Friday, December 6, 2019 News

Making it easier to be open: Johns Hopkins engineers innovative platform for repositories

Open Access

G. Sayeed Choudhury is always looking for ways to do things more efficiently. It comes from his training as a civil engineer, which he learned is about focusing on people, processes, products and the workflows that connect them.

Photo of Sayeed Choudhury

Photo of Sayeed Choudhury

Choudhury, Associate Dean for Research Data Management and the Hodson Director of the Digital Research and Curation Center at Johns Hopkins University, applied his engineering expertise to transform the campus library system’s infrastructure and technology capabilities. Most recently, he led a team that built the “Public Access Submission System” (PASS), a platform to help researchers comply with the access policies of their funders and institutions. After the 2013 White House policy requiring public access was passed, SPARC encouraged developers to create a “unified deposit portal” for manuscript deposit.

Choudhury took on the challenge to develop open source software to do just that. His goal: To embed the process of sharing research outputs into researchers’ existing workflows, and rebalance the relationship between authors, libraries and publishers. Now, with a grant from the National Science Foundation to generalize deposit into multiple federal repositories through third party applications, PASS holds promise for institutions and individuals to disseminate their scientific advances with ease.

“PASS is fundamentally an attempt to leverage existing incentives and reduce friction so people that participate in open publishing,” says Choudhury. As a principal investigator himself on grants, Choudhury says he’s highly motivated to comply with the requirements of funders, such as the National Institutes of Health to deposit his work in PubMed Central. And, he’s also encountered the barriers. With PASS, researchers can eventually also simultaneously deposit into their institutional platform, society platform or pre-print server.

For researchers who work for federal agencies, it can be confusing to know how to comply with the various requirements and processes to make their work open. Many universities also have policies that mandate faculty make their research outputs publicly accessible. So when an article or data are ready to be shared, the researcher may face multiple requirements.

The PASS platform is a unified approach for compliance that allows researchers to fulfill the requirements of access policies of their institutions and funders through a single website.  It provides interfaces (APIs, SWORD, email-driven-workflows) for researchers, institutional administrators and agencies to access, collaborate on, submit, be notified about, and perhaps format accepted manuscripts and metadata. Researchers can also deposit manuscripts and metadata in the repositories required or requested by the author.

Development of the platform was funded initially with money from the Office of the President at Hopkins, after the campus approved an open access policy in July of 2018.  And in October, NSF provided further support with a one-year, $250,000 grant for the expansion of PASS in partnership with Arizona State University, California Digital Libraries, Duke University, Harvard University, Michigan University, and Notre Dame.

“In order to support open access policies, the mechanics of submitting articles needs to be simplified as much as possible. We developed PASS specifically for this reason,” said JHU’s Sunil Kumar, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs.

To create PASS, the team at the Hopkins’ Sheridan Libraries collaborated with Harvard University Office for Scholarly Communication, the MIT Libraries, and the National Library of Medicine to ensure the approach wasn’t too Hopkins-centric, said Choudhury. PASS will be piloted at Harvard as a service starting as early as this fall.

“From the beginning, we thought this was not just for Hopkins. It can benefit any institution that is trying to do this kind of work,” said Choudhury, who is talking with various agencies and publishers for input as the team builds out PASS. “The idea is that one platform can become the multiple submission stream…As we extend to other funders, the utility will rise. We are starting to see the potential.”

Infrastructure is supposed to be invisible and seamless. To move scientists to open needs to be as simple as possible, said Choudhury: “Asking researchers to fundamentally change the way they do their work is a tall order. If it’s a slightly adapting what they are already doing to get better functionality, conductivity between article and data, then it’s a much easier sell.”

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