Erasmus+ visit to University of Amsterdam

The Red Room at the University of Amsterdam Library

Over the last few months Library Research Support has received a number of international visitors, from places like the University of Helsinki, University of Amsterdam, and the Czech Academy of Sciences Library, who have all come to visit and learn how our Library supports it’s researchers in open access publishing, digitisation, and research information and data management. We recently decided to reverse this trend and go visit somewhere to gain insights into how other institutions tackle similar problems that we face. The University of Amsterdam was chosen because they are a comparator institution, with a similar profile and size as the University of Edinburgh. The trip was funded by funding from a successful bid to the Erasmus+ mobility programme.

On the 8th March 2018 the Scholarly Communications Team visited the University of Amsterdam Central University Library. Over the course of two days we learnt about the services UvA offer to support open access publication, copyright support, research data management and bibliometrics. The visit was finished with a tour of the Central University Library which is based in the centre of the Amsterdam right next to the Singel canal.

University Library Amsterdam, Photo by Universiteitsbibliotheek Amsterdam CC BY 3.0

The Central Library actually consists of three buildings, all of different sizes and ages, merged together which presents a quite a few challenges – particularly for accessibility and continuity of services. The current library site has a rich history beginning in the 1880s when the library moved in to the Handboogdoelen building (furthest left in the picture above), which was a former home of long-bow militia and incorporated a shooting range. The building next door (central building in the pic above), with a façade from 1600s, used to be a former royal stables (you can see the two large doorways for horses) and was added to the Library complex in the 1940s. Finally, the main building (building on the far right in the pic above) was built in a vacant plot alongside in the 1960s. The buildings are linked together, with short staircases used to account for the different levels of the buildings internally.There is a plan to move the Central Library to a purpose built building in 2020.

The Library has a unique contemporary style which tries to live up to Amsterdam’s reputation as being on-trend, forward thinking and liberal. It was redesigned by Amsterdam-based designers Roelof Mulder and Iro Koers who went for a minimalistic design moving away from the traditional stereotype of a library. An example of this is the Red Room (see first picture above), which provides a self-service pick-up point for closed stack materials. The Library also had many interesting small quirky features, like free-to-use massage chairs, relaxation pods, phone booth cubicles and standing tables. The Library will also be participating in a scientific study to assess the impact of plants used in interior decor to affect the mood and learning capabilities of students. One suite of rooms will be filled with plants, with another devoid of vegetation used for a control group. I really liked the idea of the library building being used as a natural laboratory space to test scientific hypotheses.

relaxation pod at UvA Central Library

The visit has forged friendships between the two institutions which we hope to build upon in the future. We have come home from the trip with a whole new range of ideas to improve the services we currently deliver, but we also have a greater appreciation of our shared cultural similarities and differences.

3 things we can do to make open access better

Open access is being pulled and pushed in different directions by groups who each have their own intentions and motivations:

  • Research funders want to maximize their investment and – by holding the purse-strings – are the change instigators accelerating the pace of adoption of open access. Some are more proactive than others pushing scholarly communication towards Gold OA in certain subject disciplines, whilst other funders are less active preferring change to be more organic.
  • Publishers, as gate-keepers of the scholarly written record, influence how open access happens through innovation (developing new business models and products), control of intellectual property (open licensing or imposing journal embargoes) and controlling the spiraling costs. Some publishers are profit-driven and seek the highest returns that the market can burden. Others are more motivated by the academic community
  • Libraries are change agents who can help to enable open access in institutions, for example through implementing repository platforms and offering support services and expertise. Their motivations to be involved are many; Library core values are well-aligned with open scholarship, they have a strong interest in and are well-placed to ensure institutional funds are efficiently allocated, and there is a drive to enhance their relevance through redefining roles within research institutions.
  • Academics. It is easily to fall in to the trap that academics are passive actors in all of this. It feels like the silent majority go along with the status quo as research is their prime concern, and scholarly communication is a side-show with which they have little interest in how it works. Because publishing is increasingly being outsourced they lack a sense of agency or ownership. However, some researchers are driven to innovate and change their scholarly communication practices.

The interaction of each of these players in the scholarly communication game has led to the development of a system driven by interlocking policies, platforms and processes, which we have shown over the course of the last few blog posts, is unnecessarily complex, expensive, inefficient and increasingly at risk of being not fit for purpose.

What steps should libraries be doing to improve scholarly communication?

1. Remove complexity

The problem with Green OA is – it’s not immediate (journals embargoes are far too long), it’s not compliant with all funders policies and it’s unnecessary complexity (checking and matching funders policies and journal embargoes) is inefficient and has many hidden costs.

Help your institution to adopt the UK-Scholarly Communications Licence and most of these problems are diminished. [Read more here]

2. Reduce OA publishing costs

Hybrid OA Gold is the most popular and expensive route for paid open access. A side effect of lowering embargoes is that authors can comply with their research funders open access policies via Green OA.

Where possible, stop paying Hybrid OA costs, and use the open access block grants for pure Gold OA only. [Read more here]

3. Innovate and nurture academic-led publishing

Academic and National Libraries should support academic-led publishing and open access initiatives that are inclusive and open to scholars who do not have budgets for publishing.

Help your staff and students set up their own open access journals using software like Open Journal Systems. Support initiatives like the Open Library of Humanities by becoming a supporter member, and if you are from a larger institution then you should offer to support at a higher rate. [Read more here]

Managing publisher’s open access memberships with Trello

Screenshot - 14_06_2016 , 16_18_06

As more and more publishers have started to offer open access institutional memberships we have started to struggle with the effective management of the various schemes. We are currently signed up to 12 active deals and are scoping half a dozen more. All of the memberships are at different stages of maturity leading to a fairly complex situation if you are trying to stay on top of things.

Currently this work is all carried out by one member of the Scholarly Communications Team; however, we are trying to move towards a more transparent decision making and management process which is available to the whole team and other associated staff members.

After reading an interesting post about the use of Trello within Libraries we decided to try out this project management tool for managing our open access membership schemes. I won’t go into detail about about Trello, as this is covered by the blog post linked above, but I will talk about how we are using the tool for this specific purpose.

Screenshot - 14_06_2016 , 16_35_12

Each project you wish to manage with Trello gets assigned it’s own board which you can keep private to an individual or share with a team. In the screenshot above you can see that I have 3 private boards and am sharing 2 boards with the Scholarly Communications Team. Looking in more detail at the OA Prepay membership board (screenshot below) you can see that we have created 4 vertical columns, known as lists, each populated with a number of cards. You can assign tasks to cards, but in this case we have chosen to allocate them to publishers membership deals. If you want to you can even assign cards to be monitored by specific people within the team, but we have not yet opted to do this.

Screenshot - 15_06_2016 , 10_50_29

The lists are a way to keep the cards organised – for example each list could represent a workflow step. If you like the ‘Getting Things Done‘ methodology you could have To Do, Doing and Done lists.

When looking at publishers’ open access membership deals there are a number of tasks that need to be carried out which can be arranged into 4 general groups:

  1. Evaluating the initial offering
  2. Sign-up procedures
  3. Day-to-day administration and usage monitoring
  4.  Renewal/ deactivation decision making

We decided to use 4 lists to represent the workflow of moving from evaluating new publisher deals, through completing the sign up procedures and monitoring usage, finishing with renewal/deactivation processes:

Scoping -> Current Memberships <-> Action required ->Dropped memberships

Each new potential open access membership deal would be given a new card (see below for an example). The card is firstly populated with a brief description of the membership. We then add a Label (to enable filtering by publisher), a Checklist of to-do items, and a Due Date when a decision is needed. It is possible to add attachments to the card, for example the offer documents or contracts, but we have decided not to do this. Instead we show the file path where the documents are saved on shared network drives accessible only to the team. We don’t trust giving a third party our business documents in case of a data breach.

Screenshot - 15_06_2016 , 10_59_19

Once the checklist items have been worked through, if successful and the membership was activated, the card would move over right to the Current Membership list. If unsuccessful we would place at the bottom of the Scoping list with a sticker indicating this (a big red thumbs down).

Screenshot - 15_06_2016 , 11_43_21

Once on the Current memberships list (2) the cards are ordered by dates, with the membership deals that are ending first placed at the top. Any member of the Scholarly Communications Team can then see which deals are active, when the membership runs out, find out details of the deal including costs, sales rep contact details and links to other documentation. This is preferable to having all the membership knowledge retained by one member of the team.

Screenshot - 15_06_2016 , 13_05_36

Towards the end of the membership period the cards are moved over to the Action Required list (3) to indicate that a renewal or deactivation decision is needed to be made. If renewed the card is placed back into the Current Memberships list with details updated and the Due Date reset (4). If the renewal is rejected then the card is passed right to the Dropped Membership list (5), with the decision details recorded so they can be revisited at a later date if the renewal is questioned.

In summary, the workflow we present here might not work for every institution however we have found Trello to be a very useful tool to manage the process of managing open access membership schemes within a team setting. It’s main benefits are that it is highly visual and thus easy to use with minimal training, very adaptable to fit different circumstances and the basic version is free.


Some thoughts on the impact of Sci-Hub

Sci-Hub has been getting a lot of attention recently – for those of you not up to date there are some really good pieces written here:

What should we think about Sci-Hub?

Next moves in the Sci-Hub game

Signal not solution

The last article raised some interesting points that prompted a reply from the Sci-Hub founder, who I think mistook critical thinking for criticism. If you would indulge me I’d like to spend 5 minutes thinking about the impact of Sci-Hub and what the longer term implications for scholarly communications are. I’m not particularly saying anything new, just crystallising a few thoughts that have been floating around.

What is the short term impact of Sci-Hub?

The impact is massive for anyone stuck outside of a subscription paywall. Immediate free access to articles that you would have had to pay ~$30 each. For these people it is a game changer. I don’t need to eulogise how important this is for enabling access.

For publishers, at a first glance it looks terrible. Their pirated content is being distributed for free. Shock! Horror! Quick unleash the legal dogs of war!

But take a closer look and the disruption enabled by Sci-Hub is not quite like the disruption that has occurred in other digital media (think Napster etc). This is because the customers who pay for content are mainly institutions and not individual customers, and they have very different behaviours. I would estimate that the long term financial impact of pirated material for academic journal publishers would be negligible at best, and at worst just a small dent in their 30%-40% profit margins.

Longer term effects.

If you step away from the warm rosy glow of immediate access, you’ll find that the change in scholarly communication is not as drastic as you first thought. On the whole, institutions will not drop all of their journal subscriptions because a website is offering free downloads of articles. Organisations, who in this case have the purse strings, do not think and behave like individuals.

Any reputable institution would not be able to tell their researchers that they have cancelled subs to the journals they read and that they have to find and use pirated content instead. Like them or not, we can trust publishers to make their content available 24/7 (well, most of the time) because we have service level agreements and other legally binding contracts. What is the longevity of Sci-Hub? I don’t know, but the Sci-Hub founder freely admits that the site runs on donations and it costs several thousand dollars per month to keep running. Unlike other scholarly communication nodes – for example arXiv* – there is no funding mechanism that organisations can use to pay Sci-Hub to keep running because it’s activities are illegal and that status is not going to change any time soon. As such, institutions cannot rely on Sci-Hub to provide access to it’s services 24/7 and will always stick with the publishers.

Sci-hub is a sticking plaster

It is worth repeating that the bottom line is that organisations will most definitely not stop paying subscriptions to journal publishers because of Sci-Hub. More knowledgeable people than me have pointed out that Sci-Hub is a symptom of the problem, or that it is palliative care which alleviates the immediate problem. Unfortunately, I don’t think Sci-Hub will be the main catalyst for wider change in scholarly communication that people want, or need, it to be. Subscriptions will still be paid, researchers will still publish in those pay-walled journals, we will still have restrictive licences, text-mining will still be difficult. Plus ça change. The problem is that authors and readers need better than this.  



[*Other scholarly communication nodes have sustainable business models – for example arXiv raises ~$350,000 per year through membership fees generated by approximately 186 institutions.]





Edinburgh Research Archive : a new look

We are pleased to announce a new look and feel to the Edinburgh Research Archive (ERA). Over the past few weeks our Library Digital Development team have been busy upgrading ERA to a newer version of DSpace.

The main differences you might notice are:

  • a responsive user interface design
  • an improved discovery search/browse option which allows new filtering options
  • several improvements to help Google Scholar better index the content
  • lots of under the bonnet improvements and bug fixes

Screenshot - 13_03_2015 , 16_05_22

Full screen v smartphone view

Screenshot - 13_03_2015 , 16_05_40

The responsive user interface design helps to make ERA look good on screens of all sizes from widescreen monitors to smartphones. Instead of squeezing everything from the large screen onto smaller screen size displays some information is dropped. Can you spot all the differences?

The text is dropped from the dark blue banner, the breadcrumb links in the light blue bar under the banner are condensed, the left hand side navigation panel is collapsed by default but can be toggled by the list icon, and the item abstract is re-positioned underneath the download and main metadata display.

For those that are interested ERA is now running DSpace version 4.2 (with some local mods including security updates), whilst running the Mirage 2 theme.



Three different traits of open access publishers

This week I’ve been compiling some data for the next meeting of the RLUK Ethical and Effective Publishing Working Group. Some of the data itself is pretty interesting so I thought I would write a quick blog post and share some preliminary thoughts on what it means. The table below shows the top 5 publishers in terms of money spent on article processing charges (APCs) from the RCUK open access block grant in 2013-14.

Publisher Total spend No. of APCs Average APC Discount on list price
Elsevier £52,596 36 £1,461.00 25%
Wiley £51,781 35 £1,479.46 25%
Public Library of Science (PLOS) £23,737 24 £989.04 0%
Nature Pub Group (NPG) £21,226 8 £2,653.25 0%
BioMed Central (BMC) £20,746 16 £1,296.63 15%

Article processing charges (APC) for the most popular journals for Edinburgh authors.

We found that 2 publishers stood head and shoulders clear from the rest of the field. In terms of gross spend and number of articles published the top publisher was Elsevier, with £52.6k and 36 articles. In second place, with a similar publisher profile was Wiley with £51.8k and 35 articles. Both of these publishers were followed by PLOS, NPG and BMC who all had broadly similar spends of around £20k. Whilst the total cost per publisher is interesting, what is really noteworthy is the number of articles that money pays for, revealing something of the publisher’s strategy in the open access market place.

The lowest APCs are incurred from the open access journals – PLOS and BMC – who have fees roughly a third less than the other publishers. The highest APCs are incurred by hybrid journals, who also make money from subscriptions, and article reprints. NPG stand out from the crowd as they charge nearly double compared to their competitors.

In summary, what we see here are broadly 3 groups of publishers with different traits:

Money Makers – traditional publishers with the biggest market share, the highest number of articles published, APC set to the highest they think market can bear without losing submissions, initially offering biggest discounts for institutional deals to get sign ups (and easier access to authors).

Prestige reputation – traditional publishers trading on their reputational status. Significantly less articles published but with larger APCs levied to publish in the journals with the highest impact factors. Strategy of selling high end products and services to those that can afford them.

Emerging challengers – new business model and products, more reasonable APCs to attract a market share. However, it is worth noting that since being bought out by Springer, BMC have attracted criticism for raising APCs much quicker than the rate of inflation.

When we get round to submitting the final RCUK report we’ll release our full dataset of article processing charges.

[Minor edits made to original to correct grammar, headings and stylesheet]

Subject disciplines & download figures

One line summary

Disciplines without dedicated subject repositories seem to provide the most popular items downloaded from our institutional service.

The general trend

Whilst looking at the top 99 most downloaded items from the Edinburgh Research Explorer it struck me that the most popular cluster of subject disciplines were those from the Humanities & Social Sciences.

pie chart

The pie chart above shows the general breakdown by college with the Humanities and Social Science disciplines making up over half of the most popular items downloaded from our institutional repository. Science and Engineering disciplines own a third of the most popular items, whilst Medicine & Veterinary Medicine make up the remainder.

I was initially surprised given that the bulk of our 18,000+ open access full text items are from the Science, Technology, Engineering & Technology (STEM) fields.

 Looking in more detail

When you further sub-divide the broad classification into finer subject groupings you start to see the beginnings of a pattern emerge.

bar chart

The bar chart above shows the number of items in the top 99 downloads for each school at the University of Edinburgh (apologies for the tiny text – click image to enlarge). Each school broadly maps to a subject area, albeit with some fuzziness; for example, the Edinburgh College of Art comprises a number of creative disciplines like Fine Art, Music and Design brought together in one unit.

Science & Engineering (Red)

From our download figures the most popular S&E subject disciplines – Geosciences, Engineering and Chemistry – all don’t have dedicated subject repositories. Whereas, the least popular – Maths, Physics, Informatics and Biological Sciences –  are all well covered by the subject repositories arXiv or PubMed Central.

Humanities & Social Sciences (Blue)

The most downloaded HSS units are the Edinburgh College of Art, the Business School, History, Classics & Archaeology and Social & Political Science; none of which have established methods of sharing via subject repositories.

Economics is already serviced well by RePeC, Psychology & Language Sciences have CogPrints, and Health in Social Sciences is covered by PubMed Central. Only Divinity and Education don’t have subject repositories and have relatively low download rates.

Medicine & Veterinary Medicine (Green)

This college grouping is extremely well covered by the PubMed Central subject repository which may explain the poorer than expected usage performance.

Some closing remarks and limitations

There are no bad results here: all of the open access downloads from our service are complimentary to those obtained directly from publishers websites and from other subject repositories. These downloads can in a way be considered extra views that we help facilitate.

This blog post is only a quick observation and not a fully fledged study so take what I say here with a pinch of salt. Using the number of popular items as a proxy for download rates may not be completely accurate, but on the other hand it does help even out some anomalies (like high download figures for one item skewing the whole data set). To be more comprehensive we should really look at the whole set of 18,000+ items rather than just the top 99. Even with these limitations in mind I still think this is a useful and interesting observation.

2014 download statistics from

As well as reporting on the number of open access uploads to our institutional repository we now have the facility to report on the other end of the spectrum – the number of downloads for each item.  Here are the top 10 items downloaded from our research portal so far in 2014:

Title  School Jan-14 Feb-14 Mar-14 Apr-14 May-14 Total
Total 28,229 33,418 44,437 47,864 50,092 278,667
The past, present and future of China’s automotive industry Business School 523 633 993 1199 993 5796
Youth Crime and Justice School of Law 207 192 272 384 198 2127
The Computer Modelling of Mathematical Reasoning School of Informatics 198 152 267 187 125 1734
An Introduction to Conditional Random Fields School of Informatics 66 349 614 656 1685
The double-curvature masonry vaults of Eladio Dieste Edinburgh College of Art 126 187 234 187 178 1342
Liquidity, Business Cycles and Monetary Policy School of Economics 59 82 72 78 69 839
The dynamics of solar PV costs and prices as a challenge for technology forecasting School of Engineering 41 110 164 212 237 835
The Limits to ‘Spin-Off’ School of Social and Political Science 389 121 35 17 19 833
The Adaptive City Edinburgh College of Art 69 56 98 125 195 818

It is interesting to note that six of the items are from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, whilst the remaining four items are from the College of Science & Engineering. Records from the College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine are surprisingly absent from the top downloads chart. In fact this trend continues if you look at the top 100 downloaded records. I have a pet theory about this which I will follow up in a separate blog post [EDIT – post available here].

Researchers – what’s new for you from the Library

“Researchers – what’s new for you from the Library” is an event being held in the Murray Library at the King’s Buildings to highlight some recent developments in Library services and resources for researchers. Places are bookable for all University of Edinburgh staff and research postgraduates via MyEd (see booking links below) or just drop into the Murray Library Ground Floor. Coffee and buns will be available from 12.30.

When: Wednesday 28th May
Where: Murray Library, Ground floor

Murray Library

Programme of talks

Each session is 15 minutes each plus 5 minutes Q&A. Pick and choose which talks you fancy or come along to the whole event:

13:00 – 13.20 – Research Data Management

13.30 – 13.50 – Open Access: an overview

14.00 – 14.20 – Post 2014 REF: Open Access requirements

14.30 – 14.50 – Library support for researchers – overview

15.00 – 15.20 – Centre for Research Collections: Science and Engineering historical collections

If you’ve not been along to the Murray Library before then this is a great excuse to come and check out the new building and it’s excellent facilities. Also, did we mention the free Tea/Coffee and Doughnuts?

8000th full text item added to the Edinburgh Research Archive

To round off the week we’re delighted to have just archived our 8000th full text item in the Edinburgh Research Archive. The item to receive this prestigious accolade is a dissertation from the Moray House School of Education called:

Writing in the Junior Secondary Phase “Standard V”.

This dissertation was digitised from microfilm and uploaded to ERA by Stephanie Anderson who we have had the pleasure of working with us for the last month. Stephanie has been working in our Scholarly Communications Team as an intern as part of her studies for a Library and Information Studies Masters degree from Robert Gordon University.

We have really enjoyed having Stephanie join our team for the short time she was here, and we wish her all the best for her future endeavours!