Category Archives: Open Access

Repository Downloads – March & April 2017 Edition

This edition of the downloads report from ORO forms 2 posts.  In the first I look at the general characteristics of repository downloads and repository web sessions.  In the second I will focus on a single item in ORO and how creating strong relationships on and off line aid the dissemination of a research output. 

ORO downloads and web sessions have some defining characteristics:

  • Both downloads and web sessions fluctuate across the academic year.  There are dips in downloads and web traffic in the summer and peaks in the spring and winter (either side of Christmas).

  • Downloads and site visits are remarkably stable.  There are no steep troughs or peaks outside the annual variations.  A cumulative average mapped onto the chart indicates how steady downloads and web visits have been over the last few years.

  • Downloads are higher in number than site visits.  At first that seems counter intuitive – don’t you need to access the repository to download the paper?  But many downloads of content archived in ORO come direct from Google and Google scholar – so these counts are not collected in site visits as recorded by Google Analytics.

Monthly top download counts also show a remarkable stability with 37 of the Top 50 in March also in the Top 50 in April.  This stability is somewhat reassuring – the counts aren’t fluctuating wildly without rhyme nor reason – the full lists are below.  However, those items that do break into a top downloads list often have a story behind them… (see next post!)

Celebrate the Year of Open at The Open University

Celebrate #YearOfOpen at The Open University

You may be aware that 2017 is #YearOfOpen … a 365 day celebration of open education and the anniversary of a number of key milestones in its development, including  the Cape Town Declaration, 15 years since the Budapest Open Access Initiative, and the 5th anniversary of the Paris OER Declaration.  We’re excited to announce that, in addition to all the excellent events happening around the world, we’ll be taking part in the OER Hub’s Year of Open event here at The Open University, UK (OU) on Tuesday 20 June 2017! 

For more information, visit the OER Hub blog.

Image credits:The Year of Open logo is licensed CC BY 4.0. 


HEFCE Open Access Policy: one year on – how is it working?

It’s been one year since the HEFCE Open Access Policy for the next REF came into force. In a nutshell the policy requires all journal articles and published conference items (with an ISSN) to be deposited in a repository within 3 months of publication (probably acceptance from April 2018) with the Author’s Accepted Manuscript.  So how is it working?

What is working?

How compliant are we? That’s normally the first question… and there are 2 answers. Firstly, of the eligible outputs added to ORO we reckon that compliance is around 84% – this includes items published Gold Open Access.  It doesn’t include outputs that may be compliant in another institutional repository or a subject repository.  However, we estimate only around 60% of OU affiliated research outputs get added to ORO so there is a significant number of outputs that still aren’t going into ORO.  And, if they aren’t reaching ORO we aren’t in a position to see if they are meeting the HEFCE policy.

Are we getting more Open Access items?  From April to March 2016-17 we received 737 Author Accepted Manuscripts that’s compared to 595 deposited in the previous year. Given that deposits of journal articles and conference proceedings are slightly down year on year (1767 in 2016-17 compared to 1873 in 2015-16) that’s some healthy growth in accession of Green Open Access content.

How can we do better? Is often the follow up question.  Firstly, getting better coverage in ORO is one answer and we need to be exploring automated ways of populating ORO to know what the institution is publishing.  Once we have the data we can then go about trying to get the full text, or identifying compliance elsewhere.  Secondly, we need to continue to get the message across about the policy, some researchers remain unclear about the requirements. We need to be creative on both counts.

What’s not working?

Well, there are a few problems for me.  To be fair, some of them are the challenges of Green Open Access, not the policy itself.

“I can’t get the AAM” – We have engaged researchers trying to do Open Access the Green route who are struggling to meet the policy.  Researchers collaborating overseas who aren’t the corresponding author have real issues obtaining the Author Accepted Manuscript from the corresponding author.  We have to remember that the corresponding author may have no knowledge of the UK context and may find the self-archiving process totally alien. Obtaining the full text at all, let alone within 3 months of publication, is a challenge.

“It’s not enough time” – The proposed move to deposit from 3 months from acceptance rather than publication poses a massive challenge for us.  We have been transparent to our researchers and asked for deposit 3 months from publication, not 3 months from acceptance.  And our compliance levels indicate that we are being successful.  However, we should remember the policy is requiring a significant change in behaviour for some researchers not used to the complexities of Green Open Access.  Moving the time frame to 3 months from acceptance would mean our compliance rates would drop.

“Is it really not eligible?” What about those items that haven’t met the policy requirements… are they seriously not eligible for the REF?  Is HEFCE expecting 100% compliance.  I doubt it, but I don’t know.  What I’m expecting are some kind compliance levels to be announced not dissimilar to the RCUK compliance levels introduced when their Open Access Policy was introduced (e.g. in Year 1 45% should be Open Access, in Year 2 53%, Year 3 60%, Year 4 67% and Year 5 75%).  But understandably HEFCE won’t announce that because it might impact on the levels currently being attained – we might take our foot off the pedal.

One danger of this is that we start second guessing the audit HEFCE might undertake. In a light touch audit the home institution may be the only people who know whether something met the 3 month deposit criteria.  So what interest does that institution have to disallow that output from its own REF return?

“It’s not Open Access is it!” –  When we do manage to get Author Accepted Manuscripts and deposit them to the repository, then we look up the embargo periods to see how long we have to lock them down for and we have embargo periods of 18 to 24 months… that’s not Open Access is it? Sometimes, it’s hard not to conclude that it’s more a Repository Deposit Policy than an Open Access Policy.

So, in conclusion, we are getting an increase in Open Access papers available at the OU, which is great, but it’s not without headaches, and a lot of hard work from everyone involved!

The Secret Life of Repository Downloads

The download data of Open Access content in ORO can tell some fascinating stories, the counts from December and January are no exception… it really is amazing what you can discover with a bit of digging!

The first one that jumped out at me from the December list is a journal item published back in 2002 by Dr Sara Haslam in FASS:

Haslam, Sara (2002). Written in blood: Family, sex and violence in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. The English Review, 13(1) pp. 8–11.

A “steady performer” that averages between 20 to 30 downloads a month.  But December and January saw a spike in downloads with 100 in December and 124 in January which saw it reach the top 50 list (see below).  Looking at the referrals I noticed a large amount coming from, or OpenLearn to you and me.  A quick search found this page, which had a link to the ORO page for the article.


Sara was the academic consultant on the OU/BBC co-production “To Walk Invisible” and this was one of the OpenLearn pages supporting the programme – which is great connecting ORO and OpenLearn – how joined up!

Looking at Google analytics to see how many hits the ORO page got from OpenLearn tells us the ORO page was visited 251 times in the week immediately following broadcast (29th December to January 4th).  The actual PDF of the article was downloaded 115 times.  So, roughly, half the visitors coming to ORO from OpenLearn, were interested enough to download the paper!

Mapping the site visits and downloads of the paper gives us this graph. WalkInvisible










The graph shows that the greatest spike came immediately after broadcast of the programme.  But there is a tail of site visits and downloads that coincide with the availability of the programme on iPlayer.  It’s a great example of connecting Open Learning and Open Research.

The second story comes from the January downloads and relates to a paper co-authored by Dr Mathijs Lucassen in WELS:

Fleming, Theresa M.; Bavin, Lynda; Stasiak, Karolina; Hermansson-Webb, Eve; Merry, Sally N.; Cheek, Colleen; Lucassen, Mathijs; Lau, Ho Ming; Pollmuller, Britta and Hetrick, Sarah (2017). Serious Games and Gamification for Mental Health: Current Status and Promising Directions. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 7, article no. 215.

This one went through the roof, with 604 downloads in January making it the second most downloaded item in January (full top 50 below).  It was added to ORO on the 10th January and almost immediately picked up in twitter by @andi_staub.

The download pattern show a remarkable a correlation between that tweet and the number of ORO downloads for that article.


Initially I was suspicious that a single tweet could have that impact, even though it did get plenty of likes and retweets.  But Andreas Staub is apparently a Top 20 influencer in the world of FinTech.  FinTech (Wikipedia told me) “is an industry composed of companies that use new technology and innovation with available resources in order to compete in the marketplace of traditional financial institutions and intermediaries in the delivery of financial services” and got $19.1 bn funding in 2015

So why might a FinTech influencer be interested in this research?  Mathijs gave me some lowdown:

People do seem very interested in serious gaming in mental health…I wonder if it is because people are aware of the addictive potential of commercial games, so they wonder how can a game be therapy?  There are some really interesting ones out there (in addition to SPARX – I was a co-developer – Professor Sally Merry has led this work), like “Journey to the Wild Divine” a ‘freeze-framer’ game based on bio-feedback in a fantasy setting. The program is a mind and body training program, and uses biofeedback hardware (e.g. a user’s heart rate) along with highly specialised gaming software to assist in mindfulness and meditation training (e.g. a user has to learn to control their body in certain ways in order to progress through the game)…Plus programs like “Virtual Iraq” (to assist service men and women with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with their recovery).

There was one other thing about the downloads for this paper.  It was published in an Open Access journal so I’d have expected most downloads to come from the journal site. But the majority of downloads (at least in January following this tweet) were from ORO.


Which indicates to me that Institutional Repositories can be as good as any other platform, whether they are publisher platforms or commercial academic social networking sites, to disseminate your research. Full Top 5o lists for downloads are below: 2016-12-monthly_downloads 2017-01-monthly_downloads

HEFCE Open Access Policy – Update

Earlier this week HEFCE updated their Open Access policy. It had been expected that the time frame for deposit to a repository would shift from 3 months of first online publication to 3 months of acceptance from 1st April 2017 – this has been postponed. The policy has been updated to state:

“To take account of the need for systems to be developed to support deposit-on-acceptance, during the first two years of the policy (1 April 2016 – 1 April 2018), outputs can be deposited up to three months after the date of publication. This flexibility will be subject to a review of the readiness of systems within the sector in autumn 2017.”

Updated HEFCE Open Access Policy.

This uncertainty about the time frames of deposit to a repository is worth reflection. Firstly, it causes continuing problems in administering a policy that has shifted from its initial 3 months from acceptance, to 3 months from publication until April 2017, to, now, 3 months from publication until April 2018, subject to review...

Secondly, this delay highlights another problem with the policy – and it’s not just about having the appropriate systems in place! Where no embargo has been stipulated by the publisher, “deposit at point of acceptance” will often mean making the paper available in a repository before it is made available via the publisher platform.  Now this may well be the intention of the policy, but it’s a cause for concern for both authors and publishers who don’t operate in a Preprint culture.

Given the increasing number of papers in the UK being deposited in institutional repositories I’m unsure how publishers who don’t currently require an embargo will react.  One course of action for publishers would be to simply establish new embargo periods where previously there weren’t any.  But Green Open Access with long embargo periods isn’t really Open Access!  The risk is “deposit at point of acceptance” may provoke a response that undermines the Green Open Access route the policy attempts to exploit.

Open Access Week 2016

The 9th Global Open Access Week is held between October 24th to 30th, the theme this year is “Open in Action”. Library Services is marking Open Access Week with 3 events, all sessions are open to all.



Open Research Data & Open Research Data Online (ORDO)

Wendy Mears (Research Support Librarian) will be introducing the new research data store that enables you to publish completed research data and get a permanent, citable DOI for your work. Based on the established Figshare platform, ORDO makes it easy to link to supporting data from other publications, and provides an accessible shop window on University research. ORDO can also be used for live data storage by individual users or collaborative project groups.

Further Information: Tuesday 25th October, 10-11am Library Presentation Room
Booking Information:

Getting to Grips with Open Access Publishing

Chris Biggs (Research Support Librarian) will explore Open Access Publishing. We will cover both the Gold and Green routes to Open Access, the benefits of Open Access and the different Open Access Policies researchers now operate under.

Further Information: Wednesday 26th October, 10-11am Library Presentation Room
Booking Information:

Claiming your research publications: ORCIDs at the OU

Chris Biggs (Research Support Librarian) will give an introduction to Open Researcher & Contributor IDs (ORCIDs), the non-proprietary identifier for researchers that has become the de-facto standard in the community. We will explore why they are a good idea and the time saving benefits for researchers. Please bring along a mobile device – there will be time to sign up for ORCIDs, add items to your ORCID record and configure it to auto-populate with new publications.

Further Information: Friday 28th October, 10-11am Library Presentation Room
Booking Information:

Social Media, Open Access and the Institutional Repository

The impact of engaging with social media in conjunction with Open Access papers in a repository is not new and was perhaps first illustrated by Melissa Terras back in 2012 in her blog post Is blogging and tweeting about research papers worth it? The Verdict where she writes:

The papers that were tweeted and blogged had at least more than 11 times the number of downloads than their sibling paper which was left to its own devices in the institutional repository. QED, my friends. QED.”

When I review the top downloads of publications in ORO every month I see papers that have received more downloads than usual and I can attempt to see why that might be. Some months we can see how the presence of research outputs in MOOCs or OU modules increases the number of downloads of research publications.  But this month there are 2 striking examples of how social media impacts the dissemination of research publications.

The top 50 downloads from August are listed below:


The first output that interested me was at Number 6: Ferguson, Rebecca; Coughlan, Tim and Herodotou, Christothea (2016). MOOCS: What The Open University research tells us. Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, Milton Keynes.  This received 305 downloads and had only been added to the repository on the 12th August this year.  First analysis revealed that 12% of referrals in August were from Twitter and another 12% from Facebook (33% were internal ORO referrals and another 19% were from Google).  So something had happened on Twitter and Facebook that helped cause a spike in downloads of the item.

So, the first trace of twitter activity was from Rebecca Ferguson (@R3beccaF) herself on 12th August:

This was followed by another tweet by Gabriel Dumouchel (@gdumouchel) on the 18th August:

A blogpost by Willem van Valkenburg was also published on the same day


and a Facebook post by Hubert Lalande on the 19th: 46970Facebook Finally, there was a tweet on 13th September by MOOC Knowledge (@MOOCknow):

And if you map that activity against the daily download log, this is what you get:


The second item to grab my attention was at Number 12: Gray, Joshua; Franqueira, Virginia N. L. and Yu, Yijun (2016). Forensically-Sound Analysis of Security Risks of using Local Password Managers. In: 1st International Workshop on Requirements Engineering for Investigating and Countering Crime, 13 September 2016, Beijing, IEEE. This had been added to ORO on the 26th July and received 200 downloads during August.  The referrals were even more intriguing as nearly half (48%) were from Twitter (a further 18% were internal and 11% were from Google)… so to the twitter trail.

On 13th August the ORO record was tweeted by K.M.Gallagher (@ageis):

Followed on the 15th by Brandon Smith (@muckrakery) with a response from Julia Angwin (@JuliaAngwin)

It was also posted on EventRegistry on 23rd August:

46871EventRegistry Finally, it was tweeted by the conference organiser (@iRENIC_workshop) as Best Long paper (but with no link!)

and if you map all that activity onto the daily downloads this is what you get:

PASSWORDMANAGERSTIMELINE OK, so my trawl through the social media isn’t exhaustive – I’m sure there are activities I’ve missed, but I think it’s still instructive:

  • Using social media can have an enormous impact on the reach of an Open Access publication
  • The greatest dissemination of a research output may not be the result of an author (or co-authors) intervention in social media – but someone completely off the radar.
  • Twitter and Facebook usage can both impact on the reach of any particular research output, they aren’t mutually exclusive and both serve the required function.
  • Not all tweets are equal, some are more valuable than others.
  • and always add a link to the paper!

Finally, looking at the tweets and posts I was struck at how those that had the most impact on downloads were also the most eye-catching.  These were tweets with photos of the abstract of the conference item or posts with the cover of the MOOC report.  The images certainly makes them stand out in the timeline and there is some thinking to suggest tweets with images and links are more likely to get noticed.

Why embargo periods are bad for academic publishers

The recent EU Competitiveness Council’s Conclusions on The transition towards an Open Science system calls for “immediate open access as the default by 2020, using the various models possible and in a cost-effective way, without embargoes or with as short as possible embargoes”.  That’s both great and ambitious.

The International Association for Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) responded to this statement with the concern “suggested embargo periods which do not take into account the long-term sustainability of continued quality content generation”.  The conventional wisdom being is that no embargo periods, or very short embargo periods, undermine the existing subscription based business model as Author Accepted Manuscripts will be freely available at the same time, or very soon after, the final published versions.  These published versions either require an institutional subscription to access or a hefty one-off fee for downloading individual articles.  Given, this choice why would anyone pay for the research article?

Entertainingly, the Secretary General of the League of European Research Universities (LERU) Kurt Deketelaere has called the STM response “2,5 pages of nonsense” and those academic publishers that require embargo periods would do well to reflect on their reliance of this argument when justifying them.

Firstly, the BIS Report on Open Access in September 2013 states that “there is no available evidence base to indicate that short or even zero embargoes cause cancellation of subscriptions.”  Referencing the PEER (Publishing and the Ecology of European Research) project of 2012, the report goes on to state that “traffic to journal websites increased when articles were made available through a publicly accessible repository, possibly because interest grew as articles were disseminated more widely.”  So the logic in the first instance, may well be flawed.

Secondly, what publisher embargoes are doing is driving researchers away from legitimately making their research outputs more freely available.  As a practitioner that is what I see on the ground.  When researchers deposit their Author Accepted Manuscript to our Institutional Repository only to find that there is a 12 or 24 month embargo on that output being freely available they turn around and say… “Well that’s not Open Access is it?” and they are right.

Faced with this scenario what options are there for researchers?  We’ll plenty, the two obvious ones are, and ResearchGate, both are busting at the seams with content that shouldn’t really be there.  Failing that researchers can upload papers to personal websites or they can share articles using #icanhazpdf or they might not even have to do anything and get their papers shared for them via Sci-Hub.

Academic publishers like Elsevier, Wiley and Taylor & Francis should reflect that long embargo periods are limiting the effectiveness of legitimate Green Open Access and speeding up alternative models of content sharing that are much more threatening to them than the perceived impact of Green Open Access.







Doing Open Access and Being Open Access

As we deal with the increased deposit in the institutional repository precipitated by the HEFCE Open Access Policy it rather strikes me that our increased activities meeting the policy can be seen as doing Open Access but is it really being Open Access?
open-access-graphic-e1338824885146More researchers are conscientiously depositing Author Accepted Manuscripts into ORO to meet the requirement of the HEFCE policy, and in doing so they might think they are Open Access.  But when we have to apply lengthy embargo periods of 12 months, 18 months or 24 months, is this really Open Access?  For me it isn’t, and the increased activity in doing Green Open Access (for us depositing in ORO) brings into stark focus the drawbacks of Green Open Access as defined by the HEFCE policy (specifically allowing longer publisher embargoes than other OA policies).

Complying with publisher embargoes is most keenly felt by Institutional Repositories.  Academic Social Networking sites like ResearchGate don’t pay any attention to them, they are irrelevant to preprint servers (arXiv) and posting on personal websites takes the risk from an institutional level to an individual level, where people are consciously or unconsciously ignoring publisher restrictions.  (In fact in some instances publishers only have embargoes on Institutional Repositories and not on personal websites).

So publisher embargoes affects the efficacity of Institutional Repositories in doing Open Access the most.  And we should be keenly aware of developments in scholarly communications that attempts to do open access, or should I say “content sharing”, in different ways to the traditional routes of Green and Gold Open Access.

SciHub is the most disruptive, a pirate bay for scholarly publications, if you like.  Academic Social networking sites like ResearchGate and are perhaps the most prevalent.  Traditional publishers like Springer/Nature are innovating and developing services that allows content to be read, streaming scholarly publications, but not be downloaded or saved, and almost certainly not, Text and Data Mined (TDM).

So even though researchers are being expected to use Institutional Repositories more to do Open Access.  These places may not be the best place to be Open Access.

And so what happens when a researcher deposits an item in our Institutional Repository only to find a 24 month embargo applied to the item?  What do they then do, and where do they actually go, to be Open Access?

The Rise of Preprints

bioRxivThere has been a host of media coverage on the growth of preprints in scholarly communications recently. The continuing adoption of bioRxiv a preprint server for biology has been reported in mainstream media, in The New York Times and Wired as well as scholarly journals (Nature).


Preprint servers are, of course, not new.  arXiv has served the the physical sciences and mathematics for the best part of 20 years.  In fact arXiv is the most popular repository of scholarly papers in the world with well over a million papers freely available.

So what to make of it?  Will bioRxiv succesfully follow in the tracks of arXiv? Firstly let’s define the practice.

A preprint is a research paper that is posted to a server before it has been submitted for publication to a journal.  As such it has not gone through formal peer review, or been type set, copy edited or any other of the services offered by traditional publishing.

The preprint is posted for good reasons:

  • Speed.  A preprint is posted online immediately once research has been conducted, getting results out to the research community immediately without having to wait for a publisher to arrange peer review and conduct other publisher add on services.  Research papers posted on preprint servers are more likely to benefit from early citations.
  • Instant peer review. A preprint can garner a mass of comments and feedback that traditional closed peer review cannot match.  These comments can be incorporated into the final version of the paper that is finally published in a journal.

And that raises an important point… does posting preprints undermine the traditional process of publishing in a journal.  Spotting a good story most of the news outlets focus on this, the headlines say it all: Handful of Biologists Went Rogue and Published Directly to Internet (NY Times) and A Rainbow Unicorn Wants to Transform Biology Publishing (wired).

Some researchers may well feel this.  Frustrated with the time delays between submission and final publication, and with potentially little actually being gained by the peer review process. And why, in a networked world, should scholarly communications remain in thrall to academic journals?

One scenario is that if scholarly communications are freely available on preprint servers then what is the requirement for costly subscriptions to academic journals? And (so it goes) traditional publishers may choose to restrict the preprint culture by refusing to accept papers that have already been disseminated by the preprint route.

However, that is not the only scenario, as one commentator points out “It’s not beer or tacos, it’s beer AND tacos.” Posting preprints provides the key benefits of quick dissemination and instant feedback whilst the journal provides add on publication services (type setting and copy editing) and a final published version with whatever prestige is associated with that particular journal.

There remain other concerns with preprints.

  • Early Career Researchers may be more dependent on gaining prestige and reputation than established researchers and so are more likely to seek publication in established journals that may not allow preprints.
  • Should you cite preprints (when there is no currently no final published version to cite, or even, if the final version turns out to be substantially different to the preprint version). The answer is, yes, cite the preprints you use, albeit this means a citation count is likely to be distributed across different versions of a research paper.
  • Having your research scooped (either in it’s entirety or in having it used to improve a competitor’s research) is a foreboding concern.  And as such will be a central plank of those that will advocate against preprints.  The Selfish scientists Guide to Preprint Posting suggests posting at point of submission to the journal “At this point, the risk of being scooped is small, while the benefits of preprint precedence and early citation are still substantial.”

rainbow unicorn

So there is some way to go before the rainbow unicorn sings.

However, if preprints work in the biological sciences where might it spread next?  Which disciplines might follow suit?

And what role might existing institutional repositories have in disseminating preprints?