potentially affect an institution’s approach to their REF return and level of exceptions required.

Figure 1 - Pie chartKB

Figure 1 – Item Types

Another perhaps less ‘sticky’ and more ‘carroty’ reason for all this comes down to effective curation of our research outputs. Many of the items in our repository are archived on the basis of successful permission requests for print-only publications, and so are often unique as they cannot be found online anywhere else.  So, I explained my thoughts about digital preservation and the duty of care we have for this rare part of our collections. Part of this duty of care is ensuring permissions are well thought out, and that ensuing replies are clear and unambiguous. But, as I explained, no matter how careful you may be, I expect that risk management will always play a part in any decision to host third party copyright material online.

So, how do we do it? From the outset I want to state that I don’t believe our process is perfect by any means. And, although we have had an overwhelming amount of success there are caveats, but more on that later!

Figure 2 - workflow_KB

Figure 2 – Permissions workflow

When we receive a manuscript for archiving we first check SherpaRomeo, an authoritative database of publishers’ and journals’ open access and author self-archiving policies that I’m sure we’re all intimately familiar with. If we come up short we then check the journal/publisher’s website for a policy (if indeed there is a website). If we are still left wanting we’ll then go to the author and ask them to check the publishing contract. This is a very important step as it includes the author in the process and in so doing alerts them to the work required to make things open access. It also has an important educational function as it highlights the importance of retaining rights, including copyright, and the distinction between exclusive and non-exclusive licences for instance. We are also conscious of the close relationship many of our authors have with publishers, so we always try to ensure that we have the author’s prior consent before any permission requests are sent.

Figure 3 - Permissions SS_KB

Figure 3 – Permissions spreadsheet

Once we have the go ahead to approach a publisher we record the action in a spreadsheet and assign it an ID. Then, when we receive a reply we can easily update the spreadsheet, take any actions on the Pure record (we use Pure as our Current Research Information System by the way!), and importantly we save the email in a folder and rename it according to the ID.  We think it is important to track and document these requests in such a way as it creates a convenient audit trail, but it also gives us a way to assess the effectiveness of our process. You may also notice that we can report on the items types too, so for instance we know that 60% of our permission requests relate to outputs that are potentially in scope of the REF2021 open access policy.

The vast majority of responses come back in the form of emails, often but not always from editors of the journals themselves. As I said before these are filed away and retained as proof that permission has been attained. But, a question I posed at the end of my presentation was: does this actually protect our collection? It would seem common sense to suggest that items that are archived on the basis of an email are less protected than items that are archived in response to a signed letter. But is this actually the case? Might both forms of response be equally fallacious if in fact the issuer of the permission response is not vetted for authenticity (whatever that would mean). I don’t have an answer for this, so this is the point at which I ended my presentation and opened the debate to the floor.

My enduring impression from speaking to colleagues on the day was that each institution has a clear understanding of the level of risk they are willing to take, even if it is not enshrined in policy. Generally speaking my colleagues and I in the Open Access team at St Andrews tend to err on the side of caution and risk aversion, but from speaking to colleagues at other institutions my feeling is that we could perhaps afford to be less so. At any rate, the question of how we can protect these unique parts of our collections lingers on I’m afraid, and I suppose ultimately it is always going to be a balancing act between collection growth and collection sustainability.

If you’re a UKCoRR member and would like to contribute to the blog, please get in touch with any of us on the Committee.

Results of the Sherpa FACT accuracy testing – 95% accurate

UKCoRR welcomes the results of a  recent exercise – undertaken by UK librarians, repository managers and Sherpa Services – that has shown that the results produced by SHERPA/FACT (Funders & Authors Compliance Tool) have an accuracy rate of over 95%

The FACT service was developed to help researchers get a simple answer to the question “does this journal have an open access publishing policy compliant with my funder’s open access mandate?”. The FACT service – which draws its information from the SHERPA/ROMEO and SHERPA/JULIET databases – seeks to provide a yes/no answer to this question, as well as providing information about how an author can comply with a funder policy.

There had been some discussion at the SHERPA/FACT Advisory Board, raised by UKCoRR members and their institutions – as to whether the information provided by FACT was accurate.

To address this issue an exercise was undertaken – by members of UKCoRR – to manually check a statistically significant number of journal/funder combinations and then compare the information this group had found with the information provided by FACT. Where the independent reviewers arrived at a different conclusion to that provided by FACT, then that journal/publisher combination was subjected to detailed and exhaustive investigation to arrive at an evidenced answer.

At the end of this exercise, it was found that the FACT service provides correct information in over 95% of cases.

The study clearly highlighted the difficulties that even highly experienced repository staff have at deciphering publisher OA policies. Indeed, the initial testing undertaken by UKCoRR members suggested that FACT was only accurate on 57% of occasions. When these journal/funder combinations were investigated further, however, close examination of the often complex conditions and the interactions between different statements and policies showed that FACT was correct in almost all of the cases.

The SHERPA/FACT team as well as the SHERPA/FACT Advisory Group would like to extend their thanks to the UKCoRR Members who took part in this checking process for their time commitment as well as their extensive knowledge of this area of work. This exercise has proved that the SHERPA/FACT service can be relied upon as a source of advice for UK researchers. UKCoRR also encourages it’s members to continue to communicate with SHERPA/FACT where discrepancies are found to continue to improve the quality of the information SHERPA/FACT relies upon.

Issues of interpretation and the interaction between the various policies have been seen to be the key to the discrepancy between our manually checked results and Sherpa’s findings. There is further work to be done here and UKCoRR looks forward to continuing to work with the SHERPA/FACT Advisory Group to develop increased clarity in this area.

To see the full data and study methodology, visit Figshare.

The study was commissioned by the SHERPA/FACT Advisory Board – which includes representatives from UKCoRR, Jisc, Wellcome Trust, Research Councils UK (RCUK), CRC Nottingham, Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), Publishers Association and SCONUL.

A blog post from Jisc on this project is available as well as a press release on the project.

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UKCoRR Response to HEFCE’s Open Access Policy for the Post-2014 REF

Following their consultation in the summer of last year[1] HEFCE have released their policy on open access in the post-2014 REF process.  This is the third open access policy from a major UK funder in as many years and there are lot of reasons to be cheerful.  HEFCE’s policy as published this morning is a genuine, cost effective route to widening the access to the UK’s research outputs.

Firstly I would like to commend HEFCE for their acknowledgement of the work done by the UK repository community, both institutionally based and subject based something that has been disappointingly lacking in the other policies of its type.  The UK has a (still-) growing and passionate repository community who are doing great work which has been misunderstood and poorly valued by the Finch Report in particular.  The new policy from HEFCE is a chance to stand-up and demonstrate the value of our services to the academic community and to the other research funders as well.

I would also like to acknowledge the commitment of HEFCE to work with the repository community to ensure that all of our systems are ready to comply with this policy by the time it takes effect, regardless of their shape and set up.  There are a number of issues and process questions that the policy leaves unresolved at the moment, these we would urge HEFCE to make clear as soon as possible.  This issues have the potential to cause a number of resourcing issues for HEIs in terms of tracking and ensuring compliance.  We look forward to discussing these process issues further with HEFCE.

HEFCE’s policy also takes a pragmatic view on the issues of licensing and exceptions.  There is a strong awareness of the complex nature of academic publishing throughout the policy.  There is also a real sense that HEFCE is trying to take into account every part of the UK academic community in a way that accepts the distinct needs of the different disciplines.  We also welcome the commitment implicit in HEFCE’s policy for researchers continuing to choose the “most appropriate” venue of publication for their outputs even if it means their options for compliance are reduced.

The suggestion of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No-Derivatives (CC-BY-NC-ND) license and the fact that requirements to allow text-mining are now missing from the policy as well as the extensive list of allowed exceptions[2] make the policy practical but do not go as far as many would have liked.  However they will allow institutions to meet the requirements comfortably.  We need to remember that these are minimal requirements, we are always free to strive for more and HEFCE have stated that they will acknowledge the efforts of those who do[3].

This is a policy routed in the belief that the route to open access is a long term one and will only be achieved incrementally.  HEFCE’s policy coupled with the policies of bodies such as RCUK, the Wellcome Trust, Horizon 2020 and others are part of the continuum of open access and unless the underlying business models that drive this sector change we won’t ever get true or ‘libre’ open access as it is just not financially practical.  We in UKCoRR have the skills, knowledge and passion to make this work and I look forward to working with HEFCE, Jisc and our researchers to do just that.

[1] UKCoRR’s Response to the HEFCE consultation has been published on this site along with our responses to other similar consultation documents.

[2] A full list of the permitted exceptions in their categories has been extracted from the HEFCE policy document by UKCoRR for the use of their members and others.

A bit like buses….

Following on from the last blog post made just under a month ago when I reported on the evidence given to the House of Lords inquiry into the Government’s implementation of their open access policy.  UKCoRR submitted a further evidence document on open access to the House of Commons, Business Innovation and Skills Committee inquiry.

The House of Commons enquiry focussed particularly on the RCUK’s preference of ‘gold’ open access over ‘green’, article processing charges (APCs), Creative Commons licenses and the ability of the UK to remain competitive in the international research arena under these conditions.  This blog post will be updated with the details of the other evidence given to the inquiry once this information is released.

The previous inquiry from the House of Lords, having heard and read all of the evidence presented to them have announced that they will be publishing the report of their findings and recommendations on the 22nd February.

UKCoRR’s Submission to the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee

As I’m sure people are aware there are currently two government committee inquiries under way about the implementation of the Finch Report and on issues around the RCUK Policy on Open Access to research outputs.

UKCoRR prepared a written submission as part of the inquiry and the full written submissions have been released (being updated for the oral evidence as it is given).

People interested in the recordings of the oral evidence can find the sessions on the House of Lords pages:

  1. Dame Janet Finch (Tuesday 15th January)
  2. (i) Professor Ian Walmsley, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research, ASUC), University of Oxford; Professor Matthew Bennett, Vice-Chancellor responsible for Research, Enterprise and Internationalisation, University of Bournemouth; Professor Maggie Dallman, Principal, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Imperial College London and (ii) Steven Hall, Managing Director, IOP Publishing; Richard Mollett, Chief Executive, Publishers Association; and Dr Rita Gardner, Director, Royal Geographical Society (Tuesday 29th January)
  3. Professor Rick Rylance, Chair of RCUK; Professor Douglas Kell, RCUK Information Champion; David Sweeney, Director (Research, Innovation and Skills), Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), (Tuesday 29th January).
  4. Rt. Hon. David Willetts MP, Minister of State for Science and Universities, BIS (Tuesday 29th January).

There is now another inquiry coming from the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee which UKCoRR will be representing the memberships views again and more details will be posted as they become available.

*** Update 22/02/2013 ***

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has now published the findings of it’s inquiry: