Hot on the heels of the launch of the Protolib project, of which more soon, this post unveils the brand new North Star project which will run in parallel to Protolib. North Star will explore the potential value of a new (as yet unbuilt) research platform intended for Cambridge University’s academic and researchers. The idea is that this platform (or layer) – the North Star of the project title – might:

  • simplify the publication process for academics
  • promote academics and their research output via a single academic profile
  • act as a shopfront for Cambridge University’s world-leading research
  • build research collections for a Cambridge journal, department, or research groups
  • ensure compliance with requirements for the next Research Excellence Framework

In this way it will seek to resolve issues derived from previous research into academic behaviour here in Cambridge which showed that there are few, if any, touchpoints between an academic and the institution during the publishing process and similarly few incentives to submit accepted papers (especially as the next REF is not until 2020). It is intended that North Star will combine existing platforms and procedures so that the whole process is far more seamless and intuitive for academics and offer them individual, research group and departmental promotional benefits, thereby influencing behaviour and encouraging proactive research upload.

‘North Star’ was the name chosen for the project due to use of the North Star (Polaris) in navigation, its legendary brightness, and perhaps also the fact that the entire northern sky moves around it, reflecting how the platform might become embedded in, and fundamental to, the academic process.

It is envisaged that the North Star project will be completed in two phases. Phase I – taking place between now and the end of February – will chiefly involve interviewing academics from across Cambridge in their offices, finding out about their research processes, preferences, routines and problems. The interviews will also explore what academics might consider compelling and useful enough in a new platform to encourage them to voluntarily submit their research on acceptance to a journal and will therefore also ask whether we can move beyond a compliance model.

Once again Futurelib is working with design consultancy Modern Human who will piece together a picture of research behaviour from the interviews with academics and researchers, which will feed directly into Phase II during which the front-end platform will be created. We are also working closely with the University Library’s Office of Scholarly Publications – specifically Dr Danny Kingsley, Head of Scholarly Communication, who has been involved in this project from its inception – and Digital Services staff, who together with senior librarians and library staff working in research-related roles make up this project’s team.

In design terms the main bulk of Phase I is about consideration of the value we expect a new platform to offer its users and how it might achieve that. We are therefore a long way off from what most of us think of as design – how the product looks and feels. Once we are beyond the initial conceptual design phase we will get into the business of detailed design – how people use the product and the information it will offer.

We  expect that ultimately the North Star platform will speak to existing University systems and products such as Symplectic and the University Respository (DSpace@Cambridge), but how exactly remains to be seen.

If you have any questions about the project please do get in touch


Andy Priestner
Futurelib Programme

Next time on the blog…
We will be reviewing THE BIG LEGO Workshop which took place at the University Centre last Wednesday and saw students from across Cambridge come together to build LEGO models of their ideal study spaces as part of the ongoing Protolib project.

Image Credit: Annapurna Star Trails (Wang Jinglei, Jia Hao)