Carolina leads the way for making research materials available to the public, free of charge.
Open Access is an evolving movement with an underlying mission to provide access to research to people regardless of their affiliation with a university or other institution. At Carolina and other universities, for example, many journal articles and databases appear freely available, but these are only accessible thanks to subscription fees and institutional contracts with external vendors.
Like many research universities, UNC is an Open Access campus thanks to a policy supported by the University Libraries and the UNC Faculty Council in 2016. Today, the libraries assist faculty, staff, and students at Carolina with publishing and preserving articles, data, and educational materials, all of which are accessible to people both on-campus and across the globe.
For UNC pathologist Pablo Ariel, Open Access is an essential component of the research process. “Free and easy access to relevant scientific information will allow researchers all over the world to share such information,” he says. “If it were behind a paywall, fewer people would be able to access certain resources, and use the information in them to improve their experiments.”
Ariel runs the Microscopy Services Laboratory within the UNC School of Medicine. He and his team provide training for UNC researchers in electron microscopy, light microscopy, and image analysis. Most recently, they’ve been busy helping new and returning researchers prepare samples and take images with the UltraMicroscope II — a high-powered microscope that uses sheets of laser light to observe very large samples at a cellular level of detail. It allows neuroscientists to trace neural circuits in the brain, vascular biologists to observe blood vessels in tissues, and pathologists to discover specific cell types in tumors.
“I have been working with the UltraMicroscope II for around four years and learned to use it through trial and error, with few published materials to guide the way,” Ariel explains. After attending a meeting for worldwide users of this instrument in March 2018, he realized that different labs had developed new knowledge about how to use the microscope, but were only sharing this information internally, among colleagues. Most users didn’t understand the microscope’s full capabilities.
“As a result, there was a big mismatch in knowledge between experienced users and new ones, with the latter group having to waste time reinventing and discovering procedures,” he says. “So, I thought that writing a guide would be very useful to the community, and my informal queries to colleagues suggested they agreed. Since nobody seemed to be doing it, I went ahead and took on the task myself.”
Ariel considered traditional publishing options such as an academic journal or book chapter, but he wanted to ensure that the resource would be Open Access — free of cost or other barriers to anyone who wants to use it. So he contacted University Libraries for guidance on how to proceed and was surprised to learn of the Carolina Digital Repository (CDR).
“The Carolina Digital Repository is an Open Access resource that supports almost any type of file including PDFs, data, videos, and audio,” explains Rebekah Kati, the institutional repository librarian. And although Ariel’s microscope guide was the first request of its kind, it still met the criteria for publishing within the CDR.
“I wanted it freely available and easily accessible to anyone in the world,” Ariel shares. “The guide did not fit any potential journal that I knew of and would only have been suited for inclusion in a book. The CDR seemed like the optimal place to publish it.”
While the goal of Open Access is to provide free and direct access to information, it’s important to keep in mind that research and publishing are never entirely free. There is a great deal of labor that happens in all stages of producing a manuscript.
University Libraries can help in a variety of ways with this and the staff provides consultations on selecting journals, publication fees, contracts, copyright, and other guidance — services that impressed Ariel. “I asked the library help desk a simple question about whether there was a website I could put my manuscript on and got way more help than I ever expected,” he says, chuckling. “It was a very pleasant surprise!”
By publishing the manual in the CDR, Ariel’s manuscript is assigned a digital object identifier, which serves as a permanent, stable web address. He was also able to provide access to supplemental materials that researchers can download and use in in their microscopy work.
The CDR’s services also include preservation and indexing so that the work deposited in the repository is maintained for long-term use. Soon, it will have enhanced search engine optimization to make finding these publications through search engines like Google easier.
Ariel has already received positive responses from colleagues around the world. “My hope is that the guide will serve as a baseline of good practices for the community that uses this kind of microscope,” he says.
Anne Gilliland, scholarly communications officer at University Libraries, is thrilled to have Ariel’s project as a model for other Carolina faculty with similar publication ideas. “We’re really excited to start working with this kind of content,” she says. “It’s a perfect fit for the CDR.”
Pablo Ariel is the director of the Microscopy Services Laboratory in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine within the UNC School of Medicine.
Rebekah Kati is the institutional repository librarian in the Library & Information Technology unit within University Libraries.
Maggie Melo is an assistant professor within the UNC School of Information and Library Science.
Anne Gilliland is the scholarly communications officer in the Scholarly Communications unit within University Libraries.
Jennifer Solomon is the open access librarian in the Scholarly Communications unit within University Libraries.
To learn more about the CDR, visit cdr.lib.unc.edu or email Jennifer Solomon at email@example.com.