Saturday, 26 April 2014

UKSG conference blog post report

As promised, here's a follow-up to my post on conferences and networking, talking about the content of the UKSG conference in more detail. I wrote the majority of this text for our staff development blog, but I think (hope?) it has wider appeal!

Last week I attended the UKSG conference in Harrogate as a first timer. UKSG is a three-day long conference looking at all things serials-related. In recent years this has meant a focus on research support and open access, which is why I was in attendance. As you can imagine with an intensive 3-day conference, there is a lot of information to take on board. I’ve tried to pull out some of the things that struck me as main themes at the conference, especially ones that my team and I have a specific interest in (many of these themes are therefore quite research support focused).

  •     The changing role of libraries
It was widely recognised that the job of libraries is changing, and the work they do now will not be the same as the work they do in ten years’ time. Stockholm University gave a good example of this. Whilst they still aim to ensure that individuals have access to what they need, they now also aim to make sure that the work done by individuals at the university is available to the rest of the world. It’s important to Stockholm to ensure that the information flows in both directions.

Both Stockholm University and Utrecht University Libraries were also very clear that they don’t try to bring users to the library/ website – they simply want to provide them with the tools to access the info they need. Whilst Stockholm stated that their EBSCO Delivery Service is just one tool among many, Utrecht have gone one step further and taken away their library catalogue completely. Their users use Google and Google Scholar, so this is what they’ll support. However, a warning came from the audience here: Google is a commercial service. It can be removed at any time. Bill Thompson from the BBC stated that it would be best to support open-source initiatives, which have a community behind them, instead of a corporation, as these services can’t just be removed. But can we really dictate what services our users should use in this way?

  •      The purpose of scholarly communication
For me, Michael Jubb’s breakout session on the future of scholarly communications was a great reminder of the reasons why scholarly communication exists, and what it is trying to achieve. He stated that whilst how we go about communicating this information has changed, what we’re fundamentally trying to achieve hasn’t.

The four original (and still relevant today) purposes of scholarly communication were to register research findings, review and clarifying findings before publication (still achieved through peer review), disseminate new knowledge and preserve a record of those findings. The Royal Society states that research today should be accessible, intelligible, assessable and usable.

  •     How we communicate research
However, what has changed is how we communicate research. For some researchers though, it hasn’t changed enough. In many ways research papers were felt to be archaic. David de Roure, an academic at Oxford University, felt that it is not just the article that is the outcome of the research; it is also the collection of social research objects we exchange. The research is the group of objects that we have a social discourse around.

Ernesto Priego took this one step further by suggesting that publishing is where content goes to die. Perhaps proving his point, his slide stating this went viral on social media almost instantly. If he’d published this point in a journal article, would anybody have noticed? Ernesto felt that research should be the beginning, not the end, of a conversation. Instead of being encouraged to publish against one another, researchers should be encouraged to read, and to talk, to each other. The aim should be for collaboration, not competition, and a culture of sharing should be developed.

  •     The importance of re-usability, not just open access
Whilst there is still a lot of debate around open access and how far we should take it, there are a group of people who believe open access to research papers alone just isn’t good enough. Whilst they acknowledge that openness brings risks and an inherent lack of control, they believe that things are no use if they can be found but aren’t reusable. Bill Thompson (from the BBC) went so far as to state that open data should be used, reused and distributed by anyone for any purpose. PDFs are an issue here, because they are difficult to use for re-use.

Even HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) recognise the importance of re-usability. Whilst not mandatory for the post-2014 REF (Research Excellence Framework), HEFCE have stated that they will give credit to institutions that enable re-use rights and text mining on the research they produce.

  •     New challenges in open access
It was recognised that open access is providing us with a number of new challenges. Some of the newest challenges mentioned were around research data and open access monographs.

The sheer size and volume of datasets (sometimes as many as 6 million data points) in the digital age
Enjoying the sunshine in a Harrogate park during a lunch break
means that you can no longer simply include all the evidence/ data you need to reproduce research in a research paper. There are also massive challenges in making this amount of data open and accessible. In addition to this, there is still a culture of people wanting to hold on to their data            

In contrast to this, almost everybody in attendance seemed to be in agreement that monographs should be made open access. But, again for the post-2014 REF, HEFCE stated that whilst monographs should be OA, the business models are too immature, and the lead times for publishing monographs are also very long – it’s already too late for the next REF. However, credit will be given to institutions that do make monographs openly available. There are already projects looking at this very issue. One example is Knowledge Unlatched, a project which is getting libraries to share the costs of making books open access. The library pays a title fee with a fixed cost, and books are then made open access with a Creative Commons licence.

As well as all of the above, there were a number of breakout sessions around article processing charges (APCs), the HEFCE Open Access policy, research data management and bibliometrics (and other things!) that left me full of ideas, questions and studies that I can take back and use in my day-to-day work. I found UKSG to be an incredibly useful, if rather intense, conference.

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