LSE Library and a REF call-out: lessons

In the second of his two guest posts, Neil Stewart identifies lessons from managing a call-out for publications for REF assessment at the London School of Economics.

If you would like to contribute a guest-post to the UKCoRR blog, please contact a member of the committee.

At the recent RSP event on Readiness for REF (which I blogged about on this blog), my former LSE colleague Dave Puplett and I presented on our experience of managing a call-out for publications for REF assessment. The presentation was qualitatively different from the other presentations at the event, because it was on the managerial and organisational issues surrounding management of publications for REF purposes.

The slides from the presentation, which detail LSE Library’s experience (full disclosure: I have now moved on to City University London, where I manage City Research Online) of managing the call-out and subsequent influx of publications, can be downloaded from the RSP site (Powerpoint link). Instead of re-hashing the whole presentation, I thought I would take the opportunity to detail some of the lessons learnt, which are hopefully of general applicability to repository people.

Lesson 1: dealing with REF matters puts you at the heart of things
When LSE Research Online (LSERO) was chosen as the de facto method of managing REF data, LSERO became a much higher strategic priority for the School. This is of course excellent for the service, and it had been the case that the LSERO team and Library management had been plugging away to make this happen for a very long time. However, it’s also an opportunity that must be seized, because missing it could have meant that the repository would have been side-lined, and new methods to manage this process would have been found. At LSE, this meant that resources to adequately manage things had to be found, which meant diverting resources from elsewhere to allow this to happen. The REF is too important to ignore: get it right, by allocating adequate resource and managerial effort, and the repository gains profile and prestige; but getting it wrong could be disastrous.

Lesson 2: if you didn’t talk to the Research Office before, you soon will
The REF call-out at LSE was instigated by the Research Office. While that team had been close allies during the RAE in 2008, the call-out meant that we really had to start working with them more closely well in advance of the REF. This soon fostered a productive relationship, and allowed us to use the Research Office’s channels of communications with which to talk to departments. It also gave us the authority to standardise the way in which publications data was reported upon, since the combined weight of the LSERO team and Research Office left departments with little choice!

Lesson 3: it’s possible to use the ePrints (and presumably DSpace) back-end to perform database query magic
If you’re lucky enough to have a friendly IT person who can run SQL database queries (or if you have that skill yourself) then get in touch with them when you have to start thinking about REF matters. Being able to access then manipulate data direct from the repository’s database is invaluable, because it allows you to create customised reporting data based upon any criteria you might wish to include.

Lesson 4: issues of disambiguation get thrown into sharp relief
Dealing with REF publications data brought up those old librarianship questions which are probably familiar to all of us. Two in particular came into relief particularly strongly:

  • Which department do academics really live in? Academics can have multiple allegiances, to their department(s), research centre(s) and other parts of the university (e.g. the senior management team). Where, for REF purposes, should an academic be placed? If “units of assessment” do not correlate with departments, how does the repository map this? These are of course as much questions for the Research Office as they are for repository teams, but nevertheless they must be tackled.
  • When do academics start (and finish) their careers with parent institutions? How much data from before (and after) these dates should the repository hold, for REF purposes?

The above points (and I’m sure other people can think of others) points to the need to have a CERIF-ied repository system, which links into other university-wide systems, and which may be able to solve these problems of ambiguity.

Lesson 5: in-press and submitted publications are hard to deal with
Be very careful about how forthcoming publications are dealt with. The problem here is one of recording this data in a non-public forum, which can still be reported back to departments in a useful fashion. Many academics will feel that you are jeopardising their chances of publication by including a citation to an in press item in the live repository without their say-so.

Lesson 6: don’t let Open Access be forgotten about!
All of the above sounds like work that could usefully be done by a CRIS, and makes no mention of the primary goal of (most) repositories, which is providing openly accessible research. There is a great danger, in my view, that open access can be overwhelmed by the needs of REF reporting, particularly if the repository team has to devote extra resource to dealing with this. How to balance open access and REF is an open question, and one that the LSERO team are still pondering. One benefit of the REF exercise is that it has made LSERO “complete” (regarding citations, at least), which might be a way of further pushing the open access agenda from a position of strength.

I’m sure there are plenty of other lessons that people could add to this list, judging by discussions at this event and elsewhere- please add them (or any other comments) in the comments section below.

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