Making time for a change.

Every semester we seem to run through the same lists of why “this is a really busy time”: the semester starts, holiday weekends, midterms, admissions deadlines, grant deadlines, finals. We all know the list. When I first started as a Scholarly Communication Librarian, a faculty member told me we could work on digitizing his journal “maybe in a semester or two,” and I privately laughed at the elongated timeline. But that is the reality—he really didn’t have time for a few semesters. By the time we got back to the project, I understood that more and more this is the story of academia, and libraries especially: one of doing more with less, of innovations that are exciting and pile on top of existing work. This has only been exacerbated by the increased and diversified demands of supporting online and hybrid learning to promote safety during the ongoing global pandemic.

Many libraries are experiencing not only increased work, but furloughs, budget cuts, hiring freezes, discontinued professional development, and the need to work through new challenges. How are we coping with these changes and continuing to provide the services that we have historically offered? Is the time saved from not traveling to conferences enough?

When we switched to fully online learning in the spring, librarianship felt like triage. This fall, many universities changed their learning modality, and will continue to “pivot” as safety conditions and health recommendations change. In all this emergent effort, it has been a struggle to find the time and energy for the more mundane tasks and repository work that drive access and advance scientific discovery.

In the spring of 2020, I had big plans to shake up my repository request and deposit processes with a tool I had been working on for over a year with the team at Open Access Button. When we were user testing in November 2019, a researcher said, “you might want to wait to roll out a new system—we are switching accounting systems next month. Let it be one at a time.” That made sense at the time: let’s not overtax our colleagues. Was the middle of a massive switch to online education the right time to introduce another new tool for my beleaguered faculty? On top of prep time for video lectures, virtual office hours, distanced lab use, and new assessments, somehow, the answer had to be “yes.”

Introducing Shareyourpaper.org to our repository and authors.

Testing a new process is always tricky. When switching our institutional repository manuscript request process from one that had solidified over the past five years to a new one, I felt both excitement and trepidation: Would it work? Probably. Would authors respond? Maybe. Is now the right time, the right day, the right hour? I had no idea. Testing a new process in a pandemic is totally new territory. We went ahead with the trial anyway.

Replacing a process where we pulled in citations with MSU affiliation, performed copyright clearance, then sent an email asking for the appropriate version of a paper (and then another email to ask for the postprint instead of the publisher’s PDF we are often sent), this new tool automates the copyright clearance and version checking processes while collecting detailed metadata and deposit information.

On my end, setup was easy. Shareyourpaper.org led me through a setup process that collected my contact information, repository name, deposit preferences, and OA policies at my institution, and customized some code that I could copy and paste into my library web page. With my basic (read: very basic) HTML skills, I was more than qualified to set up the service in about 7 minutes.

Trust in the system.

Retraining authors is a bit less straightforward. Six months into using Shareyourpaper.org as part of my permissions and request workflow for my institutional repository, the email still reads, “We are piloting a new system to make deposit easier and faster.” Recognizing that change is slow in academia and that it will take time to rebuild trust in the deposit system, we will be “piloting” this process for at least a year.

So far, the system works exactly as it should 99% of the time (and those 1% bugs are being worked through as I type), and my authors are really excited about the ease and efficiency of the system—we had 20% request fulfillment in the first 24 hours of sending out the latest batch. With a reminder email, we are collecting over 55% of our requested articles. And still, I’m going to be cautious.

Over the past few years (May 2017 to April 2019), our positive response rate to requests for papers was 43%! For a medium-sized public university without a mandate or open-access policy, we were doing really well. And yet, so much time was spent doing the rote work of checking and rechecking journal policies, finding the right metadata, and emailing authors for the right version of the paper. The folks at Open Access Button built Shareyourpaper.org to solve those time and technical issues; my job is to transfer the trust authors have in libraries and the repository process.

While we haven’t perfected all of our internal processes yet, the introduction of Shareyourpaper into our workflow has decreased the time spent sending out article requests and doing copyright clearance from nearly 2 1/2 days (for about 100 articles) to close to 2 1/2 hours!

I’m confident that once authors use the Shareyourpaper.org system they will be won over—it is clear, easy, and quick to post their manuscripts. Still, getting folks to click through a new process can be a challenge. Even authors’ responses to our older emails varied by time of year. Some times of year have proven to be more fruitful than others. Specifically, request batches that go out in April, mid-August through September, and December have averaged over 45% successful deposits. Why are those times more amenable to authors? That’s a question I will probably save for less “unprecedented” times.

In a hiring freeze, efficiency is key.

Since we won’t be gaining staff time anytime soon and I want to make sure I spend time on outreach, education, relationship building, and figuring out the legality of online course reserves, we need to keep refining our processes. This tool makes that possible for IR.

The bottom line is, even through the disruption and burnout of the pandemic, we are spending less time per deposit and getting almost 15% more positive responses using the Shareyourpaper.org tool for our repository.

And, access to current literature is more important than ever. So is saving time.