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,, author-accepted manuscript) and 112 months (~4.5 downloads per month,, 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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CentAUR stats for August 2020

Infographic showing key statistics from the CentAUR repository

Key Statistics

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CentAUR statistics for September 2020

Infographic for CentAUR statistics

CentAUR statistics

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CentAUR statistics for July 2020

Infographic with some statistics from the CentAUR repository

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CentAUR statistics for June 2020

Key statistics from the repository

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Perspectives on Professional Development “from home”

Hello, and welcome to my first contribution to the ORRB. Having joined the Library’s Research Engagement Team at the beginning of March I had scarcely 2 weeks in the office before locking down, a strange way to start any job. This is particularly true as a Librarian, when your sense of identity is attached so strongly to the building you work in. What you could say is that I’m a working from home native, so in a perfect position to write about some of the challenges of this new practice. My focus here is going to be on professional development in this environment, and in particular the perspective of an early career librarian.

Luckily for us in Research Engagement, our roles have overall adapted well to the current crisis. We’ve still been logging on every day to update our repository, delve into bibliometrics, and as always, promoting Open Research . What we have been missing is the connection with the rest of our library colleagues and the wider university community. Not only is the library building a great place to work, but it’s a home of many different perspectives on our role[1]. As well as the usual mix of people in the staff room, weekly Staff Development Hours have given us a chance to share these. For us to learn more and connect back to a wider range of library services, and also to talk about what’s happening in repository land. Indeed, as a new member of staff the last session I got to attend was , tracing the University’s progress in our own particular area since 2016.

The Research Engagement Team on Teams

So, what options are available for professional development, and to connect with others across the sector while working from home? Here, I present some of my personal insights on and I hope to dig a little deeper with other members of the Team later this month.

The first thing you learn is that there’s absolutely no shortage of content available, across a variety of formats, so you need to get good at filtering. One resource I’ve found particularly useful is the digest available in the regular EARLL newsletter, which is a great resource for early career librarians.  Webinars frequently offer a great chance to hear different perspectives outside of academic librarianship. Panel discussions are particularly good, a recent favourite being “Preprints are changing the landscape” delivered by UKSG (you can watch the recording here).

In Research Engagement this is also an opportunity to connect with the more values-driven side of our role, and to connect with the broader Open Research community. Last week members of the team had the chance to attend sessions from both the Kent Digital Accessibility Conference (a particular highlight was a talk from Paralympic medallist Millie Knight) and the King’s Open Research Conference. This was a great chance for me to immerse myself in Open Research and hear from some of the leaders in the movement, especially given my own background in Science and Technology Studies. It’s brilliant to hear progress being made towards disincentivising questionable research practices, especially Anne Scheel’s session on Registered Reports. The ease of access that online formats offer is also a great point in their favour, with time zones becoming the main restriction on attendance. Even though there is no substitute for the networking opportunities at conferences, this is an area where the use of Twitter really shines through, facilitating discussions with other attendees. Improvements in automatic subtitling are also an opportunity for improving accessibility, and webinar platforms need to make sure to implement this. Bearing these factors in mind I hope that we’ll see more hybrid online/offline conferences going .

What about the temptation of working in the background during a webinar? All you have to do is forget to close Outlook before the video starts and flicking over when you hear the first ‘bing’ can be hard to resist. Personally, my multitasking isn’t really up to this, so I try to decide early on whether I’m going to stick it through to the end of a webinar or presentation. If something doesn’t engage you, online you really can leave five minutes in.

One point of caution for those engaging in Professional Development online are the numerous courses available from the commercial sector, intended to “teach” you about their particular product. While undertaking these can be easy to justify, especially if the service is something you might use regularly, webinars like these are often padded out with promotional material. What these providers do often demonstrate are very high standards of delivery. This can be a good way to learn about best practices in using online teaching to promote your own services, particularly through MOOCsAs we plan on providing short video tutorials instructing users on how to make CentAUR deposits this will prove particularly .

The real area where MOOCs shine (you can find a huge variety on the edX platform) is building more specific skills. For me this has been a route into coding, an interest of mine which I’m hoping to bring more to my work with the Team. I’m currently working myself through the resources provided by Library Carpentry, getting a sense of how I can apply and develop my skills specifically in relation to librarianship. For those interested, a huge number of resources are available in this area. It’s even possible to chain enough free courses together to learn much of what’s provided in a formal computer science degree. Whilst doing this would be a huge time investment for anyone, and eat up your evenings and weekends, a great taster can be found in Harvard’s free CS50 course. This not only gives a rigorous and engaging introduction to computer science, but also ideas around computational thinking and ways to approach problems which are particularly applicable to librarianship.

As an early career librarian, one of the most valuable parts of joining the Research Engagement Team has been learning to think of myself as part of a growing culture around Open Research. Webinars and online learning offer a valuable opportunity for expanding your areas of knowledge beyond your role, learning new skills, and for me immersing myself in a growing movement.

[1] Something the Head of the Library, Stuart Hunt, has been encouraging us to think about more in our ongoing strategy exercise.

[2] Massive Open Online courses. Getting a certificate to download on completion is often a nice touch.

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CentAUR statistics for May 2020

Selected statistics from the CentAUR repository

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CentAUR statistics for April 2020

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CentAUR statistics for March 2020

Infographic with selected statistics from the CentAUR repository

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CentAUR statistics for February 2020

Infographic showing selected statistics for the CentAUR repository

Selected statistics from the CentAUR repository

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