OpenCon 2016 Reports from Virginia Tech Graduate Students

As part of Open Access Week, the University Libraries and the Graduate School offered two travel scholarships to OpenCon 2016, a conference for early career researchers on open access, open data, and open educational resources. This is the third year we have jointly supported graduate student travel to the conference. From a pool of many strong essay applications, we chose Mayra Artiles, a Ph.D. candidate in Engineering Education, and Daniel Chen, a Ph.D. candidate in Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology. In addition, Mohammed Seyam, a Ph.D. candidate in Computer Science, attended. All were in Washington, D.C. for the conference November 12-14, and sent the reports below. Be sure to check out the OpenCon 2016 highlights.

Mohammed Seyam, Mayra Artiles, and Daniel Chen at Sen. Warner's office
Mohammed Seyam, Mayra Artiles, and Daniel Chen at Sen. Warner’s office

Mayra Artiles writes:

Being as open as possible – OpenCon 2016

This year I had the opportunity to attend OpenCon 2016 in Washington, DC. When I initially applied for the scholarship, I had a vague idea of how the Open agenda tied into my research and why was it important to me. However, I was not prepared for what the conference would spark. While in the US Open is mainly focused on open access to journals, the global idea of open is as diverse as are our problems. Interacting with people from different parts of the globe, who were amazingly passionate about Open in general, I learned that open access to journal articles is relatively a first world problem. While some countries fight for journal access, many more fight for textbooks and others fight for reliable internet. The more people I met, the more I learned how all of these unique issues are all nested under the large umbrella of making knowledge accessible on a global scale. One of the things that came out of these conversations was my involvement in a collaboration to create OpenCon Latin America – a conference similar to the one we had all just attended but held entirely in Spanish, empowering people and spreading the Open ideal in a language spoken mainly by over 425 million people.

This made me think about the following question: How can we, as Hokies, be as open as possible with our research? While fighting the academic tenure process and breaking the paradigms of open access journals is an endeavor of huge proportions, we can take small steps on being more open every day. We need to be as open as possible and as closed as necessary. It is for this reason I have made a list of steps on how we can be open today. The best part is that all these resources are open:

  1. Take stock of all your publications and make a list of the journals you’ve published or plan to publish in.
  2. Visit Sherpa Romeo and look up these journals. This page will provide information on which parts of your work are shareable and whether or not there is an embargo on your work. If you’re lucky, you can share a copy of your pre-print.
  3. Share as much as possible on repositories such as VTechWorks and other sites such as ResearchGate.
  4. Create your impact story at ImpactStory – all you need is an ORCID profile. Our work should mean more than amount of times we get cited. This website shows just that: it will give you a score for how ‘open’ is your work, show how many people saved, shared, tweeted, and cited your work and across how many channels, among other great things. As researchers, we are more than our H-index.
  5. Have a conversation with your research peers and advisors on the value of open research. While we can’t convince everybody to suddenly publish in open access, we can begin the conversation and break the paradigms. A great resource to learn more about the value of open research is Why Open Research?

OpenCon 2016 logo

Daniel Chen writes:

What is “open”? Merriam-Webster tells us that it is “having no enclosing or confining barrier: accessible on all or nearly all sides”. For OpenCon, access (to academic publications), education, and data lay at the center of its mission.

The conference brings together a select group of like-minded individuals who are all passionate towards openness. Since the conference was single-tracked, it allowed everyone to focus on the various projects, hurdles, and conversations people have about Open around the world. We had plenty of time and space to roam around American University to continue conversations. I was lucky and privileged enough to be one of the select attendees and represent Virginia Tech.

My road to Open revolves mainly though open education and open data. I teach for Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry and support NumFOCUS. It is logical then, that my definition of Open mainly focuses around open source scientific computing. It’s a very specific subset of Open, and OpenCon helped me remember what role I play in the the larger Open movement.

For me Open Education is teaching the Creative Commons-licensed Software Carpentry material the past 3 years. Over the years, my idea of open education revolved around higher education: textbooks for university students, scientific computing materials for graduate students, resources for open source. I was reminded that open education was not just for the graduate students trying to improve the quality of their research, textbooks and educational materials were not just for university students. Open education is used to teach students from all ages, lesson materials and books for elementary school, textbooks for middle school, high school, and university. It allows students and educators to invest resources in other ways to help foster better learning. Here at Virginia Tech, you may notice OpenStax books in the library, but the Rebus Community is another resource and place to get involved with open education materials.

As a data scientist, I am constantly combining disparate datasets from a myriad of sources to answer a research question. I rely heavily on open data sets. Many cities in the United States now have open data portals (e.g., NYC Open Data), and government agencies, such as the Department of Commerce house a plethora of open datasets. These datasets are great for an analyst such as myself, but open data sources such as OpenStreetMap and help with urban planning in cities and provide drug trial data and results to people all over the world.

One of my favorite parts of the conference happened on the second day when we shifted from a single-track conference to an un-conference style meeting. Attendees from the conference pitched various discussion topics, and the attendees of the conference dispersed across the American University Law School. I attended a discussion about openness in academia where we talked how we incorporate it in our academic lives. For some of us (including myself), we are lucky that our advisors understand openness. Most, if not all, of my research code has a MIT Open Source License. Others found the challenge of pushing and fighting for ‘openness’ a way of disrupting the traditional ivory tower philosophy. One attendee was an undergraduate freshman who was trying to understand what openness was and how he can incorporate it as he begins his academic career. This was a great metaphor for what OpenCon stands for, empowering and pushing openness to the next generation.

I also attended the breakout discussion about global health, where we talked about how openness plays a role in improving global health. I met many people who work in the health space, and use open data and open access sources to improve health. For example, Daniel Mietchen from the NIH is part of a global infectious disease response team to build the tools and protocols necessary to respond to the next epidemic. The 2014 Ebola and 2015 Zika outbreaks are recent reminders of how much we can improve our global response to infectious disease outbreaks. In this unconference, we also talked about drug results reporting in at The problem is that even though clinical trials are listed there, not all of the results from the trials are reported after the initial trial listing. This takes away the ability for people looking to educate themselves about various treatment options for a disease, and more pressure is needed to make sure this information is adequately distributed in a timely manner.

Our final day at the conference had everyone in the conference work in groups to talk to various funding agencies and senators about openness. Essentially, we became lobbyists for Open. I was lucky enough to be in two groups. My first group talked with Rachael Florence, PhD, the Program Director of the Research Infrastructure program at the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). We talked about how PCORI’s goal is to make study results and data more widely available, brought up the concerns about disseminating clinical trials results, and generally discussed faster reporting, lowering publication bias, reproducible research, and data sharing. We also talked about what OpenCon was, and intrigued Dr. Florence to attend next year.

My next stop was the office of Virginia Senator Mark Warner. We did not get to talk to him directly, but instead talked to his senior Policy Advisor, Kenneth Johnson, Jr. It was during this discussion that I wished we had more training on being an effective lobbyist. We only make 2 passes around the circle during our meeting. The first was introducing ourselves, and the second was how Open played a role in our lives. There was a small conversation about open data, open access, and open education for the state of Virginia, but I wished we were able to have a longer conversation. Senator Warner is already familiar with many aspects of Open, so not too much convincing was needed, but I worried about how other groups fared.

In the end, I felt OpenCon was a great experience. I made new connections with other people from all over the world, and gained new experiences on how to talk about Open. It has also given me some ideas for a side project about using data to reporting rates for various clinical trials. I hope I am lucky enough next year to attend as well, and urge everyone at Virginia Tech to learn about Open, and get involved!

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Open Science Prize Entries Show the Power of Open Content and Data – Vote for Your Favorite by Jan 6, 2017!

The Open Science Prize, encourages experimentation with open content and open data to enable discoveries that improve health and push research forward. Six finalist projects address: FDA Trials; Emerging diseases; Mental and neurological disease modeling; Open Neuroimaging data; Rare disease research; and Global air quality.

Vote for your favorite project! Voting ends January 6, 2017,11:59pm PST.

The Wellcome Trust, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have sponsored this award, “to stimulate the development of novel and ground-breaking tools and platforms to enable the reuse and repurposing of open digital research objects relevant to biomedical or health applications.” Further details about the contest are described in the Open Science Prize FAQ and in this Open Science Prize Vision and Overview from the BD2K Open Data Science Symposium, #BD2KOpenSci.

Presentation videos by each of the 6 finalist groups are available from the BD2K Open Data Science Symposium. The project titles below link to descriptions on the Open Science Prize site. Try them out and learn more about each project before you vote! Or, if you missed the vote, go explore anyway to experience these innovative platforms that make open data and research results work towards our better health:

(*Beyond the Open Science Prize, explore even more topics on Open Data and Open Research for Health via December 2016 All Hands Meeting and Open Data Symposium video archives.)

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Is There a Place for DIY in Scholarly Publishing? Lulu Says Yes (and may not be wrong)

Art from Frankfurt Bookfair, 2010 (CC0 1.0)

Lulu has announced the launch of a new online publishing platform that it is calling Glasstree. If you’ve heard of Lulu before you probably know it as one of several heavyweight players in the self-publishing arena, alongside Amazon (Kindle Direct), Apple (iBooks Author), and iUniverse. What makes the Glasstree announcement intriguing is that Lulu is explicitly setting its sights on “academic and scholarly authors and communities.” In other words, Lulu wants to be a scholarly book publisher.

What are the chances that Lulu’s experiment will succeed? At first glance, it sure seems unlikely. As popular as self-publishing has become (DIY titles account for over 40% of all trade eBook sales), any impact it has had on the academy has thus far been modest. After all, one of the bedrock principles of scholarly publishing is gatekeeping (i.e. letting in the good; keeping out the bad), a principle that seems fundamentally at odds with the self-publishing tenets of fast, easy, and low-cost. Indeed, DIY publishing companies pride themselves on minimizing the barriers to publication—surely a sign that Lulu faces an uphill battle. And yet, a closer look at the Glasstree website suggests that Lulu has a strategy that is at least worth watching.

To its credit, Lulu doesn’t hide its intentions. Visitors to the Glasstree home page are immediately greeted with a barrage of not-so-subtle one-liners aimed squarely at appealing to scholarly authors:



Glasstree Returns Control to Academic Authors


Experience Scholarly Publishing in a Whole New Way


A Better Publication Model for Academic Authors

What author doesn’t want more control over the publishing process or, for that matter, a chance to publish and prosper? You’ve certainly got my attention. Then comes the real sales pitch:

The existing academic publishing model is broken, with traditional commercial publishers charging excessive prices for books or ridiculous book publishing charges to publish Open Access books.

The give-away here is the mention of “traditional commercial publishers,” an obvious reference to the handful of conglomerate publishers that now control a sizable share of the academic monograph market—publishers including Elsevier, Springer, Wiley, and Taylor & Francis, which together churn out thousands of monographs each year at list prices that routinely exceed $100 per volume. Indeed, as one reads on it becomes clear that Lulu is appealing not so much to scholars working on their first (i.e. tenure) book but to experienced scholars; specifically, experienced scholars who have published previously with a commercial academic press and who feel burned by the experience. The following paragraphs reel off a familiar litany of complaints that one might hear outside the book exhibit hall of pretty much any scholarly conference:

Academics or their supporting institutions are poorly paid for their content. Profit margins are strongly skewed towards the publisher, with crumbs for the author and/or their employers. Submission to publication times are far too lengthy and service and marketing support insufficient.


Besides the lack of editorial assistance, marketing support, and a complete absence of urgency, traditional academic publishers are now often viewed as cherishing profits over the advancement of knowledge, and accommodate their shareholders over their authors.

Some of these complaints surely could be leveled against university presses, but the real target here is obviously commercial publishers, viz. the presses that cherish profits over advancement of knowledge while accommodating the interests of shareholders over authors. Indeed, it is this resentment-stoking aspect of Glasstree’s appeal that surely has a chance of resonating with a specific subset of authors—those both inside and outside the academy who are not subject to the pressures of tenure and promotion and therefore can afford to publish their books wherever they want. While it is hard to imagine most research universities taking a Glasstree book seriously for tenure, I can certainly see established scholars, particularly productive ones who are no longer in need of a monograph for promotion, using a service like Glasstree to publish “labor of love” books or books that grow out of side projects that wouldn’t count anyway toward career advancement—or simply books that no university press will take on. In short, Glasstree could be an attractive outlet for any number of books that typically would go to commercial academic publishers more so than university presses.

Of course, some will argue that commercial academic publishers, despite their faults, still employ peer review. It may not be as rigorous or as consistent as the peer review done by university presses, but it is certainly more than what one gets from a self-publishing company. But this is where Lulu’s plans for Glasstree really get interesting. According to the Glasstree website, Lulu is also launching Glassleaf Academic Services, which offers “peer review, all forms of editing, illustration and design, translation and professional marketing services. These services are designed for the academic community and are offered at affordable prices.” Lulu does this by offering tiered service packages (1-Star, 2-Star, & 3 Star) that start “as low as $2,625” and can go up over $8,000. Books can then be published in a variety of formats—both softcover and hardcover as well as eBooks, including Open Access eBooks.

It is unclear who will be doing all of this work but it seems that Lulu actually plans to hire living and breathing people—Content Project Managers—to at least oversee some form of peer review, copyediting, design, and marketing, even if they have some way of automating the work to exploit economies of scale. Here’s what the website specifically says about peer review:

Peer Review: Strengthening Your Content
This service is designed to save you time and effort in gathering peer reviews of your work. A Glassleaf Content Project Manager will manage the entire peer review process and consolidate feedback for you. Your Content Project Manager will compose a questionnaire and share it with you for review prior to distributing it with your content. The number of reviewers will vary according to discipline and your preference.


After the review process is complete, your Content Project Manager will provide you with the actual peer reviews and, in a summary report, will highlight significant and consistent commentary from your peers’ comments. After the report is compiled, you will meet with your Content Project Manager to review the summary of the reviewer’s commentary.

It is also worth noting that Glassleaf plans to offer 3 types of peer review: open, single blind, and double blind. Authors will be responsible for paying reviewer fees although the Content Production Manager will “negotiate the lowest possible fees on the author’s behalf.”

Caxton Showing the First Specimen of His Printing to King Edward IV at the Almonry, Westminster (Source: Cassell’s History of England, Vol. 2, 1909)

Once again, I want to reiterate my overall skepticism that this type of DIY publishing will have a serious impact, at least for now, on scholarly monograph publishing as it interlocks with the current T&P system. In this, university presses still have a unique role to play. Still, one can’t help but wonder if Lulu isn’t onto something. Might they have found a sweet spot between the two endpoints of the scholarly publishing spectrum, non-profit university presses on the one end and commercial publishers on the other? The missing piece for self-publishing companies like Lulu has always been quality control, but as the quality of commercially published books continues to fall and price tags continue to rise, the Glasstree model has some definite advantages. Even the pay-for-services aspect doesn’t seem so foreign now that various proposals are being considered for subvention-funded (i.e. pay-to-publish) OA monographs. Perhaps the emergence of companies like Glasstree will force us, at last, to get a grip on what it costs to produce scholarly books and, more importantly, find ways to actually drive down those costs.

No matter how you look at it, the once-staid world of scholarly publishing is getting messier and messier. And it’s only going to get more so. According to the Glasstree website, Lulu has its sights set on more than just books:

Glasstree, in its initial phase, will publish books—monographs, thesis, series, serials, textbooks, etc. (both soft and hardcover, with a range of paper types, binding types, etc.), and eBooks (including Open Access eBooks). Future phases will focus on article based publishing, journals, conference proceedings, data sets, etc.

We all need to brace ourselves for what lies ahead.

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Open Access Week 2016: A Recap

Virginia Tech’s fifth observance of Open Access Week took place October 24-28 with seven events, featuring a panel discussion and talks from two visiting speakers.

The first event of the week featured Brian Hole, who is CEO of Ubiquity Press. An archaeologist by training, he had experienced lack of journal access in places like India. Ubiquity Press was begun to provide a good quality, low cost open publishing platform that would be inclusive of the developing world. While the platform does operate using the sometimes controversial APC model, the costs are low ($400 standard, but can be lower depending on services provided) and are often covered by libraries so there is no cost to author or reader. Ubiquity is also involved in publishing books as well as journals for open research software, several for open data, citizen science, and an upcoming open hardware journal. The platform offers an open peer review option, which four journals have implemented. Currently publishing 42 journals, its platform will be open source, and is itself a fork of the Open Journal Systems open source code. It’s an impressive platform and openness is at its core.

On Monday evening, the forum “For the Public Good: Research Impact and the Promise of Open Access” was held, hosted by Peter Potter (Director of Publishing Strategy, University Libraries) and featuring panelists from a variety of perspectives: graduate students Siddhartha Roy (Civil and Environmental Engineering) and Mohammed Seyam (Computer Science) as well as Montasir Abbas (faculty, Civil and Environmental Engineering), Karen DePauw (Dean of the Graduate School), and Brian Hole (Ubiquity Press). The conversation was wide-ranging, covering pre-prints, publishing costs, metrics, and peer review. Other topics included the importance of open licensing for reuse of scholarly material and the role of openness for a public land-grant university. Faculty open access mandates were briefly addressed, with comments focusing on saving faculty time and showing benefits. Transparency of data and code were a theme, as well as the possibility of researching completely in the open. See the video below for the full forum (and here are Peter’s introductory slides).

Thanks to the University Libraries’ Event Capture Service for the video below.

In the session “Where Can I Post My Publications?Ginny Pannabecker and I covered the landscape for article archiving, including research networking sites, researcher profiles, disciplinary and institutional repositories, and personal and departmental websites. It’s important to know about journal permissions, which sites can host research as opposed to linking to it, and about limits to sharing and preservation on proprietary platforms. We got great feedback on this session, and one faculty member signed up for an ORCID identifier and used the new EFARS system to deposit scholarship to the VTechWorks faculty collection.

“Publishing Services at Virginia Tech,” hosted by Gail McMillan and Peter Potter covered the journal and conference hosting services provided by the Libraries. Attendees showed particular interest in the student journals hosted, such as Philologia and the Virginia Tech Undergraduate Historical Review (and more are on the way).

Veliswa Tshetsha
Veliswa Tshetsha
We were very pleased that our librarian exchange with the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town, South Africa coincided with Open Access Week, since Veliswa Tshetsha focuses on scholarly communication there. Her presentation Access to Research in South Africa gave an overview of open access initiatives in that country as well as on the continent. Recently CPUT signed the Berlin Declaration on Open Access, joining 45 other African universities. The main funding body, the National Research Foundation, like funding bodies in the U.S., is requiring article archiving, supporting article processing charges, and developing a policy on data archiving. Paywalls are only one of the problems contributing to what she referred to as an African “access drought.” Others include telecommunications access, high APC charges in some open access journals, embargoes, and researchers submitting to open access journals with little or no peer review.

The week ended with two sessions regularly offered by the Libraries. In “Scholarly Publishing Trends” I covered a lot of ground, from open science to peer review to ORCID, and Gail McMillan introduced attendees to our Open Access Subvention Fund and its guidelines.

Beyond our own events, there were other developments of note:

Thanks to all who attended an Open Access Week event, and thanks for reading!

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Dr. Malte Elson on Peer Review in Science

Few areas in scholarly publishing are undergoing the kind of examination and change that peer review is currently undergoing. Healthy debates continue on different models of peer review, incentivizing peer reviewers, and various shades of open peer review, among many other issues. Recently, the second annual Peer Review Week was held, with several webinars available to view.

Since peer review is currently such a dynamic topic, the University Libraries and the Department of Communication are especially pleased to host a talk about peer review in science by Dr. Malte Elson of Ruhr University Bochum. Dr. Elson is a behavioral psychologist with a strong interest in meta-science issues. Dr. Elson has created some innovative outreach projects related to open science, including, a site that aggregates flexible and unstandardized uses of outcome measures in research, and (in collaboration with Dr. James Ivory in Virginia Tech’s Department of Communication), a site that aggregates information about journal peer review processes. He is also a co-founder of the Society for Improvement of Psychological Science, which held its first annual conference in Charlottesville in June. Details and a description of his talk, which is open to the public, are below. Please join us! (For faculty desiring NLI credit, please register.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016, 4:00 pm
Newman Library 207A

Is Peer Review a Good Quality Management System for Science?

Through peer review, the gold standard of quality assessment in scientific publishing, peers have reciprocal influence on academic career trajectories, and on the production and dissemination of knowledge. Considering its importance, it can be quite sobering to assess how little is known about peer review’s effectiveness. Other than being a widely used cachet of credibility, there appears to be a lack of precision in the description of its aims and purpose, and how they can be best achieved.

Conversely, what we do know about peer review suggests that it does not work well: Across disciplines, there is little agreement between reviewers on the quality of submissions. Theoretical fallacies and grievous methodological issues in submissions are frequently not identified. Further, there are characteristics other than scientific merit that can increase the chance of a recommendation to publish, e.g. conformity of results to popular paradigms, or statistical significance.

This talk proposes an empirical approach to peer review, aimed at making evaluation procedures in scientific publishing evidence-based. It will outline ideas for a programmatic study of all parties (authors, reviewers, editors) and materials (manuscripts, evaluations, review systems) involved to ensure that peer review becomes a fair process, rooted in science, to assess and improve research quality.

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Fundamentals of Business : Virginia Tech’s New Open Textbook

Virginia Tech Libraries and the Pamplin College of Business are pleased to announce publication of Fundamentals of Business, a full color, 440+ page free online textbook for Virginia Tech’s Foundations of Business course. This Virginia Tech course averages 14 sections with over 700 students in Fall semesters. The textbook is an open educational resource, and may be customized and redistributed non-commercially with attribution.

Cover of Fundamentals of Business
(See cover credits below)

The book is the work of Prof. Stephen Skripak and his team of faculty colleagues from the Pamplin College of Business, Anastasia Cortes and Richard Parsons, open education librarian Anita Walz, graphic designers Brian Craig and Trevor Finney, and student peer reviewers Jonathan De Pena, Nina Lindsay, and Sachi Soni. Assistive Technologies consulted on the accessibility of the textbook.

The first openly licensed book of its kind created at Virginia Tech, the book is in direct response to two problems faced by Pamplin’s team of professors: a used edition of the previous textbook was priced as high as $215, and students were not engaged by the previous text.

Skripak and his colleagues started with an openly licensed textbook created in 2011 (licensed with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license) which legally allows modification and non-commercial redistribution with attribution. The team significantly updated, redesigned, and contributed new content to create a learning resource that fits course learning objectives and reduces student textbook costs for this course to zero. Through a grant from the University Libraries, three students were hired to peer review drafts of the text. The team worked together through details of updating data, designing new figures, and ensuring web and print-on-demand ready layout. The resulting work, Fundamentals of Business, is licensed with a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

CC-BY-NC-SA logo

In addition to faculty members’ ability to customize content and resolution of student affordability issues, the availability of an openly licensed text in common, editable file format bodes well for faculty at other institutions seeking to leverage academic freedom in support of student learning and affordability. The book is representative of a larger movement to empower faculty to freely adopt, adapt, and author a myriad of course types. We hope that many other institutions will take advantage of the opportunity to adopt, adapt or remix the book to fit their needs.

Fundamentals of Business is available in VTechWorks, Virginia Tech’s institutional repository, in PDF and editable Microsoft Word formats. Print-on-demand copies are available at the cost of manufacturing and shipping in color and black & white from Lulu Press. The book is also featured in the Open Textbook Library, OER Commons, and MERLOT II.

Credits for cover images:
Hong Kong Skyscrapers” by Estial, cropped and modified by Trevor Finney CC BY-SA 4.0; “Paris vue d’ensemble tour Eiffel” by Taxiarchos228, cropped and modified by Poke2001 and Trevor Finney CC BY 3.0; “London Bridge” by Skitterphoto, cropped and modified by Trevor Finney, Public Domain; “New York” by Mscamilaalmeida, cropped and modified by Trevor Finney, Public Domain.

Posted in Open Educational Resources, Open Textbooks, University Libraries at Virginia Tech, VTechWorks | Tagged | 1 Comment

Book Review: Understanding Rights Reversion

Open Access

Nicole Cabrera, Jordyn Ostroff, Brianna Schofield, and the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic. Understanding Rights Reversion: When, Why & How to Regain Copyright and Make Your Book More Available (Berkeley: Authors Alliance, 2015).

Although I am familiar with copyright and licensing agreements for journal articles, I am less familiar with book publishing agreements. Rights reversion for books was a new concept to me, so the first guide published by the Authors Alliance had my attention right away (the group has since published a second guide, Understanding Open Access). This guide is intended for authors who, for whatever reason, may wish to reclaim rights to their books– rights that they transferred to their publishers when they signed a publishing agreement. It’s the result of “extensive interviews with authors, publishers, and literary agents who shared their perspectives on reverting rights, the author-publisher relationship, and keeping books available in today’s publishing environment.” The guide follows an “if-then” organization, referring readers to specific chapters depending on their situation, though I read it straight through (full disclosure: I’m an Authors Alliance supporter).

Early on, the authors define rights reversion and its availability:

“a right of reversion is a contractual provision that permits an author to regain some or all of the rights in her book from her publisher when the conditions specified in the provision are met… in practice, an author may be able to obtain a reversion of rights even if she has not met the conditions stipulated in her contract or does not have a reversion clause.” (p. 6-7)

This guide is intended for authors with publishing agreements already in place; it is not a guide to negotiating contracts (though it may inspire authors to examine the details of rights reversion clauses in new contracts).

The authors note that rights reversion becomes an issue for academic authors especially when their books fall out of print, sales drop, or their publishers stop marketing their books. In such instances, authors may wish to reclaim their rights (so that they can find another publisher to reissue the book or perhaps deposit the book in an open access online repository) but they find themselves constrained by the terms of their publishing agreements or they may not understand how how to go about reclaiming their rights. With these concerns in mind, the Authors Alliance “created this guide to help authors regain rights from their publishers or otherwise get the permission they need to make their books available in the ways they want.”

An important first step in the process is for authors to learn about different ways that they might increase their books’ availability (for example, electronic, audio, and braille versions as well as translations). Next, the guide helps authors determine if they have transferred to their publishers the rights necessary to make their books available in the ways they want. Older contracts may be ambiguous regarding e-book versions; the guide advises authors on how to negotiate the ambiguity. An additional consideration is that permissions for usage of third-party content may no longer be in effect.

Some examples of reversion clauses are provided in chapter 4, pointing out triggering conditions (such as out of print, sales below a certain threshold, or a term of years), written notice requirements, and timelines. It’s important to understand how the triggering conditions are defined, as well as how to determine whether they have been met, and the authors provide good suggestions for finding this information.

The publisher’s plans for the book should be discovered, and the guide emphasizes reasonable, professional conversations with publishers. The success stories throughout the book are particularly valuable in this respect.

Chapter 6 details how to proceed if a book contract does not include a rights reversion clause:

“Ultimately, whether a publisher decides to revert rights typically depends on the book’s age, sales, revenue, and market size, as well as the publisher’s relationship with the author and the manner in which the author presents his request.” (p. 77)

Before requesting reversion, an author should have a plan in place, review all royalty statements, and discover the publisher’s plans for the book. Being reasonable, flexible, creative, and persistent are the golden rules for negotations with a publisher. Precedents can be persuasive, so inquire with friends and colleagues who are authors. If electronic access is important, be aware that many publishers are actively digitizing their backfiles. In this respect, an author might draw a publisher’s attention to the increasing evidence that open access versions don’t harm sales, and can sometimes increase them as a result of improved discovery.

Understanding Rights Reversion is itself an open access book (licensed CC BY) available online in PDF. If you would prefer a print copy, it’s available in Newman Library, or you can order one ($20) from the Authors Alliance. For more information, see the Authors Alliance rights reversion portal, which includes rights reversion case studies that occurred after the publication of this guide. The Guide to Crafting a Reversion Letter, a companion to the guide containing sample language and templates, has just been released.

Thanks to Peter Potter, Director of Publishing Strategy at the University Libraries, for his feedback on this blog post (contact him if you have questions about book publishing- he has a wealth of experience). Thanks also to the Open Library for the cover image.

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Open Data Week in Review

Last week Virginia Tech’s University Libraries hosted its inaugural Open Data Week with six programs on a variety of open data topics. The new format builds on last year’s Open Data Day, which incorporated a hackathon and roundtable discussions. However, the weekend scheduling and a conflict with spring break this year spurred us to create a new event friendlier to academic schedules, with programs throughout the week. Though we hadn’t heard of anyone having an Open Data Week before, we know that Virginia Tech is supposed to “Invent The Future,” so we did. Here’s a summary of the week’s programs.

Open Data Week logo

In our first program of the week, Data Anonymization: Lessons from an Millennium Challenge Corporation Impact Evaluation, Ralph P. Hall (Urban Affairs and Planning) and Eric Vance (Director, LISA- Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Statistical Analysis) described their evaluation of a rural water supply project in Mozambique, which involved household surveys (slides, MCC documentation).

Ralph P. Hall
Ralph P. Hall

The first lesson learned from their evaluation was that everything is linked to the informed consent. The primary takeaway here is the importance of distinguishing between anonymity and confidentiality (see slide 18), the latter of which provides researchers much more flexibility. In addition, there were difficulties with the translation of informed consent into Portuguese and local languages. Other lessons include not underestimating the time required to anonymize data, and designing surveying instruments to minimize anonymization challenges. Unfortunately, the anonymization challenges resulted in an analysis that is not reproducible and data that cannot be shared with a follow-up evaluation team. Data anonymization is a persistent and complex issue that needs to be discussed more frequently, and will certainly be on the agenda of future Open Data Weeks.

Our session on The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) featured three speakers: Wat Hopkins (Dept. of Communication), Steve Capaldo (University Legal Counsel), and Siddhartha Roy (Flint Water Study team).

Wat Hopkins
Wat Hopkins

Wat Hopkins focused on FOIA in Virginia. FOIA first emerged at the federal level from a 1964 Supreme Court case, and subsequently Virginia was among the first to implement FOIA at the state level in the late 1960s. FOIA laws vary greatly from state to state. In Virginia, FOIA applies to records and meetings. Record requests must receive a response within 5 days and do not need to be in writing (though federal FOIA does require it), and there are around 130 exemptions. Requests must come from a Virginia citizen, or a news organization with circulation or broadcast in some part of the state. For more information, see Virginia’s Freedom of Information Advisory Council, and the Virginia Coalition for Open Government’s FOI Citizens Guide. Ultimately, we can’t be responsible citizens without access to government information.

Steve Capaldo said that since Virginia Tech is a state agency, it is governed by Virginia FOIA. However, the university responds to requests from everyone, not just residents or the media, and will do so within 5 days. There are many exemptions, including some involving research (proprietary or classified research, and grant proposals), personnel records, and records involving security, such as building plans. He emphasized the importance of making requests as specific as possible in order to reduce the time and effort required to respond. And although it’s not required, Capaldo suggested that it can be helpful when requestors explain the context of their request, because sometimes information needs can be met in alternative ways.

Sid Roy, a member of the Flint Water Study team and a graduate student in Civil and Environmental Engineering, described the Flint water crisis which has spanned 18 months and affected 100,000 people. In the process, an EPA employee was silenced and the fallout has included several resignations. The crisis response involved FOIA requests to the city of Flint, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the EPA. Interestingly, federal FOIA requires an acknowledgement of the request within 2 weeks, but there is no time limit for responding with the requested information. Roy relayed the FOIA advice of the project’s leader, Dr. Marc Edwards: first, be as specific as possible in your request, and second, make requests to a related agency that is not the primary target. For example, the team made FOIA requests to Flint in order to obtain communications and data from EPA. Although we ran out of time to discuss FOIA costs, according to the Flint Water Study GoFundMe page, their FOIA expenses came to $3,180 (while you are on that page, consider a donation!). In short, Roy recommended that FOIA should be in every scientist’s toolbox.

In Library Data Services: Supporting Data-Enabled Teaching and Research @ VT , Andi Ogier gave an overview of the three services offered: education (data management and fluency), curation (capturing context and ensuring reuse), and consulting (embedding informatics methods into research, and teaching about proprietary formats and the need for using open standards). Data Services strives to help researchers have their data achieve impact on the scholarly record, remain useful over time and across disciplines, and have it openly shared for the benefit of humanity. The library helps with data management plans required by funders, and can assign DOIs to datasets. The presentation coincided with the beta release of VTechData, a data repository to help Virginia Tech researchers provide access to and preserve their data.

Show Me the (Open) Data! with librarians Ginny Pannabecker and Andi Ogier was a conversational, exploratory session devoted to identifying open data sets. At the session, they introduced a new guide to finding data, which in addition to listing data sources also includes definitions and information on citing data.

Web Scraping session with Ben Schoenfeld
Web Scraping session with Ben Schoenfeld

Scraping Websites: How to Automate the Collection of Data from the Web was led by Ben Schoenfeld of Code for New River Valley, a Code for America brigade that meets biweekly to work on civic projects. As the slides explain, some programming skills are needed to effectively obtain and clean up data from websites lacking an API, and the basic steps are outlined. The live demonstration, using local restaurant health inspection data, did a good job of showing what is possible. One of our developers in the library, Keith Gilbertson, wrote a blog post about the session and how he applied the skills he learned to a database of state salaries.

Intro to APIs: What’s an API and How Can I Use One? was led by Neal Feierabend, also of Code for NRV (slides follow the scraping slides with slide 17). After an explanation of what APIs (application programming interfaces) are and what types are available, the live demo explored a few APIs, beginning with the Google Maps API. Use of this API is free up to a certain number of page loads, and usage beyond that requires a fee– a model used by many popular APIs. This is one reason Craigslist switched from Google Maps to OpenStreetMap, which as an open mapping tool enables download of the data. Generally, good APIs are those that are well documented. Both Neal and Ben attested to the value of using Stack Overflow and searching the web when encountering coding problems. After the session I found out there are also web services for data extraction like

Thanks to all of our presenters and attendees, and please let us know if you have suggestions for Open Data Week programs. We hope to do it again next year!

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Getting to Know Open: A Grad Student’s Experiences at OpenCon 2015 in Brussels

As part of Open Access Week, the University Libraries and the Graduate School offered a travel scholarship to OpenCon 2015, a conference for early career researchers on open access, open data, and open educational resources. From a pool of many strong essay applications, we chose Sreyoshi Bhaduri, a Ph.D. student in engineering education. Sreyoshi attended the conference in Brussels, Belgium on November 13-16, and sent the report below. Be sure to check out the OpenCon 2015 highlights.

Sreyoshi Bhaduri writes:

Towards the beginning of Fall 2015, the graduate listserv announced an opportunity for a graduate student to travel to Brussels for a conference on Open initiatives. As a doctoral student starting my second year at the department of Engineering Education, I had been involved with some open education related citizen science endeavors, but was very new to the world of Open. I had always been fascinated with the idea of Open Access and Open Data, which can be understood as “unrestricted access and unrestricted reuse” of data, however I had never really delved deep into understanding and appreciating Open initiatives. Recognizing this as a perfect opportunity to learn more, I applied, detailing my interest in Open Education and eagerness to learn about the same. Application submitted, I promptly forgot about the scholarship, as course-work and exams and deadlines engulfed and occupied all thoughts and activities. On a busy evening in September as I sat finishing an assignment, I received an email from the University Library informing me that I had been selected for the scholarship. I was to represent Virginia Tech at the OpenCon 2015 in Brussels, scheduled for November 2015. This was the start of my journey to getting to know the Open community, and I slowly become an advocate for all things Open.

The message from the University Libraries notifying me of the travel scholarship was followed by an email from the OpenCon organizers, who warmly welcomed me to join their community. I was directed to a pre-OpenCon webcast, which helped me understand the basics of Open Data, Open Access, and Open Education. I was also asked to join in on a community call, and introduce myself to other attendees. The first thing that I realized about the Open community was that it is comprised of a group of very passionate and dedicated professionals who are determined to build a case for Open initiatives. The next month passed by, as I prepped to attend OpenCon, learning more and more about the community, the cause, and the rationale behind Open. I slowly grew to appreciate and understand the Case for Open, and was eagerly looking forward to exchanging my ideas at the conference.

Roaming Brussels
So we networked and roamed about the streets of Brussels. This is posing with the Manekken Pis.

The day of the flight soon arrived, and after 17 hours of traveling from Roanoke to Charlotte and then to Philadelphia, I finally made it to Brussels. On the flight, I made a few friends who were also traveling to OpenCon. The great thing about OpenCon is that the organizers ensured that most attendees had half a day to themselves before the start of the conference, to familiarize with each other and network. I met a bunch of young professionals and grad students who were doing wonderful work in different disciplines, and learned how some of their work related to Open endeavors.

Days One and Two of the conference comprised various sessions. We had live tweeting (#OpenCon2015) and broadcast of the sessions, so that the larger Open community which wasn’t able to join in physically, was able to contribute in the discussions. Day One had also been the day we had woken up to the news of the France terror attacks. A poignant remark by one of the attendees, who was from Paris, on the importance of Open Education, was that Open resources fights the barriers of access and divide, which in turn seeks to eradicate disillusionment and hence fights terror. This remark truly spoke to me, and I was inspired by the commitment and grit shown by the attendees, especially those from France.

OpenCon, Hotel Thon
Sneak peek at the sessions at Hotel Thon conference center

On Day Two we had the Unconference sessions. I was totally new to the idea of Un-conferencing, but found it a very useful brainstorming and networking session. I recommend organizers of seminars and educational events to have similar sessions at all conferences. During this session, we grouped with people with similar interests and discussed ideas for implementation in “real-world” scenarios. For instance, in the group I un-conferenced with, we discussed the role of Open in academia. We discussed how difficult it is to convince faculty who are probably tenure track, at R-1 institutions, to publish in Open journals, since a large part of their tenure process depends on publication impact. Our conversations then drifted to the subject of impact factors, and how a single number could not truly capture the essence of a research publication. The second evening ended early, with a reception dinner, and more networking.

Day Three was the most anticipated day. This was Advocacy Day. Basically, we formed teams of 8 individuals and we met with Members of the European Union, and discussed Open initiatives. This was by far the best experience I had at the conference. It was very interesting to meet with and learn from members of the EU, and discuss the challenges of implementing Open policies.

EU open advocacy
All dressed up for Advocacy Day

Following the meeting with the MPs, we attended the last event for OpenCon, the final reception dinner, in which we had the opportunity to interact with the founder of Wikipedia: Jimmy Wales. Wales talked to the gathering about the importance of Open Education, and of inspiring early career professionals to take up causes pertaining to Open initiatives after the conference.

The conference was only three days, short but packed with information and activities. I had read up about the conference, before attending it, and had anticipated meeting talented and passionate individuals; but the clockwork precision of the management, the energy of the attendees, and the warmth of the community; truly inspired me to learn more and contribute more to the cause. I would definitely recommend learning about, participating in, and potentially even attending Open community events, for all students and early professionals. I would further urge readers to contribute to your immediate academic communities in Open endeavors. The University Libraries at Virginia Tech, for instance, does a fantastic job of making available resources for graduate students, researchers, and faculty to learn about and publish in Open channels. Over time, I have come to view Open as a part of my identity as a graduate student. I believe each one of us should commit to making our research publications easily accessible by everyone. I believe I was truly lucky to have been selected for OpenCon 2015, I learnt so many new things, met some wonderful spirited individuals, am associated with some great work, and hope to continue to advocate for Open in the future.

OpenCon t-shirt
OpenCon 2015 Memories
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Celebrate Fair Use Week with the University Libraries at VT – Feb. 22-26!

The University Libraries are excited to announce our first annual Fair Use Week celebration! Starting on Monday February 22nd, Fair Use Week is an event to “celebrate the important doctrines of fair use in the United States and fair dealing in Canada and other jurisdictions” and promoted by the Association for Research Libraries.

Fair Use Week logo

In addition to the Fair Use Week events, the University Libraries will have an interactive exhibit on the 2nd floor of Newman Library (near the Alumni Mall entrance) from Monday February 22 through Friday March 4. Please join us for one or more of the events below!

  • Monday, 2/22, 4:30-5pm, Newman Library, 2nd floor
    Fair Use Week Exhibit Opening – enjoy some light refreshments while exploring the interactive exhibit.
  • Tuesday, 2/23, 9:30-10:45am, online*
    Workshop: “Is it a Fair Use? A Hands-On Discussion”
    NLI Credit available.
    *Contact Ginny Pannabecker at for online meeting information.
  • Tuesday, 2/23, 11:00am-Noon, Newman Library, Multipurpose Room (first floor)
    Workshop: “The New International Movement to Standardize Rights Statements – And How We’re Participating”
    NLI Credit available.
  • Wednesday, 2/24, 10:00-11:00amNewman Library, Multipurpose Room (first floor)
    Discussion: “Behind the Scenes of the Fair Use Week Exhibit: How We Made Our Copyright Decisions”
    NLI Credit available.
  • Wednesday, 2/24, 1:25-2:15pmNewman Library, Multipurpose Room (first floor)
    Workshop: “Is it a Fair Use? A Hands-On Discussion”
    NLI Credit available.

So, what is “fair use” and why do we think it’s important enough to celebrate it for a whole week? 

Fair Use is a four-factor exemption of U.S. Copyright Law 17 U.S. Code § 107 which allows anyone to:

  • Copy
  • Re-distribute
  • Perform
  • Electronically transmit
  • Publicly display
  • Create new versions of others’ copyrighted works

…without permission.*

*When the potential use is deemed to be “fair” rather than “infringing.”  Only a court can decide what is truly “fair use.” However, U.S. law allows anyone to conduct a well-informed fair use analysis in good faith to determine if their proposed use of copyrighted material is more fair or more infringing.

For an example of Fair Use in action and an entertaining video explaining some foundational U.S. Copyright and Fair Use information, take a look at Professor Eric Faden’s “A Fair(y) Use Tale.” The version embedded below was re-uploaded to YouTube (under compliance with the video’s CC BY NC-SA 3.0 license) in order to add transcribed subtitles and captioning.

Thank you for taking a moment to find out more about Fair Use, and we hope to see you at one or more of the University Libraries events!

Thanks to the University Libraries’ 2016 Fair Use Week team: Virginia (Ginny) Pannabecker, Anita Walz, Scott Fralin, Robert Sebek, and Keith Gilbertson!

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