26 April 2014

Tiered support services - useful info from the AeRO IT User Support Project

In this post, I want to highlight the new IT User Support Project site recently launched by AeRO (Australian eResearch Organisations). In particular there are some good resources that provide a plain English overview of tiered support services, which may be an unfamiliar concept to some librarians working in research support.

My place of work, like many other universities, has a converged model for delivering library and information technology services. This has a lot of benefits for librarians with a hybrid skillset, a desire to work in multidisciplinary teams, and an interest in areas such as research data management where collaboration across organisational boundaries is essential. There are also challenges, of course, including coming to grips with terminology and ways of working that are not what you may be used to (and that probably didn't get a mention in library school!).

Many IT services are now developed and managed in line with the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), "a set of practices for IT service management (ITSM) that focuses on aligning IT services with the needs of business." As someone not previously exposed to ITIL, I am finding this approach to service development can take a bit of getting used to. It is worth trying to get your head around some of the basics though, as it is really relevant to academic libraries as well as IT. If you are interested in finding out more, I highly recommend a 2007 Red Dirt Librarian blog post by Carolyn MacDonald (Associate Director of Library and Learning Services at Griffith University) as a starting point.

One widely adopted idea from ITIL and similar service development frameworks is that of multi-tiered support. If you have heard people in your organisation talk about Tier 0, Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 support and wondered what on earth they meant, then head on over to the new AeRO support site. On the FAQs page, the section "What is Tier 0, 1, 2 & 3 support?" provides a plain English description of the different tiers, with examples. The focus is technical rather than on library services but you'll get the gist behind the multi-tiered model, which is to effectively use self-help materials and service desks to meet simpler needs while highly skilled staff only spend time on more complex activities.

Within a larger suite of Good Practice Guides (all of which are worth a look), I found Tier 0 Materials and Escalation of Support Incidents most relevant to my current work on a support model and self-help materials for a new private cloud storage service for research data. The Tier 0 guide provides advice about how to create effective FAQs and user manuals, while the guide to escalating service incidents includes a great diagram showing a draft protocol for moving support requests through the different tiers. Importantly, this diagram shows how Tier 0 self-help materials should be updated continuously, as patterns are identified and solutions are documented during the resolution of higher tier requests.

If I have one criticism of this new site it is that AeRO has chosen to retain all rights over the content rather than apply an open licence. I hope AeRO might revisit this decision in future so that these useful resources can find a wider audience outside those directly involved in technical support.

06 April 2014

How should institutions respond to changes in journal data policies?

The Public Library of Science (PLOS) recently announced some changes to its data policy that immediately affected authors submitting manuscripts to any of the PLOS suite of high profile journals. From 1 March 2014, authors must submit a data availability statement. Unless exceptional circumstances apply, the data that supports the findings in an article must be made publicly available under conditions no more restrictive than a Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC-BY).

I don't intend to discuss the mixed responses that the PLOS announcement generated: Carly Strasser's blog post, Lit Review: #PLOSFail and Data Sharing Drama, provides an excellent overview if you are interested in this. Rather, I want to talk about how this policy change represents an opportunity to raise awareness amongst researchers of institutional infrastructure (such as repositories that can be used to publish data) and advisory services.

When I first read the announcement, my initial thought was that I needed to find out which Griffith researchers had already published in PLOS (on the assumption that if they've been published there before they might try there again). I wasn't sure of the extent to which our researchers may have targeted PLOS previously and following on from that, what the likely impact of the PLOS changes would be at our institution.

It turns out that PLOS is a significant publisher of Griffith research. Over the time period since 2000 (when PLOS began), more than 200 Griffith-affiliated authors published more than 200 papers in PLOS journals. This represents about 2.3% of the Griffith journal articles published in that time period; PLOSOne was the journal with the fourth highest number of articles by Griffith researchers. This was far more than I was expecting! On an annual basis, this could translate into a pretty substantial number of supplementary datasets that need to be made openly available as per the policy. Even if our researchers are depositing elsewhere in subject repositories (which seems likely, given the subject areas the PLOS journals cover), we'd still like to be capturing metadata for them locally so that they appear in researcher profiles in the Griffith Research Hub and can be harvested by our national registry, Research Data Australia.

I've been thinking that a 1-2 pager (possibly accompanied by the PLOS FAQs) on what this means for Griffith researchers could be prepared quite quickly. This could go out to the Research Committee meetings of our four Academic Groups (particularly the Health and Science groups), to the directors and managers of our research centres and institutes by email, and to the research community as a whole through our Information Services newsletter and university-wide fortnightly Griffith News email. It would be good to work on this in partnership with our Office for Research and we'd probably need to cover:

  • what the changes are
  • how those changes will directly affect researchers, and
  • what relevant support the University has in place, including institutional repositories and Digital Object Identifier (DOI) minting, and advice on subject repositories.
One of the things I'm not sure about is whether to focus just on the PLOS changes or more generally on journal policies for data sharing. Our team (eResearch Services) has already been contacted by a researcher from our Institute for Glycomics about the policy change at PLOS. Coincidentally, only a week later a similar request came through from a researcher in another institute targeting a Nature Publishing Group journal. Like PLOS, NPG's data policy has significantly changed in recent times. At Griffith far fewer researchers have published in NPG journals than in PLOS journals (about a quarter of the number noted above) but maybe it still warrants a mention? Or should we be looking at the overall findings of the JISC-funded Journal Research Data Policies Project (JoRD) and coming up with a broader message for researchers around shifts in the publishing industry, rather than focusing on specific journals?

It seems likely that these policy changes will spark new conversations with some of our top researchers. How is your institution responding to these policy changes by the publishers? Will you highlight these changes through direct communication with your researchers, or will you respond on demand as researchers become aware of new requirements at the time they are submitting? Do you think there is greater benefit in highlighting the policy changes of specific journals, or in promoting more general trends in scholarly publishing, including the emergence of data journals? I'd love to hear how others plan to respond.

01 April 2014

Research data, libraries and the long haul

Let’s persevere with what we can persevere with,
preferably today rather than tomorrow.
- Vincent Van Gogh
Earlier this year I presented an overview of research data management in Australian libraries to a large group of library practitioners with an interest in research support. I opened my session with the following quote:
The role of information professionals (e.g. librarians, archivists, data managers) is unclear. Some see data curation as an obvious extension of work already happening in institutional repositories, with libraries providing continuity of service, networks of useful relationships, and expertise in managing intellectual property. However, most libraries are not resourced or staffed to cope with the new demands of data archiving functions on top of their current activities.
The paragraph was from a conference report that I had written after the first eResearch Australasia event in Brisbane in mid-2007. Seven years, three jobs and two cities later, it still seems pretty accurate.

Of course, many things have been achieved in this time period by libraries in Australia, which have:
We have a long way to go though. In 2014, we are still talking about research data management as an 'emerging' professional concern rather than as something that urgently needs to be prioritised by institutions and individuals. Promising project work that was funded in many university libraries by external grants from ANDS has not yet been translated into sustainable services and significant measurable change in the way that research data is captured, managed and published (kudos to eResearch@Flinders for inspiration on this front). Uptake of infrastructure could be improved as part of a more comprehensive approach to researcher engagement. There is huge scope to integrate research data skills initiatives with existing information literacy and/or workplace training programs, and to have sessions designed and delivered by library staff with more appropriate expertise in teaching and learning. For many librarians who have not yet been directly involved, the synergies between their current roles and these new undertakings, and the pathways into such work, remain unclear despite increasing pressure to 'upskill' to meet new demands.

I'll be using this blog to describe the work that I do day-to-day in eResearch (also called eScience and cyberinfrastructure in other parts of the world) and research data management. I'll be sharing practical strategies that other information professionals can try in their institutions and hope that these posts might demystify this kind of work for other librarians wanting to move into similar roles. From 1 April 2014, I am moving sideways into a new job at Griffith University with a stronger change management focus so the people side of things will be to the fore. While I'm interested in repositories, metadata and storage solutions, I'll be paying more attention to topics such as communications, skills development, policy, business processes and cultural change.