1. Can you please tell us about your role?
My title is Open Access Publications Assistant for the School of Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh. I’m one of 20 full-time PA’s embedded in each of the Schools here. It’s a new role and I’ve just been in post for 4 months now. We have been hired as part of a project funded by the block grant from the RCUK. The main policy of the University of Edinburgh is to go the green route to open access. The university decided to dedicate part of the RCUK funds to hire people embedded in each School to support green OA. I think this is quite unusual as most universities decided to spend the bulk of the funds on APCs. At Edinburgh we’ve tried very much to accommodate both routes.
2. What is the purpose of your role?
The main purpose is to gather accepted manuscripts of papers from academic authors at University of Edinburgh and to upload the files in the Institutional Repository as a way of achieving green OA. The secondary purpose is to be a point of contact for OA for academics within the school and to advise staff on various options for OA publishing. For this I review papers and try to understand the author’s wishes for each paper. I look at publisher requirements and funder requirements and then present the best options to the author. It is always up to the author to make the final decision and they have the freedom to choose where they want to publish. My job is to make sure the licensing terms are adhered to, including embargo periods which I check on a case by case basis, to format the files from authors, upload the manuscripts, check any set phrases required by publishers and put up a link to the final version of the article. So far we’ve been able to accommodate all the requirements of the author, funder and publisher at same time and haven’t had any conflicts.
3. Can you describe a typical day?
Yesterday, for example, I had a meeting with the other Publications Assistants from the other Schools for an update on the project. After that I checked an email from an author who had sent me a manuscript to format. I checked the copyright, set the embargo period (we have a timer in the system so that the paper will automatically become open access next year), and uploaded the article into the Edinburgh Research Explorer, our Institutional Repository. Another author then forwarded me an email they had received from a publisher informing them that since they are RCUK funded the article would need to be published as gold OA. I assisted that author to access APC funds. I have been in my role for 4 months and I estimate that on average I have processed around 32 papers per week in the School of Chemistry. Sometimes they are 2 pages long and very quick while others might be 10-20 pages long with lots of equations etc which take much longer.
4. What are the key challenges you face?
One of the things authors are concerned with is about making the accepted version of their articles freely available online. This is especially an issue in chemistry as some of the data gets changed at the last minute. Nobody wants to have imperfect or wrong data and their name on it available on the web. To counter this I edit the accepted versions to make any final corrections so that the accepted version matches the corresponding proofs. The authors send me the proofs that have been sent to the publisher and I make any changes to the formulas and data. I then send the pdf to the author to check before uploading it to our Institutional Repository.
Also, multiple authors on a paper still cause some confusion. Who owns the manuscript and whose responsibility is it to make the article OA? This is also unclear with partially funded or multiply funded papers. If there are multiple authors then very often the paper will go in multiple IRs which leads to duplicates, unnecessary work and it takes up extra space. However, there’s no better solution at this time.
In some cases I have had meetings with authors who have taken the initiative and tried to do the self-archiving themselves. However, I’ve found that they often have trouble understanding the wording with permissions. They find it hard to understand what they can and can’t do. In my view the low take-up amongst academics is not a lack of support for OA but that they don’t have clear instructions and perhaps this is something that publishers can help with.
5. Do you have any examples of best practice when working with academics?
When I joined I set up meetings with every single academic in the School – professors, doctors, early career researchers, talking to each one about open access. I also made sure all of them were aware of the specific policies of each funder. I’ve tried to interest them in the broader philosophy of OA so that they can understand it as genuinely helping knowledge exchange and the scholarly community, as well as their own citations, rather than seeing it as an administrative chore. Generally that has worked and the academic authors are very supportive. In the most part authors send their manuscripts to me without prompting but occasionally I have to go out and approach them.
I would recommend that anybody working in this role really learns the policies from funders and publishers by heart. If you understand completely what permissions exist then you can answer queries quickly and confidently so that the authors can trust your judgement and have positive experience with the process of making their published work open access.