Thursday 29 November 2012

Repository Twitter Training

In a previous post I reported on using EPrints to gather data from Twitter in order to support researchers  in the social sciences, particularly those looking for evidence of social processes or for the impact of the Web on society. The work was also reported at OR2012 in Edinburgh in a paper Microblogging Macrochallenges for Repositories that described the work involved in adapting EPrints to support this task.

Having got some more experience from running a pilot service at Southampton, we would like to invite anyone from the repository community who is interested in this work to join in a training session at the University on Tuesday 11th December from 1-3pm (buffet lunch included).

The first hour will focus on using the service: how to harvest twitter streams, how to monitor the harvesting process, how use the repository tools to analyse the collection of tweets, how to export the data to other visualisation and analysis services and how to deposit the analysed data in an institutional repository.

The second hour will discuss the management of the service itself: how to install twitter-harvesting functionality using the EPrints Bazaar, how manage the functionality, how to integrate it with your institutions other repository services and consideration for the licensing and ethical restrictions on gathering and using Twitter data.

If you are interested in attending or finding out more information, please email me,

Monday 12 November 2012

Repositories, Theses and Graduation Ceremonies

I was attending my son's graduation ceremony at Bournemouth University last week. While waiting for his turn, the title of a graduating student's PhD thesis was read out. It caught my attention (it was about TV production on Dr Who) and so I slipped out my iPhone, googled the student's surname, a word from the title and the name of the university and found the thesis available in the Bournemouth Institutional Repository (first result). I was able to download and start skimreading the PDF before the student had returned to his seat .

It's difficult to express what a genuinely exciting experience this was - it felt like I had arrived in the future! This is a repository use case that I had never thought of, and everything just worked.

Congratulations to Bournemouth's repository team on the hard work they have put in to making the experience join up. Also, congrats to Andrew Ireland on a really interesting thesis!

 PS Universities really should consider letting graduation audiences see some of the really impressive work that their students have done. Perhaps an onstage projection of a poster from their final dissertation while they walk across the stage?

Friday 20 July 2012

Changing Lightbulbs

Some more reflections on the road(s) to Open Access...

Q: How many publishers does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: The lightbulb doesn't need changing because everyone has bought torches.

Q: How many funders does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: One to run a community lightbulb changing programme, and another to bulk purchase torches.

Q: How many librarians does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: About 0.25FTE, but the lightbulb has to have a CC-BY license.

Thursday 19 July 2012

Open Access Joke. Spoiler: not funny at all

Q: How many Finch committee members does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: The lightbulb doesn't need to be changed, it just needs a large injection of public funds to transition it to a more illuminating condition.

One of the Finch committee members has gone public on the tricky balancing act that the committee tried to maintain. In his words "Green was unacceptable to funders unless learned societies and publishers were willing to allow it". In my words, the committee was structured so that publishers' interests trumped all other considerations.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Gold Finch and Green Open Access

The UK's Finch Recommendations on Open Access, much of which look suspiciously like a blank cheque that the research sector has to write to one of its support industries, has stirred a lot of debate. Still, the government has supported it, and RCUK has been careful to publicly support it even while ensuring that it doesn't interfere too much with its current policy of open access mandates. But while I'm frustrated at the Finch recommendations and relieved that they haven't stopped the funding councils support for the UK's rich open access repositories infrastructure, I do think there might be some positive outcomes for OA.

Let's not lose sight of the fact that the Open Access proposition is very simple, but quite radical:
  • Universities are disruptive communities - they create new knowledge and transfer it to society through teaching, training and all kinds of impact mechanisms.
  • The Web is a disruptive technology - it drastically reduces the difficulty of sharing knowledge between multiple parties, across the world.
  • Open Access is a disruptive idea - it rebuilds universities' research communications on the Web's more efficient communications platform.
The context in which Open Access operates is less simple. Scholarly communication is a complex network of stakeholders whose principle output is "The Scientific Literature"and whose major outcome is "The Progression of Scientific and Scholarly Knowledge". But each stakeholder participant in this network is driven by other outputs and outcomes: individual researchers have careers to develop and families to feed; universities have reputation to develop and sustainability to ensure; publishing companies have profits to increase and shareholders to benefit; research funders have governments to impress; governments have lobbyists and voters to satisfy and industries to benefit. The meshing of these diverse motivations into a stable network of 'players' that produce such a lasting and valuable resource is tribute to the decades of investment into the bigger picture of scientific progress by all parties. The astonishing thing about scientific publishing is not that it has been done well, but that it has been done at all.

The Open Access idea is particularly welcomed by those who see the stresses in the network threatening its viability or choking its productivity. On the other hand, where Open Access practice is actually adopted, it is by those researchers who see it as an effective route to getting their job done regardless of the "complex network of stakeholders". In other words, open access flourishes in disruptive communities who adopt new practices to improve their own capabilities, regardless of the consequences. Disruptive technologies aren't disruptive just because they exist, but because they are adopted, used and gradually mainstreamed. The network works around this disruption - new players emerge, new practices are fashioned, new relationships are formed, new contracts are negotiated - and an improved network results that is better fit to the current conditions.

Willett's strong words directed to publishers at the recent Publishers' Association indicate that the government really has adopted the Open Access ideal and is not taking many prisoners along the way:
Provided we all recognise that open access is on its way, we can then work together to ensure that the valuable functions you carry out continue to be properly funded 
The role of the Finch recommendations is to coerce the current research publishing players into accepting that Open Access is a reality that they must adopt by offering them a lifeline that allows them a chance of transitioning to the realities of a new Open Access publishing network.

Many of us think that this is pointless because we believe that the new network needs leaner, more efficient participants rather than the same old players. But the effect of the Finch lifeline may be a radical restructuring of the network, as Chris Keene (EPrints repository manager at Sussex) has pointed out in discussions on the UKCoRR mailing list. Payment of the APC (article processing charge) changes the relationship between publishers and researchers.

So although Finch's proposal may seem retrograde, superfluous and overly generous to the publishing industry, it does lead publishers by the nose to a much more exposed position. Now they have to deal with every author of every research paper and justify their costs on a much greater scale. Previously cost negotiations have been handled once per year per institution, and then with the library as an intermediary. Now they have to deal with angry and cash-strapped researchers on a daily basis - those that lived by the market will probably die by the market in a thousand hand-to-hand combats.

In the meantime, quite unlauded by Dame Finch, the UK has a robust infrastructure that actually delivers Open Access through an excellent network of institutional repositories together with training and advocacy programmes from each University library, all underpinned by a decade of technology R&D, policy development and professional practice funded by JISC. Finch doesn't predict a smooth transition to publisher-led Open Access, and the research community's response seems to back her predictions up. But the RCUK response shows what the UK is actually really good at - pragmatism - and likely means an increased role for repositories and the emergence of a more balanced and thoroughly hybrid environment as the network of stakeholders all seek to come to a new equilibrium.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Soton Labs: Embedded Repository Experimentation

We are just in the second stage of the transition for the ECS repository - all the data has been copied across to the main Southampton Institutional Repository, all the ECS repository URLs now redirect there as well, and we are in the middle of data reconciliation and de-duplication. This is very exciting, because the university finally has a single OA research service, with all stakeholders pulling in the same direction and providing a unified view of the university's research output for business, research, education and administration purposes. Huge thanks to Wendy White, Simon de Montfalcon and the rest of the library team, as well as Tim Miles-Board, Tim Brody and the rest of the EPrints Services team for making the whole venture run so smoothly!

Even more exciting for us is the fact that we now about to set up a new programme of repository activity called "Soton Labs". Inspired by the idea of Google Labs, it is an institutional space for experimentation and innovation around research information systems, and EPrints will form its backbone. Driven by the needs of the research staff, it will be informed by a whole range experience and ideas (many gathered from research council and JISC projects) that can be offered to staff on the famous "permanent beta" experimental basis until they are ripe for integration into the main (business critical) repository. Unlike the ECS repository which was focused on a single department's needs, Soton Labs will have a broader brief, to deliver cutting edge services and to facilitate new improved practice for early adopters throughout the whole institution.

I've got a shortlist of tasks that we hope to address in the coming months:

  • live collection of research data
  • simple metadata schemas for research data archiving
  • collections of documentation around research proposals (bids, reviews, responses)
  • research projects
  • linked data.

So you can see that rather than reducing the repository activity in Southampton by halving the number of installations, we're stepping up the pace of repository development.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Lunch Talking at SPARC 2012

In the lunch break at SPARC 2012 today our table was discussing the negotiation of author rights for repository deposits. In lamenting how authors tend to be backed into a corner by the publisher's last-minute demands to sign the copyright transfer form (or else forfeit their publication opportunity), a delicious and subversive idea arose. I present it for you here, without any claim of endorsement by SPARC or my lunchtime companions.

PLOS NULL: the high profile, high impact journal that publishes articles that have been peer reviewed, accepted and corrected for publication by third party journals whose lawyers have then refused to agree the author's pro-repository copyright transfer amendment.

Monday 12 March 2012

Value Transactions and The Publishing Business Model

I'm at the SPARC2012 Open Access conference, and all this talk about Open Access is reminding me that the issue of scholarly publishing is actually very straightforward.

Publishing companies have a very simple business model - they take authors' articles, add value and charge for that value.  You can see this process illustrated in the diagram below, with the various stages in publishing an article broken out between the different parties, and each transaction explicitly labelled with its typical financial charges and legal agreements.

A decade on from the original Budapest Open Access Initiative and here we are in Kansas City just about to start discussing more of the nuances and implications of this obvious publishing model.

Thursday 5 January 2012

Mendeley Open Access Update

In the last six months since I analysed Mendeley's contribution to Computer Science OA in June 2011, they appear to have increased their membership of that community by 37% and the ratio of full text documents to community members has increased from 0.66 to 0.71. The number of OA documents has increased by 47% to 11,757 and the number of OA active users (i.e. users who have made at least one document public through Mendeley's servers) has risen by 46% to 2,441 but still represents only 15% of the total membership of that community.

Congratulations to Mendeley - their service is obviously rising in popularity and hence in significance to the community. OA analysts will note that the increase in open access documents comes from increased membership, rather than a change in behaviour of the community.