The UKSG Conference 2016: libraries, publishers and much more


The 2016 UKSG Conference was held in Bournemouth between 11th and 13th April.  This report captures the main points made by the keynote speakers on the first day of the conference. Two separate reports giving, respectively, an account of the plenaries on Tuesday 12th April and details of some of the break-out sessions will follow.

The UKSG Conference varies considerably in tone and the success it achieves from year to year.  Sometimes it seems to be more about information; at other times, more about ideas.  At this year’s conference, there was clearly an attempt to offer ideas in the plenary (keynote) sessions and confine the more factual presentations to the break-outs.  This worked to a certain extent, but with the following provisos: a) the central concept on which some of the plenary sessions was based was a little thin for so much time to be devoted to it and b) some very important issues, such as the forthcoming legislation on Open Access by the European Commission, were relegated to the subsidiary role, although they were of massive importance to most of the delegates.

The first plenary session was about ‘Impact’.  Ann Rossiter, of SCONUL, talked about ‘Managing relationships between libraries and publishers for greater impact’.  She began by busting a few industry myths, saying that students are using the Library more, not less; that the Library is working across a broader range of issues than ever before; that libraries have always played an important role in supporting students by training, but that more than ever is going on now, because ‘digital natives’ need as much support as previous generations; and (no myth-buster, this: librarians have been telling us this for some time) library budgets have essentially flatlined over the last six years.

Unfortunately, Ms Rossiter used these points as a stick to beat publishers with. She said that publishers needed to provide clearer information in authors’ acceptance letters; that publishers should supply contracts to co-authors, using ORCID IDs, and to ensure that only CC BY licences were offered if it is a funders’ requirement (this is surely the responsibility of the author, not the publisher?); that publishers should understand the ‘reality’ of library budgets, and that libraries cannot afford to pay above-inflation increases, ‘full stop’; and – her main and most incisive point – publishers should take on board that ‘Open Access is the reality in the UK and change is coming whether you like it or not’.  This comment received prolonged applause from the librarians present, and got the conference off to an unnecessarily polemical start, given that more than half the audience were not librarians.

Ann Rossiter identified five key issues that she said publishers and librarians should address together: how access should be managed; what sort of experience we would like those accessing (online) books to have; how we should rethink formulations for output; what options we have for speeding up the slow process of getting metadata in order; and, with regard to impact factors, whether we should continue the endless search for improved metrics, or ‘give it up as a bad job’.  Despite the fact that all of these issues relate to developments initiated by publishers in response to demands from librarians, it was quite clear that Ms Rossiter was paying lip service only to identifying this as a joint problem; she was putting the blame squarely in the publishers’ court; and she offered no answers.

Michael Jubb, speaking on ‘how far has the UK got towards Open Access and what have been the costs and implications’, offered a more measured approach.  He gave a short history of the growth of OA in the UK, and went on to describe more recent developments in the EU.  He said that all policies had been carefully thought through, that all had changed to respond to experience, and that none was irrational; but that, nevertheless, there were significant differences in approach between different countries.

Trying to respond to these developments, publishers have expanded their OA offers enormously, especially with ‘hybrid’ journals.  They have had to develop significantly different policies and workflows in order to achieve this; the management differences should not be underestimated. There is a high preference among authors for so-called ‘delayed OA’.  Subscription-led journals are falling in number, but there are very significant differences in the profiles of individual publishers.  Terminology used to describe the different aspects and processes often becomes confused: for example, ‘Green’ OA has little to do with archiving – and language does matter.  He acknowledged that ‘publishers’ policies are all over the place’ and can be either difficult to understand or difficult to find.

Universities themselves are partly to blame for this lack of clarity.  Some support Gold, some tend more to Green.  Almost all have institutional repositories, but some have struggled to get them populated.  Researchers have moved from a fairly simple world which they understood to one which they find puzzling.

Versions of Record [VoRs] are what are most commonly found (not pre-print or accepted MSs).  Only about 9% of OA articles are made available in accordance with journal policies.  Most VoRs are found on sharing sites, especially ResearchGate.  Overall, researcher take-up of Open Access on publication globally is 18%, 20% in the UK; six months after publication, this rises to 20% globally, 24% in the UK.  12 months after publication the figures are 27% and 35%; and after 24 months all UK research is freely available.

Michael Jubb asked whether all this activity resulted in increased usage.  He said that OA articles seem to be downloaded more than non-OA articles, but there are major variations between journals.  Usage on journal sites is dwarfed by usage on public sites.  More usage data is needed at the individual article level.

Financially speaking, there are huge variations between universities on APC expenditure and similarly large variations on amounts paid, influenced as they are by deals, discounts and offsetting.  There are funding constraints which have a direct impact on the numbers of articles published.

In conclusion, Michael Jubb said that funders, publishers and universities have worked together to make OA happen.  However, the inconsistencies are a nightmare; workflows are a mess (he said that the role of JISC in sorting this out was ‘crucial’); researchers’ understanding is patchy; we have lost the plot if we use the word ‘compliance’ and there are valid concerns about cost: Green has a cost, as well as Gold.  A good practice guide is needed for all the players in the system.

Charlie Rapple, of Kudos, spoke about ‘Data diving; understanding cause and effect in reputation management’.  For the present writer this was by far the most thoughtful, innovative imaginative presentation of the whole conference.

Charlie began by asking what (academic) reputations means.  She offered a definition supplied by one of the academics she has talked to: ‘Reputation opens (secret) doors’.  It’s not just the mechanism that helps an academic get a job, but, even more crucially, is what enables him or her to know that the job / funding / networking opportunity even exists.  Academia is run by closed circles.  Many of these things don’t get advertised.

Unexpectedly, even early-career academics are starting to talk of themselves and their work in terms of ‘brand’.  They learn not to spread themselves too widely: they have to be seen as working on something specific.  It is important to become ‘known’ for something.

A survey was answered by 3,000 academics, who were asked how, broadly, they ranked certain activities in terms of their contribution to reputation.  They didn’t mention things like publication and peer review, but rather outreach and networking.  However, if directly asked about publishing, they ranked it highly.

Some quotations from the survey: “Academia is a meritocracy, but it’s also about reputation management.”  “Social media democratises reputation.”

The survey discovered a persistently high proportion of academics who expected more support from both their institution and their publisher.  Kudos is trying to build a central service to allow researchers to develop that outreach.

Other findings from the survey included: Facebook is more commonly used for sharing academic work than might be expected, but links to work are more likely to be accessed when shared on LinkedIn; a proposed spectrum for metrics was not directly related to metrics, but to who might look at it. Can attention drive action?  The survey suggests that the answer is yes: sharing work increases downloads by 23%.  This provides compelling evidence for academics who frown on colleagues engaged in outreach, because no one’s work can have impact unless it secures readership.

Key points

  • The 2016 UKSG Conference was held in Bournemouth between 11th and 13th This report captures the main points made by the keynote speakers on the first day of the conference;
  • The attempt to offer ideas in the plenary (keynote) sessions and confine the more factual presentations to the break-outs was not entirely successful;
  • Ann Rossiter, of SCONUL, talked about ‘Managing relationships between libraries and publishers for greater impact’;
  • She said that publishers needed to provide clearer information in authors’ acceptance letters; that publishers should supply contracts to co-authors, using ORCID IDs, and to ensure that only CC BY licences were offered if it is a funders’ requirement; that publishers should understand the ‘reality’ of library budgets, and that libraries cannot afford to pay above-inflation increases; and publishers should take on board that ‘Open Access is the reality in the UK and change is coming whether you like it or not’;
  • Five key issues Ann Rossiter said publishers and librarians should address together: how access should be managed; what sort of experience we would like those accessing (online) books to have; how we should rethink formulations for output; what options we have for speeding up the slow process of getting metadata in order; and whether we should continue the endless search for improved metrics, or ‘give it up as a bad job’;
  • Michael Jubb said that publishers have expanded their OA offers enormously, especially with ‘hybrid’ journals. They have had to develop significantly different policies and workflows in order to achieve this; the management differences should not be underestimated;
  • Versions of Record [VoRs] are what are most commonly found. Only about 9% of OA articles are made available in accordance with journal policies. Most VoRs are found on sharing sites, especially ResearchGate.  Overall, researcher take-up of Open Access on publication globally is 18%, 20% in the UK; six months after publication, this rises to 20% globally, 24% in the UK.  12 months after publication the figures are 27% and 35%; and after 24 months all UK research is freely available;
  • A good practice guide is needed for all the players in the system;
  • Charlie Rapple, of Kudos, spoke on ‘Data diving; understanding cause and effect in reputation management’;
  • For academics, ‘Reputation opens (secret) doors’. It’s not just the mechanism that helps an academic get a job, but also what enables him or her to know that the job / funding / networking opportunity even exists;
  • Even early-career academics are starting to talk of themselves and their work in terms of ‘brand’;
  • Facebook is more commonly used for sharing academic work than might be expected, but links to work are more likely to be accessed when shared on LinkedIn;
  • Sharing work increases downloads by 23%. This provides compelling evidence for academics who frown on colleagues engaged in outreach, because no one’s work can have impact unless it secures readership.

Linda Bennett is the founder of Gold Leaf, which carries out digital research projects for publishers (lbennett@goldleaf.co.uk).  She writes regularly for The Publishers Association’s academic and professional newsletter, APLPC News, for which this article was first commissioned and in which it first appeared.

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