The Milestones Project

What is the Milestones project? Why did we do it?

Heaps of stones on a beachEvery month since November 2019, the Research Engagement Team has been sending out congratulatory emails to University of Reading authors whose CentAUR items have achieved 500 lifetime downloads as part of the ‘Milestones’ project. By sharing and celebrating these  ‘milestones’ with Reading authors, our goal is show them that the research output that they deposit in CentAUR is not just stored there for safe keeping, but that CentAUR is a dynamic repository where users interact with and download items on a regular basis. Ultimately, we hoped the project would encourage our researchers to engage more with CentAUR and the idea of Green Open Access in general.

What did the project involve?

The first thing we did was develop a template Excel spreadsheet, into which we could import data from IRUS-UK each month (using Item Report 1). This spreadsheet would calculate which CentAUR items had surpassed certain lifetime download thresholds that month and generate the email addresses of these item’s authors. Then, we would use a mail merge to pull this information into a batch of emails which we would send to those authors who had achieved the milestone. Each email included text congratulating them on their CentAUR item surpassing 500 lifetime downloads, a Twitter card and a link to our feedback form.  We hoped that the Twitter card, which we designed using Canva, would encourage authors to share the milestone on social media. Through the feedback form, we hoped to gauge the enthusiasm the authors had for the learning about the milestone, their willingness to post this on social media and gather their feedback on ways we could improve our communication.

What did we learn?

The data from IRUS provided several interesting insights into how often CentAUR items hit certain download thresholds. We have data on CentAUR downloads from 2010 and the repository currently has over 18,000 full texts available for download. We found that each month around 60-90 items surpass the 100 lifetime download threshold, 30-50 surpass 250 lifetime downloads, 15-25 surpass 500 lifetime downloads and 5-10 surpass 1000 lifetime downloads. Based on this information, we decided that sending out emails for only the 500 lifetime downloads milestone would be the most manageable workload as this would result in around 20 emails being sent each month. We also found that there was quite a variety in the time it took for items to reach 500 lifetime downloads; the time taken ranged from 1 to 9 years, with the average time taken being around 4.5 years. Whilst the most common age of an item achieving the milestone was 2 years since deposit, each month there were a handful of items that were 8 0r 9 years old.

How was the feedback?

Overall, the feedback from the authors who filled out our form was largely positive. Of the 12 who have filled out the form at the time of writing, 11 responded that they found the email interesting. Disappointingly, the authors were less enthusiastic about the idea of sharing the milestone on social media, with only 1 responding that they would share the milestone on social media and none answering that they would share the Twitter card on social media.

Feedback of the design Twitter card

The comments left in the comment section at the end of the form shed further light into authors’ reactions to receiving the email. Whilst most authors expressed delight in having achieved the milestone, one author felt that the item was too old to justify sharing it on social media:

“I would share the above for other articles – this one is too old to make it worthwhile.”

Another author seemed perplexed at being congratulated on the milestone when a more successful item of theirs was not included (presumably because it had achieved the milestone before we started the project):

“Why are you celebrating such a small achievement yet ignoring the most significant?”

From this feedback, we can see that not all items being celebrated for achieving the milestone seem relevant to their authors and, perhaps as a result, we are falling short on our aim of encouraging authors to share the milestone on social media.

One author asked how significant passing the 500 download milestone was compared with the performance of other outputs in the repository

We decided to investigate this by looking at the data from IRUS and working out what the average number of downloads per month was for items in the repository. This rough measure excluded the time that an item might be under a publisher’s embargo (usually between 12 and 24 months after publication). For journal articles where the full text was the author-accepted manuscript, and so more likely to have higher downloads, the mean number of downloads per month was 4, but with a wide distribution range.

 

Based on this average, it would take most articles around 10 years to reach the 500 download milestone. Looking at the data for July 2020, the variation in time taken to reach 500 downloads was between 18 months (~29 downloads per month, http://centaur.reading.ac.uk/81943/, author-accepted manuscript) and 112 months (~4.5 downloads per month, http://centaur.reading.ac.uk/18552/, published version).

What could we do differently?

Based on our feedback, one improvement we could make would be to redesign the  Twitter card sent out to authors to raise the numbers of researchers sharing the milestone on social media. We had already redesigned the Twitter card in January 2020, shifting its tone from light-hearted towards a design more in-line with traditional CentAUR branding, although this modification only resulted a minor improvement to our feedback. Both a redesigned Twitter card and an expanded question on it on the feedback form might help us understand how to boost the low numbers of authors who were likely to share the milestone on social media. We did not ask the recipients of the milestones awards whether they were active on social media and so this may also have skewed our results.

The redesigned card

The initial, ‘fun’ design

Another change that could raise the number of authors sharing the milestone might be to change the criteria of the milestone itself. Specifically, if we were to introduce a timeframe within which an item must achieve the milestone, for example only including items which are less than 5 years-old, this would exclude older items which are perhaps less relevant to their authors. Whilst reducing the time limit to 5 years would almost halve the amount of items surpassing the milestone, it might make the milestone more worthy of celebrating in the eyes of Reading authors and, in turn, make them feel like the achievement is more worth sharing with other researchers.

The other option would be to decrease the number of downloads required for the milestone celebration. Changing the milestone to 250 downloads might mean that the highlighted item was more recent and relevant to the author. However, this would have to be balanced against the additional number of authors that would need to be contacted each month.

We are also considering producing a printed card that could be sent to authors achieving the milestone. Although this would have a design and print cost, it might be something that the authors would put on a noticeboard in their office and appreciate more. This might be something to ask in our feedback form in future.

Nathan Berry, a graduate trainee Library Assistant at University of Reading, worked on this project with some input from Karen Rowlett, Research Publications Adviser.

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