Behind the scenes in the Open Access Team

Today’s blog post comes from Tim Riley, Open Access Senior Supervisor at the University of Bristol


Like many institutions up and down the UK, Bristol has an Open Access Team. We’re a small team of staff based within Library Services, but you’re unlikely to see us out and about in the campus libraries: we work ‘behind the scenes’, supporting authors to make their research outputs (journal articles, conference papers, books chapters, and more) open access.

Our work not only helps authors to make their research available to a much wider global audience but also enables them to meet HEFCE and other funder requirements on open access.

We support two main processes:

  • ‘Green’ open access – where authors archive a version of their paper in Pure, our institutional repository.
  • ‘Gold’ open access – where articles are made open access in journals themselves, usually on payment of a fee to the publisher, known as an article processing charge (APC).

See the infographic for some key facts and figures about the team and our work in these two areas.

Validation, validation, validation – supporting green open access

A large part of the work we do consists of validating records for research outputs that authors have uploaded to Pure. Validation is essentially a checking process where we make sure that the information in the records is accurate and, just as importantly, that the documents we’re making available to the public via the repository are the correct version and do not infringe any copyright restrictions. Most publishers place restrictions on the version of a research output that can be made available via a repository, and they usually specify an embargo period during which we’re not allowed to make the deposited document public too.

The validation process can be complex and time-consuming but always needs to be done accurately. Having a team of specialist staff to do this removes some of the headache for authors and makes it easier for the University to stay the right side of the copyright lawyers!

As well as navigating the copyright requirements stipulated by publishers, we also help authors to meet the requirements of major funders such as HEFCE, RCUK and the COAF partner medical charities. By timely checking of the versions of documents which authors upload, and making sure documents remain embargoed for only as long as is absolutely necessary, we can help ensure that authors are meeting their REF and funder requirements within the restrictions set by their publishers.

Going for gold – payments for gold open access

The second main activity our team supports is ‘gold’ open access. Some major research funders, namely RCUK and the medical charities in COAF, have awarded the university funds in the form of block grants which can be spent on open access publication charges in eligible journals. At its simplest, eligible authors request funding via our team, and we pay the publisher on the author’s behalf using the appropriate block grant money. This sounds straightforward enough, but in practice this process can become rather Byzantine as there may be many additional layers of complexity.

Before any payment can be made, we check and advise authors whether their papers are actually eligible for funding. We also have to check that the journals which authors wish to publish in meet the open access criteria for their funders. We report back to our funders on a regular basis and we need to show that we’re spending their money appropriately on papers which meet all their conditions.

When it comes to payment, we have entered into deals with a number of publishers which give APC discounts – but only to certain authors, with certain funders and in certain journals. Members of our team will run through the various permutations and select the most cost-effective payment method permissible for each paper. And although the vast majority of payments are straightforward, we spend a fair bit of time unravelling things when the payment and publication process hasn’t gone quite as smoothly as was planned for one reason or another.

Even after payment has been made, our work is not over. In a significant number of cases, articles are published under incorrect reuse licences or without the correct funder acknowledgements. There can also be issues around the mandatory deposit of papers with medical funding in the medical subject database Europe PubMed Central. We check every article which we have paid for once it has been published, and chase errant publishers where we spot any of these publication problems. This is another key part of keeping our funders happy and showing them that they’re getting value for money for the block grants they award to Bristol.

Request a copy – connecting authors and external researchers

We also mediate a ‘request a copy’ service for papers which are held in our repository but are not yet publicly available. This service enables us to put external requesters who are interested in these papers in contact with the Bristol authors. These requesters have included people working for government agencies, policy makers, charities and NGOs – people who don’t have subscription access to the original published articles but who still need access to Bristol research for their own work and research.

Collaboration with colleagues in the institution and beyond

As might be expected, the UK open access community is very open and collaborative. As a team, we not only work closely with other teams in the University, such as the Research Enterprise Development (RED) team, but we also engage with colleagues at other institutions in our region and more broadly across the country via discussion lists, social media and various meetings, events and conferences. In such a fast-changing field, it really pays to keep up to speed with the latest developments and tap into the collective wisdom of colleagues across the country for the vexing and thorny issues of the day.

Working together, we have negotiated improvements for future upgrades to our repository system, put pressure on recalcitrant publishers and shared solutions to all manner of shared problems. Plus, it’s always nice to have a day away from the office to meet like-minded people, even if you are discussing technical repository requirements for REF compliance!

Further information

You can find further information about open access at the University of Bristol via our webpages:

You can also contact the team directly:

Tim Riley
Open Access Senior Supervisor, University of Bristol

Experiences of OpenCon

Today’s post is by Jon Chappell, a former PhD student in the History department at University of Bristol and now a Teaching Fellow at New York University.

I attended OpenCon, the Right to Research Coalition and the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition’s annual conference promoting Open Access Publishing, Open Data and Open Educational Resources, from 14-16 November 2015 in Brussels, Belgium.  I found the conference both extremely interesting and useful.  In the course of the three days I attended conference sessions covering all three areas.  Through meeting librarians and academics from all disciplines I developed my understanding of the importance of open access, data and education.

In the field of open access, I attended a keynote speech by Bjorn Brembs, a Professor of Neurogenetics at the University of Regensburg who highlighted research suggesting that scientific papers in top flight journals such as Science and Nature are less academically rigorous than less prestigious journals.  He pointed out that the number of papers retracted after publication by these journals is far higher than is the case for other journals in the field.  This suggests that scientists may be exaggerating or skewing their findings specifically to secure publication in these journals.  He noted that this trend was on the increase, suggesting that the current system of basing articles’ quality on the impact factor of the journal in which they are published is encouraging manipulation of data and thus disrupting scientific research.  An open access model of publishing with articles being given an impact factor rather than journals would put a stop to this growing trend.

A number of conference speakers, including Salvatore Mele, the Head of open access at CERN, raised the importance of Open Data in science.  This was discussed not just in terms of the need for scientists to publish their data openly in order to advance scientific research but also in terms of the processes by which this is done.  Speakers stressed that data should be stored in sustainable centralised repositories and should be delivered in machine readable formats.  This will allow other scientists to build on the data or use it in a different way, promoting faster scientific advance.

Finally, I attended a keynote speech by Martin Eve, a Senior Lecturer at Birkbeck College, University of London, introducing the Open Library of the Humanities (OLH).  The OLH is a Birkbeck-led international consortium of libraries which has launched an online publishing model for humanities scholarship.  In the last year 11 journals have flipped to publishing open access through the OLH.  The OLH does not require Advanced Publishing Charges and instead is paid for through library subscriptions to the consortium.  The journals published through OLH include revolutionary functions such as publishing a tool allowing online readers to contribute by translating articles into different languages, further widening the scope of the material the OLH publishes.

OpenCon changed my perspective on the possibilities of research.  Even in the humanities the twentieth century model of sharing research only through conference papers and then to two peer reviewers before an article is published is no longer sufficient.  Humanities scholars increasingly recognise that the potential benefits of sharing research widely before publication are great.  Since attending OpenCon I have tried to share my research at all stages as widely as possible.  Attending OpenCon also made me very conscious of submitting my research only to open access journals.  Not only is this a requirement of UK funders but it ensures that my research is open to the widest possible audience of scholars.  In my own field, Chinese history, this is essential because I want to be able to communicate with scholars not just in Europe and America but also in China where it is by no means a given that universities will have paid subscriptions to English language journals.

Finally, attending OpenCon encouraged me to be particularly aware of the ways I can share my research without violating the copyright restrictions necessitated by some open access models, such as green open access.  Even using this model, it is still possible to share a final peer reviewed, but not type-set, word document version of an article on your own websites or blog, thus encouraging as wide a readership as possible.  I believe open publishing will help to break down some of the barriers created by the subscription model.  As academics, writing is not enough.  We must also be read.  Since OpenCon I have graduated from my PhD at Bristol and taken up a teaching fellowship at New York University’s campus in Shanghai.  While I have left Bristol behind, the lessons of OpenCon 2015 have stayed with me.

Jon Chappell
Global Perspectives on Society Teaching Fellow
New York University, Shanghai

Open Science and Research Reproducibility


Our series of posts for Open Access week kicks off today with a post from Marcus Munafò, Professor of Biological Psychology at the University of Bristol.

marcus-m-photoOpen access publishing is an established and familiar part of academia, but other aspects of open science are less widely appreciated. Open science is an umbrella term describing efforts to make various aspects of the scientific research process accessible to anybody. This can include publications (i.e., the open access part of open science), but also study materials (open materials) and data (open data). The Facilitate Open Science Training for European Research (FOSTER) project has developed a full taxonomy of open science.

Over the last few years, my group, the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, part of the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, has been gradually moving towards an open science model. Since we receive Research Council and Wellcome Trust funding we have been making our publications open access for some time. We also pre-register studies that involve collection of new data on the Open Science Framework, and share the resulting data via the University of Bristol Research Data Repository.

Why do we do this? One important reason is that we receive most of our research funding from either Research Councils (i.e., public money) or charities (such as the Wellcome Trust), and therefore have an obligation to be as transparent as possible, and also to maximize the efficiency and reach of our research output by enabling others to use our materials or data. But there’s another reason – we believe it improves the quality of our work, by introducing additional quality control procedures into our research pipeline.

There’s a great deal of interest in research reproducibility at the moment, particularly in the behavioural and biomedical sciences. We would hope that the majority of published research findings would be reproducible – in other words that a similar study would obtain similar results. However, there is growing evidence that this may not be the case. A recent attempt to replicate 100 psychology studies (the Reproducibility Project: Psychology) found that in only about 40% of cases did the replication study produce the same result as the original study.

How does open science improve research reproducibility? In our opinion, in a number of small ways, all of which may add up to a substantial improvement. For example, pre-registering study protocols (i.e., open materials) means we have to think hard about exactly what we’re expecting our study to show, and can’t move the goalposts after the data are in (a process known as HARKing – hypothesizing after the results are known). In principle, anybody could check what we report in our eventual published article against what we said we’d do in the first place.

There are other benefits. Making the data underlying our analyses available (open data) means that (again, in principle) anybody could check to see that they obtain the same results as us, or use a different analytical method that they think is more appropriate. This in itself is valuable, but it has resulted in unexpected benefits – researchers check their data files even more carefully when they know they’ll be available for public scrutiny, checking things just one more time to be certain. This introduces an extra level of quality control to the research process.

Of course, researchers are trained to be careful and meticulous. But researchers are also under enormous pressure, to publish articles and obtain grants, as well as often having to deliver teaching, complete administrative roles, and so on. Science is a human endeavour, and honest error is inevitable (witness typographical errors in published manuscripts, despite multiple rounds of peer review, proof reading, and so on). To protect against this, we need to embed processes in our work that help catch these errors. Open science has helped us to do this.

It’s easy to underestimate how much work is involved in adopting an open science model. For example, if we want to make the data we collection open, we need to ensure that participants in our studies have consented to this. As a result, we have had to modify our informed consent procedures, in consultation with our Faculty research ethics committee. The process has been a gradual one, and is still ongoing – we are now working to make our study materials open, beginning with our laboratory handbook. We feel the effort is worth it for the benefits.

Marcus Munafò
Professor of Biological Psychology

Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group
MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit
School of Experimental Psychology
UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies