Monday, 8 May 2017

Predatory Publishers - Problem or Business Model?

A lot of the training I give as part of my role happens as a result of questions and interest from Cambridge librarians. Like a Bat Signal, if they're getting questions on a particular scholarly communication topic that they don't know how to answer I step in with some training. Recently I started getting a lot of questions about so-called 'predatory publishers' so last month I put together a training session on how best to determine if a certain publisher is appropriate to your work. The following blog post summarizes this training and my slides can be found at the end.

What do we mean by the term 'predatory publisher'?

So-called predatory publishers are a growing phenomenon in the world of academic publishing. These firms typically contact potential authors directly via email offering a chance to publish. To the novice researcher this can seem like a very tempting offer but it often comes with a sting in the tail. Unhelpfully there isn't one single definition you can point to to showcase what a predatory publisher is and the more you explore the topic the more it becomes clear that the term can mean different things to different people. 

Most librarians will have heard of predatory publishers thanks to the (in)famous Beall's List maintained by Jeffrey Beall, a scholarly communication librarian from the University of Colarado. Beall maintained a list of publishers which in his words "unprofessionally exploit the gold Open Access model for their own profit" (paywalled article - ironically). This list was removed without warning at the start of 2017 causing a number of online conspiracy theories about the reasons why to develop. 

Essentially predatory publishers are taken to be those who charge a fee for the publication of either articles or books without providing any of the publication services an author would expect such a fee to cover. This exploits the Open Access publishing model which charges for publication but provides author services such as peer review to ensure that academic standards are met. Missing out these important steps can result in bad quality research entering the scholarly landscape. 

Some of these publishing firms have also started to branch out into academic conferences. Having received a few invitations myself I know that these these can be very flattering but a quick Internet search will show that the reality of these events is not always so great. There are reports of several conferences being held at the same time in small hotels with little room and time for interaction with colleagues. Sometimes big names on the programme fail to turn up having never been contacted in the first place. As speakers have to pay to attend these events it can often prove to be a waste of money for little gain in academic reputation. 

Are these publishers a problem?

It depends on what you want from the publication process. Traditionally the motivation for publishing your work includes enhancing your reputation and visibility as an author and getting recognition of the work you have done. Some so-called predatory publishers meet this need but there are significant downsides. Many of these firms will do nothing to enhance an author's reputation and in extreme cases it may even result in damage. Even if your research is sound the lack of editorial and peer review services means it may end up sitting alongside work that is substandard or even wrong. 

Typically publishing with one of these firms means that the author has signed a copyright transfer agreement which may mean that they lose the right to use their material in better publications. Even if the work can be withdrawn at a later stage this often incurs a hefty fee and the damage may already have been done.

Having said this there is an argument that these publishing models are fulfilling a need. Different countries have different academic reward systems and if what you need is a physical copy of your work then this is a business model which works for you. In some countries it is also common to see authors trying to avoid the risk of (and lengthy time associated with) rejection by traditional publishers. If these researchers are prepared to pay to see their work in print should be just accept that these publishers are going to work to meet this need?

Checklist of things to consider

So given all this how do you spot a predatory publisher? There are a number of factors you can think about but be careful not to consider them in isolation. Just because a publisher meets one of the criteria doesn't mean they're not legitimate.

  • Transparency - a good publisher will share their information and details such as location, contact information and a mission statement should be easy to find. If a publisher claims to focus on a huge range of topics then treat with caution as this may indicate a for-huge-profit approach. If you receive an invitation to publish then check it's from a professional address rather than something personal like Gmail. Check for spelling and grammatical mistakes but be aware of cultural differences which may explain overly formal language.
  • Indexing - being listed in the typical indexes and databases for their discipline is a good sign but remember that there may be perfectly valid reasons why a particular title doesn't appear (it may be too niche or new). If you can't find a specific title then check for others by the same publisher.
  • Quality of previous publications - look at previous articles in the journal in question. Do these look like good quality articles or are there spelling and grammatical mistakes? Does the abstract make sense? Some journals have been known to publish abstracts with mistakes because they simply don't understand the terminology of the subject.
  • Fees - any author fees should be clearly accessible and explained prior to publication. Be aware of hidden fees - if the journal starts asking for extra payments then alarm bells should be ringing.
  • Copyright - if the publisher claims to be making the work available Open Access then check whether a Creative Commons or other type of open licence is being used to make sure that the resource is available. The publisher should also be upfront about the rights that the author will retain after publication.
  • Peer review - robust peer review is key to the academic publishing process and a good publisher should set out clear guidelines for both authors and reviewers. Be wary of the promise of review periods which seem to be fast - these are often too good to be true and may indicate a lack of thoroughness.
  • Editorial board - members should be listed on the website, with a named person acting as Editor in Chief. These people may be names you recognize but they should have some connection with the field the journal is publishing in. It may also be worth checking the web presence of some of the members to see if they mention their affiliation with the journal as some publications have been known to use the names of people without actually asking them!
  • Website quality - check that the website looks professional but be aware of cultural differences here. What may look sophisticated to someone from a large UK university may be out of reach of a smaller publisher in another country.

Above all, trust your judgement

If something doesn't feel right then you need to investigate further. Think of the publication process as you would online shopping - if a shop looks unreliable you are unlikely to give them your credit card details so exercise a similar level of caution!

For those who prefer their information in a more visual form the (slightly edited) slides from my presentation can be found below.


Thursday, 4 May 2017

My Role as a Social Media Editor: One Year On

Last year I wrote about my new role as Associate Editor (Social Media) on the Board of the New Review of Academic Librarianship. It's been a bit of a challenge at times but I've also learnt a lot from my experiences - something which has been really useful for my role within scholarly communication. 

When I took on the role I was interviewed about my plans and earlier this year I was contacted to do a follow up on the last twelve months. It's been a busy and exciting time for the journal as we've worked to establish our social media presence. The interview can be found here or by clicking the image below.


Thursday, 27 April 2017

Libraries’ Role in Teaching the Research Community – LILAC 2017



This post is reblogged from Unlocking Research, the blog of the Office of Scholarly Communication, Cambridge.


LILAC (Librarians’ Information Literacy Annual Conference) is one of the highlights of the information profession calendar which focuses on sharing knowledge and best practice in the field of information literacy. For those who don’t know information literacy is defined as:

Knowing when and why you need information, where to find it and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner (CILIP definition)

Showcasing OSC initiatives

Since it was my first time attending it was a privilege to be able to present three sessions on different aspects of the work done in the OSC. The first session I ran was an interactive workshop on teaching research data management using a modular approach. The advantage of this is that the team can have several modules ready to go using discipline specific examples and information, meaning that we are able to offer courses tailored to the exact needs of the audience. This works well as a teaching method and the response from our audience both in Cambridge and at LILAC was positive.

There was an equally enthusiastic response to my poster outlining the Supporting Researchers in the 21st Century programme. This open and inclusive programme aims to educate library staff in the area of scholarly communication and research support. One element of this programme was the subject of my final LILAC contribution – a short talk on the Research Support Ambassador Programme which provides participants with a chance to develop a deeper understanding of the scholarly communication process.

As well as presenting and getting feedback on our initiatives the conference provided me with a chance to hear about best practice from a range of inspiring speakers. A few of my highlights are detailed below.

Getting the message out there - keynote highlights


Work openly, share ideas and get out of the library into the research community were the messages that came out of the three keynote talks from across the information world.

The first was delivered by Josie Fraser, a Social and Educational Technologist who has worked in a variety of sectors, who spoke on the topic of The Library is Open: Librarians and Information Professionals as Open Practitioners.  Given the aim of the OSC to promote open research and work in a transparent manner this was an inspiring message.

Josie highlighted the difference between the terms free and open, words which are often confused when it comes to educational resources.  If a resource is free it may well be available to use but this does not mean users are able to keep copies or change them, something which is fundamental for education.

Open implies that a resource is in the public domain and can be used and reused to build new knowledge. Josie finished her keynote by calling for librarians to embrace open practices with our teaching materials. Sharing our work with others helps to improve practice and saves us from reinventing the wheel. The criteria for open are: retain, reuse, revised, remix, redistribute.

In her keynote, Making an Impact Beyond the Library and Information Service, Barbara Allen talked about the importance of moving outside the library building and into the heart of the university as a way to get information literacy embedded within education rather than as an added extra. The more we think outside the library the more we can link up with other groups who operate outside the library, she argued. Don’t ask permission to join in the bigger agenda – just  join in or you might never get there.

Alan Carbery in his talk Authentic Information Literacy in an Era of Post Truth  discussed authentic assessment of information literacy. He described looking at anonymised student coursework to assess how students are applying what they have learnt through instruction. When real grades are at stake students will usually follow orders and do what is asked of them.

Students are often taught about the difference between scholarly and popular publications which ignores the fact that they can be both. Alan said we need to stop polarising opinions, including the student concept of credibility, when they are taught that some sources are good and some are bad. This concept is becoming linked to how well-known the source is – ‘if you know about it it must be good’. But this is not always the case.

Alan asked: How can we get out of the filter bubble – social media allows you to select your own news sources but what gets left out? Is there another opinion you should be exposed to? He gave the example of the US elections where polls and articles on some news feeds claimed Clinton was the frontrunner right up until the day of the election. We need to move to question-centric teaching and teach students to ask more questions of the information they receive.

Alan suggested we need to embed information literacy instruction in daily life – make it relevant for attendees. There are also lessons to be learnt here which can apply to other areas of teaching. We need to become information literacy instructors as opposed to library-centric information literacy instructors.

Key points from other sessions


There is a CILIP course coming soon on ‘Copyright education for librarians’. This will be thinking about the needs of the audience and relate to real life situations. New professional librarians surveyed said that copyright was not covered in enough depth during their courses however many saw it as an opportunity for future professional development. The majority of UK universities have a copyright specialist of some description, but copyright is often seen as a problem to be avoided by librarians.

There is a movement in teaching to more interactive sessions rather than just talking and working on their own. Several sessions highlighted the increased pressure on and expectations of students in academia. Also highlighted were the benefits of reflective teaching practice.

There are many misconceptions about open science and open research amongst the research community. There is too much terminology and it is hard to balance the pressure to publish with the pressure to good research. Librarians have a role in helping to educate here. Many early career researchers are positive about data sharing but unsure as to how to go about it, and one possibility is making course a formal part of PhD education.

Originally posted on Unlocking Research on March 9th 2017. Shared here via CC BY licence

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Making the Modern Academic Librarian: The Supporting Researchers in the 21st Century Programme

As if a workshop and a short talk wasn't enough, I also decided to submit a poster to LILAC 2017! The poster looked at the Supporting Researchers in the 21st Century programme at Cambridge which aims to upskill library staff in the area of scholarly communication. We are very much hoping to offer this training to a wider audience in some form so keep your eyes open! 

In the meantime my poster can be found below and further details of the programme are available here.










Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Who Educates the Educators?

Another day, another conference presentation! Today marked the end of my presenting duties at LILAC 2017 (top tip: never submit three proposals for the same conference on the assumption that it will increase your chances of the organisers choosing one!). I talked about the Research Support Ambassador Programme - an educational programme for library staff which helps to increase scholarly communication literacy. The slides from my talk can be found below and further details of the programme can be found here.



Teaching RDM: The Modular Approach

Yesterday I presented a workshop at LILAC in Swansea which looked at how we teach Research Data Management in Cambridge. We use a modular approach which allows us to take a range of ready made modules and activities to create a bespoke workshop for our audience. The presentation can be found below:



I've also shared the cards I used for the workshop activity. Participants were asked to create a workshop for the audience in their packs from a list of defined modules and activities. The cards are available here and are under a CC-BY licence meaning they can be reused. Hopefully they're helpful in planning your own RDM activities.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Event Justification Toolkit

It's conference season again! Around this time of year lots of bursary application adverts start to land in my inbox. Having won probably more than my fair share of awards to attend conferences I also get emails asking for advice on what to include in applications. I also get queries as part of my role supporting the professional development of library staff. Most of these questions revolve around how to get your boss to pay for you to go to a certain event! Again this is something I've been reasonably lucky with in the past so I pass on what tips I can. Hopefully I'll be able to put them to use myself this year.

About a year ago I put together a short toolkit on preparing a business case for event attendance to help colleagues with their applications. Although it's phrased as if talking to a line manager it can be used as an aid if you're struggling to put together a bursary application. Please do always read the guidelines for the individual bursary as they will always tell you exactly what the judges are expecting.

The toolkit can be found below and downloaded as a PDF here. I hope it proves helpful and best of luck in your applications!