Putting Laura’s Dark Archive to bed

When I started this blog, I was the Librarian at St Hugh’s College (University of Oxford). Since then, I’ve worked at the University of Sunderland as the Law Librarian, and E-Resources Librarian; at ORCID in Education and Outreach, and I am soon to begin a new job at Crossref. It’s time to wrap up this “record of a librarian’s reflections” now that I am moving from libraries and into the world of digital research infrastructure.  Here are some of this blog’s Greatest Hits by theme:

Open Access

E-Resources

Recruitment

Oxford

And my personal favourite, Reminiscing about “23 Things”.  23 Things Oxford started as an after-work project done for fun and became a gateway to so many conversations, relationships, presentations, and skills. From small acorns…

My next job will be at Crossref, the sponsors of 23 Things Oxford back in 2010, which is a beautifully symmetrical way to close this chapter.

Thanks for reading!

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Inclusion and diversity

I’ve been ruminating on writing about this for some time, and found Liz Garnett putting it perfectly:

inclusiveness is something that you can directly act upon. You can make choices about your rules for membership… the kinds of jokes it is socially acceptable to make in your organisation, and you can action those decisions… Diversity is about the people who aren’t yet in the room, about the choices that other people are making to not be there with you.

Her post is relevant to many contexts beyond its immediate intended audience of musicians.  With her comment “Diversity… is a performance indicator, not a goal” in mind, I will leave you with some further reading:

Intuitive interfaces

I think there is a limit to how “intuitive” library resource discovery tools can be.  The more complicated the system behind the interface, the more one needs to know about how it works in order to use it well.  This is different from usability, which is about optimising the match between user intention and means to achieve it.

Do you remember the brief fashion for federated search in the late 2000s?  These interfaces were promoted as a simple way to search multiple databases simultaneously.  However, the reality was that such systems would display results in the order they were returned from the remote servers (rather than ranked by relevance*, as many users expected) and would often display only the first 50 results retrieved, rather than every matching record.  Once users understood what a federated search tool was doing, it often prompted them to return to searching native interfaces separately, where they could at least be more confident that each tool was performing a comprehensive search.

*Relevancy ranking of results – in itself, another concept that once understood, will be discarded in favour of more transparent ranking e.g. publication date.  Relevancy algorithms are often closely guarded secrets, and I understand that they operate on a popularity basis, where articles which are most downloaded or most cited will rank highest in search results.  This may work well for general web searches, but it’s hardly how scholars would want their academic searches to operate, especially as research often involves seeking obscure or niche information which by definition will score poorly on popularity.

What is an exit interview, and what is it for?

An exit interview is a meeting between an employee who is leaving an organisation (including those who are retiring), and another person (e.g. HR manager), to discuss the employee’s reasons for leaving the organisation, how they felt about their time working there and to facilitate handover or knowledge transfer.

As an organisation, having exit interviews shows that you are willing to engage in discussion with staff who are leaving and are open to suggestions about improving the role, organisational culture and any other matters which may come up in the interview.  In order for departing employees to have faith in the process, it needs to be run thoughtfully and confidentiality must be assured in order for the interviewee to feel that they can be open and honest in the discussion.

Best practice for exit interviews

  • Develop a policy detailed how exit interviews happen, when and by whom.  Interviewers should be trained (as for recruitment panels) in order to conduct the interview in a calm and professional manner, making the experience a positive one for both the interviewer and interviewee.
  • Invite the departing employee to an exit interview – don’t compel them.  Their participation in an exit interview is voluntary.  Consider offering an alternative to a face-to-face interview in the form of a questionnaire (again, participation must be voluntary)
  • Consider using an external agent to conduct exit interviews, as this can help interviewees to be more open about the real issues when there is complete confidentiality
  • If the exit interview is led by someone within the same organisation as the departing employee, it is important to ensure that the person interviewing is not a manager who has responsibility for the individual or who will be involved in future reference writing
  • Consider that the environment for the interview and choose a location where both people can relax and talk without being interrupted
  • Think about who the interviewer will be and what questions they will ask.  Ensure that the interviewer is trained to handle this type of conversation
  • Carry out the exit interview as soon as possible after an employee hands in their notice.  Don’t wait until they are about to leave, as this gives little opportunity to follow up on issues they mention during the interview and help both parties to feel like they part on good terms

Devising exit interview questions

Develop a bank of questions to give you a resource to drawn on.  Choose the most appropriate questions for the circumstances of the person who is leaving, their role, the situation of your organisation, and the circumstances under which they are leaving.  Although some types of questions are more suitable for managers, giving people at all levels the chance to comment on broader or “higher” issues can yield useful insights for your organisation.

Use questions beginning with ‘what’ and ‘how’ to encourage interviewees to share their opinions on a matter.  If necessary, use “why” questions to encourage the employee to explore their response further.

Sample exit interview questions

Joining our organisation

  • Were there any expectations you had when you joined the organisation that were not met?
  • Were you developed/inducted adequately for your role(s)?
  • How could the induction process be improved?
  • What is your main reason for leaving?

Your role

  • What did you most enjoy about the job?
  • What has been frustrating/difficult/upsetting to you in your time with us?
  • Would you recommend working here to a family member/friend and why?
  • What could you have done better or more for us had we given you the opportunity?
  • How could we have enabled you to reach your full potential?
  • How could the organisation have enabled you to make fuller use of your capabilities and potential?
  • What extra responsibility would you have welcomed that you were not given?

Organisational culture

  • How do you feel about the organisation?
  • What can you say about communications within (a) your department and (b) the organisation?
  • What could you say about communications and relations between departments, and how these could be improved?
  • How could you have been helped to better know/understand/work with other departments necessary for the organization to perform more effectively?
  • How would you describe the culture of the organisation?

Performance and appraisal

  • What can you say about the way your performance was measured, and the feedback to you of your performance results?
  • How well do you think the appraisal system worked for you?
  • What would you say about how you were motivated, and how that could have been improved?

Working conditions

  • What suggestion would you make to improve working conditions, hours, shifts, amenities, etc?
  • What do you think about the physical environment you work in?  Is there anything that needs improving or upgrading?

Management and structure of the organisation

  • What can you say about the way you were managed (a) on a day-to-day basis and (b) on a month-to-month basis?
  • What, if any, ridiculous examples of policy, rules, instructions, can you highlight?
  • What examples of ridiculous waste of material or effort could you identify? e.g. pointless reports, meetings, bureaucracy
  • How could the organisation reduce stress levels among employees where stress is an issue?
  • How could the organisation have enabled you to have made better use of your time?
  • What things did the organisation or management do to make your job more difficult/frustrating/non-productive?
  • How can the organisation gather and make better use of the views and experience of its people?

Retention

  • Aside from the reason(s) you are leaving, how strongly were you attracted to committing to a long and developing career with us?
  • What can the organisation do to retain its best people (and not lose any more like you)?
  • Have you anything to say about your treatment from a discrimination or harassment perspective?
  • Would you consider working again for us if the situation were right?
  • Are you happy to say where you are going (if you have decided)?
  • What particularly is it about them that makes you want to join them?
  • What, importantly, are they offering that we are not?

Knowledge transfer

NB: Start thinking about using these questions when it is known that the employee will be leaving – don’t leave this until the very end of their period of employment.

  • How might we benefit from your knowledge, experience, and contacts prior to your departure?
  • Would you be willing to take part in a briefing meeting with managers/replacements/successor/colleagues so that we can benefit from your knowledge and experience, prior to your leaving?
  • What can we do to enable you to pass on as much of your knowledge and experience as possible to your replacement/successor prior to your departure?
  • How and when would you prefer to pass on your knowledge to your successor?
  • We’d be grateful for you to introduce [successor] to your key contacts before you go – are you willing to help with this?

What if funders and libraries paid processing fees instead of authors?

I was recently contacted by science journalist Elie Dolgin, who wanted my thoughts on Willinsky and Rust‘s funder-library OA subscription model. Here are his questions and my responses, published here to complement the article he wrote: A fix for open-access cost barriers: what if funders and libraries paid processing fees instead of authors?

Whether this model is indeed better than the current OA system reliant on article processing charges?

The main attraction of this model is that it removes the paywall, rather than readers paying to read content (whether paying individually or via library/other subscriptions). One aim of Open Access is to remove paywalls to readers, and the proposal achieves this.

However, most advocates of Open Access aim higher than just removing the paywall; their goal is for OA research materials to have more generous re-use rights too. Traditional commercial publishers have strict rules about what readers may do with articles/information they access. For example, it is usually forbidden to pass on a legitimately-accessed PDF of an article to a friend or colleague. On the one hand, this is intended to strictly limit access to subscribers only, but it can also prohibit passing on the PDF to a colleague at the same institution, or posting the PDF on the institution’s virtual learning environment, even though in both cases the beneficiaries are also legitimate subscribers.
Furthermore, OA aims for more permissive sharing rights than those allowed under traditional licence arrangements. There is emphasis on attribution (such as in a CC-BY licence), and re-use rights would include being allowed to use longer extracts, and to perform text and data mining on the article or dataset. This is really important for reproducibility studies, and for Cochrane-style reviews where data from multiple studies is examined.
This model does not appear to challenge restrictive sharing and re-use practices.

What, if anything, appeals to you about John’s suggestions?

In my experience, many staff in libraries have a (small c) conservative approach to transformative approaches or technologies. They often operate in complicated organisations where it is difficult to effect change quickly, budgets are tight, and they want to be able to give their readers and researchers access to the widest possible range of materials and information sources. John’s suggestions represent an approach to funding academic publishing which goes some way towards achieving (some goals of) Open Access, without being a radical proposal that will make academics nervous.

Any criticisms?

As just mentioned, this is not a radical (“change at the root”) solution. Part of the OA movement is about opening up access to and re-use of scholarly materials, and there is a parallel and often overlapping issue which is the costs of subscriptions. It is suspected by many that the high profitability of many publishers, and that they make this profit from journal articles for which they pay researchers or their universities no fee, is unethical and an unwise use of (often public) funds. I take care to point out that this issue is separate from the OA movement, although some of the goals are shared.
To someone who sees profits being made from the free (to publishers) labour of researchers, squeezed library budgets, and increasing journal subscription costs, John’s proposal does nothing to address the issue from this side: it merely shifts the costs to libraries (and other subscribers) from pay-to-read to pay-to-subscribe-to-support. In this way, the OA subscription model is possibly cheaper than the APC model, but it does not increase transparency in the costs of publishing and help the costs to fall, or the perceived value-for-money to increase and therefore justify the costs of publishing.

Do you buy the argument that funders and libraries will have more bargaining power to lower processing fees, or is this just shuffling money in a different way?

In my experience, libraries have very little bargaining power, as they generally have to accept the price asked by the publisher, or lose the subscription and have to deal with lots of unhappy academics. Consortia at regional or national level can enter into collective bargaining if they stick together to exert the necessary pressure, but this is the same for any charging mechanism, whether this new model or the traditional subscription. Competition between universities is intense, and this can erode the solidarity needed for a collective bargaining model to work effectively.
What is different about this model is whether libraries lose out if they do not subscribe – if the resources are OA anyway, the publishers will have to come up with other benefits to the subscribing institution of carrying on their membership. This is especially important if subscriptions are to continue in the face of further pressure on budgets, where libraries will look to cut anything perceived as non-essential. It is not yet clear to me how such library-funded OA platforms can count on supporters to stay involved – see also Open Library of Humanities which uses a similar model, called Library Partnership Subsidy (LPS).

The novelty of this proposal and why it could put OA publishing on a more sustainable footing

It is novel in that it flips the costs to libraries from pay-to-read to pay-to-subscribe-to-support. I am not sure about its contribution to making OA publishing more sustainable, as it is tangled up in this other issue of publishing costs.
Personally, I would favour a more radical approach, in which we consider how knowledge is produced, shared, and remixed – in the age of the internet. For example, what about a distributed network of document/dataset/other servers connected by search interfaces, with persistent identifiers for items (DOIs), people (ORCID iDs), and organisations, and metrics such as altmetrics to assess the reach, endurance, and citation impact of each item? This would build a new research information ecosystem, allowing knowledge to network and flow easily, and not perpetuate the limits of print-based media in a digital environment. It would also challenge the legacy publishing model which keeps researchers locked in to publishing in expensive journals through the use of their elite names (e.g. “everyone wants to publish in Nature”) and commercial products such as Impact Factor.

Open in order to… challenge inequality

The theme of International Open Access Week 2017 is “Open in order to…”

My response is open in order to challenge inequality, as many barriers exist to equitable participation in learning and research.

Some actions such as positive discrimination can increase diversity, but do little to address structural inequality.  Unless these approaches then transform systems from the inside, they can be little more than box-ticking quota exercises.

Examining the roots of inequality (a radical approach) allows barriers to be identified and tackled.  Such a strategy creates a more inclusive environment, and diversity increases as a result.

Removing paywalls from publicly-funded research ouputs is a good way to address systematic exclusion from access to research on the basis of ability to pay (often linked with operating within a higher education institution).

This Open Access Week, how can you contribute?

Read, think, learn

Do

Make Wikipedia easier to verify, and more Open Access.  Take a closed/toll-access reference and add an open version to it.

  1. Go to oabot.org and log in (create a free account if you don’t already have a Wikipedia account)Log in to https://tools.wmflabs.org/oabot/
  2. You will be presented with a single citation and a single suggested open citation to add to the Wikipedia entry. Review citation and click Add link, or Skip
  3. Review the citation, and click Add link if the citation is a match (same document and legitimate source). If it’s not a match or you’re not sure, click Skip.

A quick, simple, and fun way to improve Wikipedia and access to OA research. Learn more at Celebrate Open Access Week by adding open citations to Wikipedia.