Man dating – love it or hate it

Dating seems a bit old-fashioned these days, but mandating is becoming more and more popular, though it has to be admitted that there plenty of people who do not love it.
I went to an interesting event on Friday called Research in the open: How mandates work in practice. It was organised by the RIN (Research Information Network) and the RSP (Repositories Support Project) and provided a good overview of trends in open access policies and research. Open access mandates are part of the research environment now, though one speaker preferred to call them “requirements” as that has a softer ring to it.
I was impressed by the amount of work that the Wellcome Trust have done, outlined by Robert Kiley, in helping their funded authors to comply with the Wellcome mandate. Firstly of course they have taken the lead in establishing UK PubMedCentral as a repository for biomedical research. They have taken a generous approach to providing open access fees, though mysteriously excepting their own Sanger Institute from this provision. They have also put much effort into smoothing the process by negotiating with publishers, and ensuring that open access options are available for most journals that their funded research might get published in. Despite all this effort they are still seeing only about 35% compliance. Other funders should take note – if you are not prepared to do the leg work with publishers and do not provide the funds to pay OA fees where necessary then you should not expect high compliance.
I do know of one institute that has achieved closer to 60% compliance with their funder’s mandate. That has been achieved again by hard work, this time by the institute’s librarian. Later in the day Bill Hubbard, manager of the SHERPA project, pointed out that all the UK research-intensive universities (members of the Russell Group or the 1994 group) now have an institutional repository. The people managing these repositories are ideally placed, he suggested, to work with research funders to improve compliance. He suggested that funders should provide repository managers with information about grant-holders in their institution for a start. I agree there is a gap that needs to be bridged between research funders and institutional library or repository managers. One of my problems with UKPMC is its lack of any institutional perspective, so it is not easy to view all authors from your institution or all papers from your institution. Robert Kiley mentioned that UKPMC and the National Library of Medicine (the original begetters of PubMedCentral) are working to tag papers with institutional metadata, so that’s a start. This will help institutional repositories to harvest relevant papers from UKPMC. Bill Hubbard did suggest that perhaps UKPMC should instead harvest papers from institutional repositories, but that didn’t go down well.
We also heard that publishers actions can improve mandate compliance, Elsevier introduced an improved workflow for author submissions and have seen increased take-up of their author-pays option. It’s not really surprising that if you make it easier for authors to understand what to do then they will do it.
It would of course be lovely if all publishers had the same policy but that is not a realistic hope. 92% of publishers have an Open Access policy but they vary widely. In particular, re-use rights need to be clear and explicit – they are the key to UKPMC text-mining plans for instance. Wellcome are working with Nature Publishing Group to define a model for rights and it is hoped that this will be quickly adopted by other publishers.
On the subject of complexity, Bill Hubbard’s presentation had a lovely slide (number 18) showing the bewildering variety of options facing an author trying to comply with a funder’s mandate.
The RIN report on paying open access fees was referred to by various speakers and there were requests for more case studies to be published along the lines of the Nottingham University case study in that report. Wellcome suspect that, in multi-funded papers, they are currently picking up an unfairly high proportion of costs simply because they have provided funds that are easier to tap into. Wellcome hope this will change. Astrid Wissenburg, from ESRC and RCUK, noted that Research Councils are public bodies and therefore have to follow public accounting rules. They cannot therefore be as flexible as Wellcome in providing funds for OA. Several members of the audience agreed that this is a problem badly in need of a solution.
Astrid also gave a summary of the recent RCUK report on open access. RCUK is planning to support open access by extending support for publishing in open access journals including pay-to-publish and by building on mandates to deposit research papers. One questioner noted that the report found that researchers were not well-informed about open access, and wondered why RCUK was bothering if researchers were not bothered. Astrid stated that RCUK has responsibility for ensuring adequate research infrastructure and saw a duty to push the debate on open access. She also noted that the report had found an awareness gap, not a lack of interest. Indeed, senior research staff were very supportive of open access. It was interesting that although the day was in general good-humoured there were still undercurrents of antagonism between the pro- and anti- open access parties.
There were reports from a couple of interesting research projects. One, the EU-funded PEER project is looking at the impact of self-archiving on publishing and research. So much of recent discussion of Open Access has focused on the author-pays route it will be interesting to see the results of PEER, looking at what it calls stage eprints. The project will start producing preliminary reports in autumn 2009 but will its final results are not due until 2011, with a conference due in summer 2011. The Houghton report on Economic Implications of Alternative Scholarly Publishing Models was described by Charles Oppenheim, one of the co-authors. The economic model had 2300 costed activities and 550 basic data items, but it was not possible to find reliable costings for all these activities. There has therefore been trenchant criticism of the report from publisher groups. I rather suspect that the criticism would have been less trenchant if the report had not drawn conclusions widely seen as favouring open access.
The final part of the day focused on Higher Education. Paul Ayris set out the rationale for UCL’s open access policy (recently announced) – it is a way to achieve UCL’s objectives of “developing and disseminating original knowledge to benefit the world”. Paul Hubbard from HEFCE talked about the Research Excellence Framework. He noted that sharing is an integral feature of research and that shared findings are more likely to built on and applied. Finally Bill Hubbard talked about change and, as noted above, encouraged research funders and repository managers to work more closely to support research authors.
Another summary by Chris Keene has a clearer account of the day – I just focused on what interested me.
I took away from the day a sense that mandates are here to stay but they are not sufficient on their own. Funders, institutional managers, librarians, repository managers, publishers – all must work together to help make it as easy as possible for researchers to comply with mandates. JISC, RIN, RSP, RCUK, the EU all have roles to play in producing guidelines and research.

About Frank Norman

I am a librarian in a biomedical research institute. I've been around a few years, long enough to know that exciting new things fall into the same familiar patterns. I'm interested in navigating a path for libraries as we slip from print through to electronic information resources.
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