16 Jun 2016

CONUL ANLTC Library Assistant Award 2016: Facing the Open Access Challenge – The experience of a University Open Access Team

*Joint Third Prize, won by Megan Corrigan, Queen’s University Belfast*

Facing the Open Access Challenge – 

The experience of a University Open Access Team

The Open Access (OA) movement (where research papers are free to access online and free of most copyright restrictions) has been around for some time. However it gathered momentum in the UK following the publication of the Finch Report (1) in 2012 and acceptance of its recommendations by the Government.

The recommendations of the Finch Report set out an ‘encouraging and challenging road map to improve open access to scholarly literature’(2). Academic funding bodies including RCUK, COAF and the Wellcome Trust embraced OA and made it a requirement for funding. However of major importance was the decision by HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England – which covers all of the UK) to issue an OA policy (3). This mandated that from the 1st April 2016 researchers must deposit their journal articles and conference papers (with an ISSN) in a subject or institutional repository within 3 months of publication and make OA within embargo limits, Figure 1. Researchers need to be compliant if their work is to be considered for the next REF (Research Excellence Framework). This is a major assessment exercise where research output from each UK University is judged and funds allocated accordingly.

Figure 1: HEFCE’s Open Access Policy for the next REF
CC-BY QUB Open Access Team

These developments are having a huge impact on UK Universities and their funding.  It is a challenging environment for OA teams as while researchers need to engage with OA to ensure future funding, many are far from convinced. Here at Queen’s University, Belfast the big challenge remains researcher engagement.  

Why is it so difficult convincing researchers to make their work OA? As those interviewed for a Blog in The Guardian in 2014 (4) outlined, many academics still remain confused. In Stephen Curry’s words they are ‘confused about what it is they’re supposed to do and how they’re supposed to go about it’. They pointed out that the biggest battle is about changing the academic culture and making OA mainstream, especially within the arts and humanities. This is still the case today. For many academics OA is about bureaucracy and regulatory compliance.   

What can we do about it? The key is developing and sustaining an active support and advocacy strategy. Here at Queen’s the OA team have used the Jisc OA Pathfinder projects (5), especially the advocacy project, and the marketing guidelines in the UNESCO OA Curriculum (6) to develop a range of tools to communicate the OA message, Figure 2. Our strategy includes: OA training sessions run inhouse and in departments; promoting the institutional repository and OA process through our LibGuide (7), FAQs, Blogs and Twitter (8) account; creation of a range of support and promotional materials such as postcards, merchandise (bags, sweets, pens, post-its); and making contact with new research staff. We also run events during International OA week.  

Through our support services the OA Team manages the institutional repository ensuring all documents are copyright compliant and the correct licenses and embargoes are applied. We also enable researchers to pay Article Processing Charges (gold route) and answer queries about anything OA.  
Figure 2: Support and Advocacy Strategy – Open Access Team, Queen’s University
CC-BY Megan Corrigan
As a result of these activities, since August 2014 over 1200 researchers have attended advocacy sessions and the rate of full-text document upload to the repository has increased significantly. This reflects positively on the team’s approach to develop an OA culture within the University.  However there is still much work to be done and we plan to expand our training programme, build relationships with individual departments, create online videos and run training webinars. 

If UK universities want to continue to be internationally renowned then it is essential that they embrace OA. Being part of the OA movement is challenging but our work to ensure researchers engage in the OA process is essential to its success. We can have a pivotal and exciting role to play and it is only just beginning.  

1 Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings (‘Finch Group’) (2012) Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: How to expand access to research publications. Available at: http://www.researchinfonet.org/publish/finch/ (Accessed 23/3/2016) 
2 RCUK (2014) RCUK Policy on Open Access. Available at: http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/research/openaccess/policy/ (Accessed 23/3/2016) 
3 HEFCE (2015) Policy for open access in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework: Updated July 2015. 
Available at: 
4 Ratcliffe, R. (2014) ‘What’s the biggest challenge facing open access?’  
The Guardian: Impact of Research Blog 27th October. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/highereducation-network/blog/2014/oct/27/-sp-whats-the-biggest-challenge-facing-open-access (Accessed 23/03/2016) 
5 Jisc (2015) Open Access Good Practice: Pathfinder outputs. Available at: https://openaccess.jiscinvolve.org/wp/pathfinder-project-finalised-outputs/ (Accessed 23/03/2016) 6 UNESCO (2015) Open Access Infrastructure: module 2 UNESCO p28-31. Available at: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0023/002322/232204E.pdf (Accessed 20/02/2016) 
7 Blee, E. (2016) Open Access. Available at: http://libguides.qub.ac.uk/openaccess (Accessed 01/04/16) 
8 Open Access QUB Twitter account. Available at: https://twitter.com/OpenAccessQUB (Accessed 01/04/16) 


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