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




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!


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


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.

Disruptive forces in the “staggeringly profitable” business of academic publishing

There is an excellent long read in today’s Guardian: Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?

Learn how academic publishing became so profitable, the rapid increase in library subscription costs (the serials crisis) and the start of Big Deals, and the development of open access as an alternative to subscription publishing (see also my other posts on open access).

Sci-Hub, a different way of disrupting the subscription and paywall model, is in the news at the moment: US court grants Elsevier millions in damages from Sci-Hub – though it’s far from clear if or when they may receive any of it:

Meanwhile, Finnish researchers have launched a boycott against Elsevier: “The group behind Tiedonhinta.fi statement urges researchers to refrain from peer review and editorial duties for journals owned by publishing giant Elsevier.  The boycott is launched on a new website nodealnoreview.org. The site welcomes also signatures from international colleagues all around the world, who are worried about cost of and access to research literature in their own countries.”

Megajournals and how to spot them in the wild

The first megajournal, PLOS One, launched in 2006.  Since then, the presence of megajournals in the Open Access (OA) landscape is growing, and it’s increasingly important to know how megajournals differ from traditional journals:

  • when considering a paper for publication, peer-reviewers consider only whether it is technically sound, whereas traditional peer-review also has requirements for novelty, importance, or interest to a particular community
  • megajournals accept papers from a broad range of subjects (look out for “full spectrum”, “all areas”, “multidisciplinary”)
  • many megajournals’ funding model is to charge fees for publication – article processing charges (APCs) – and they typically charge lower APCs than traditional (hybrid) journals (average APC for full OA journal £1,354 compared with £1,882 for hybrid – Jisc data from 2014-15)

These factors lower the bar for publication and may make these journals more attractive places for researchers to publish.  You can imagine the types of arguments that ensue about whether this sets the bar too low, or helps researchers with less funding to get published; and whether the different requirements at the peer review stage allow megajournals to be flooded with poorer-quality/lower-value articles or whether it breaks the stranglehold of academic hierarchies on what counts as valid research…

If megajournals don’t limit the number of articles in each issue, there is also the potential conflict of interest arising from money to be made from every article accepted for publication.  Traditional journals usually have a limit, which (hopefully) means their APC income generated from each issue published is constant, and papers submitted are judged purely on their own merits (but what happens if the supply of high-quality papers is greater than the journal can publish?).

Some things to consider:

  • The platform (or publisher’s name) has long been considered a proxy for the quality of the research it publishes.  To what extent is this still the case?
  • How are new publications to prove their worth?  To what extent are predatory publishing practices found?
  • How are we to assess the trustworthiness of a journal?  The reputation of the peer reviewers is often the best guide, and this requires good knowledge of the field and the people involved.  This is where discussions with academics in each department are essential in establishing the value of a megajournal to a given subject area.

Think.Check.Submit. is a campaign to help researchers identify trusted journals for their research – it’s a checklist researchers can use to assess the credentials of a journal or publisher.  It has some useful questions to use as a starting point for discussions with academics about judging journal quality.

Further reading

The Legal Academic’s Handbook – now available

The Legal Academic’s Handbook, edited by Chris Ashford, Jessica Guth, has recently been published by Palgrave Macmillan.  It includes my chapter on Open Access Publishing (read my pre-print version) and I am thrilled to appear on this list of talented and experienced contributors – as Chris Newman said, “This book is our Woodstock!

Here is the complete list of chapters and contributors:

1. From Legal Practice to Academia; Karen Jones; University of South Wales, UK
2. Lectures; Anthony Bradney; Keele University, UK
3. Marking; Becky Huxley-Binns; University of Law, UK
4. Gender Issues in Teaching and Learning – difficult situations with students; Rachel Fenton; University of the West of England, UK
5. Research and Scholarship; Richard Mullender; Newcastle University, UK
6. Designing Research; Matthew Weait; Birkbeck, University of London, UK
7. Reference Writing; Gary Watt; University of Warwick, UK
8. PhD by Publication; Tim Connor; formerly of University of Bradford, UK
9. Work-Life Balance; Richard Collier; Newcastle University, UK
10. Wellbeing; Richard Collier; Newcastle University, UK
11. Managing Maternity, Paternity and Parental leave; Helen Stalford; University of Liverpool, UK
12. From Module Leadership to Course Leadership; Donna Whitehead; University of South Wales, UK
13. QAA and Validation; Graeme Broadbent; Kingston University, UK
14. Navigating University Management Committees and the Meeting Structures; Annabelle James; Teesside University, UK
15. Undertaking Peer Review; Nigel Duncan; City University London, UK
16. Open Access Publishing; Laura J. Wilkinson; University of Sunderland, UK
17. Taking on a Management Role (at another Institution); Mark O’Brien; Oxford Brookes University, UK
18. Gender Issues in HE Management; Rosemary Auchmuty; University of Reading, UK
19. Performance Review; Chris Gale; GSM London, UK
20. Being a Private University; Chris Maguire; BPP University, UK
21. Academic Dress; Jessica Guth; University of Bradford, UK
22. The Standardised Client and Clinic; Rory O’Boyle; Law Society of Ireland
23. Developing Clinic; Victoria Murray; Northumbria University, UK
24. Further Developing Street Law; Sarah Morse and Paul McKeown; Northumbria University, UK
25. Writing for a Professional Audience; John Hodgson; Nottingham Trent University, UK
26. Simulation and Legal Education; Karen Barton; University of Hertfordshire, UK
27. Large Group Teaching; Karen Devine; University of Kent, UK
28. Designing Out Plagiarism; Alison Bone; University of Brighton, UK
29. Student Feedback; Vera Bermingham; Kingston University, UK
30. Problem-Based Learning; Ben Fitzpatrick; University of Derby, UK
31. Reflection in Teaching, Learning and Practice; Richard Grimes; University of York, UK
32. Organising a Specialist Conference; Ben Livings; University of New England, Australia
33. Embedding Employability Skills (or helping graduates get jobs); Ben Middleton; University of Sunderland, UK
34. Teaching Distance Learning Students; Robert Hiscocks; BPP University, UK
35. Supporting Student Law Societies and Extra-curricular activities and students; Ed Mowlam; University of Bradford, UK
36. External Engagement – Enterprise; Christopher J. Newman; University of Sunderland, UK
37. External Examiners; Chris Gale; GSM London, UK
38. Facilitating Small Group Discussions; Francis King; University of Essex, UK
39. Innovation and the Use of Film in Legal Education; Hugo de Rijke; Plymouth University, UK
40. Approaches to Law (Socio-Legal, Black Letter etc); Kevin J. Brown; Queen’s University Belfast, UK
41. Teaching and Assessment can be Inclusive too; Jackie Lane; University of Huddersfield, UK
42. Using Animations with Students; Carol Withey; University of Greenwich, UK
43. Developing Students’ Legal Writing Skills; Lisa Webley; University of Westminster, UK
44. Working with the Library; Emily Allbon; City University London, UK
45. Engaging with Schools and Prospective Students; Jessica Guth; University of Bradford, UK
46. Building a Research Profile; Rosemary Hunter; Queen Mary University of London, UK
47. Post Graduate Certificates in Higher Education; Jessica Guth; University of Bradford, UK
48. The EdD Experience; Elizabeth Mytton; Southampton Solent University, UK
49. Social Media, Blogging and Tweeting; Paul Bernal; University of East Anglia, UK
50. Gaining Recognition For Teaching; Michael Bromby; Glasgow Caledonian University, UK
51. Legal Education Research; Fiona Cownie; Keele University, UK
52. Despite my Job or because of my Job: Impact and Research; Jane Ching; Nottingham Trent University, UK
53. Looking for an academic job? Wanting to develop your academic career?; Jon Reast; University of Bradford, UK
54. Applying for a move to a Research Intensive HEI; Jonathan Doak; Durham University, UK
55. Applying for Lectureship with PhD/Research Experience; Liz Oliver; University of Leeds, UK
56. Teaching from other people’s materials; Michael Jefferson; University of Sheffield, UK
57. Devising New Modules; David McArdle; University of Stirling, UK
58. Challenges of International Students; Deveral Capps; Leeds Beckett University, UK
59. Applying for Research Funding; Sally Wheeler; Queen’s University, Belfast, UK
60. Presenting at Conferences; Fiona Cownie; Keele University, UK
61. Preparing Journal Articles for submission; Philip A. Thomas; Cardiff University, UK
62. Book Proposals; Dave Cowan; University of Bristol, UK
63. Managing Research and Research Teams; Fiona de Londras; University of Birmingham, UK
64. Battling the Exclusive Research Culture; Chloë J. Wallace; University of Leeds, UK
65. Promotions in Higher Education; Jessica Guth; University of Bradford, UK
66. Editing Special Issues; Chris Ashford; Northumbria University, UK
67. Editorial Boards/Being an Editor; Chris Ashford; Northumbria University, UK
68. PhD supervision; Sally Wheeler; Queen’s University, Belfast, UK
69. The Law Subject Associations; Becky Huxley-Binns; University of Law, UK
70. Dealing with the Media; Paul Bernal; University of East Anglia, UK
71. Readerships/Professorships – How to Get There; Philip N.S. Rumney; University of the West of England, UK