Lockdown research: how COVID-19 and Open Access shaped a new project

A digital art image showing five arms and hands holding up hearts in different colours. The middle heart is rainbow-coloured.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected teaching, it has also had a major impact on research at Birkbeck. We spoke to Dr Fiona Tasker about her work, and how COVID-19 and Open Access have influenced it. Fiona is a Reader in Psychology at the College, and took time out of her busy start to the academic year to discuss with us her research in the time of a pandemic. 

A photograph of Dr Fiona Tasker
Dr Fiona Tasker

What were your main research topics before the COVID-19 lockdown? 

My research interests typically lie in social developmental psychology, family psychology, and LGBTQ psychology. I’m interested in family relationships, identity development of adults and children, and children’s social and emotional development in both non-traditional and new family forms. For example, much of my research has been on LGBTQ-parented families, post-divorce families, and families formed by adopting children or through assisted reproduction.

How has this changed since COVID-19?  

There were BBC reports suggesting that COVID-19 and the lockdown placed more young people back in family environments, often closed off from their usual support networks, and that this might particularly affect vulnerable young people who were unsupported in their families. Around May reports from community organizations began to be released on the web on how lockdown was affecting LGBTQ young people, such as the LGBT Foundation’s Hidden Figures report.  

So, at the beginning of lockdown, we started the LGBTQ* UK COVID-19 Lockdown Experiences Project together with colleagues, led by Jorge Gato, at the University of Porto similarly concerned about the pandemic and the LGBTQ community in Portugal. This took the form of a short anonymous survey, aimed at LGBTQ* people between 18 and 35. We sought to find out about their experiences during this Coronavirus pandemic. We received over 400 responses to this first survey. Since then the international project has grown to include Italy, Sweden, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Israel too. 

So there was certainly a clear path from the pre-COVID work to this project. 

What inspired this change?  

Seeing the community need for action during the pandemic, I wanted to be doing something useful during the lockdown. While others have volunteered doing things like mutual aid, I wasn’t in a position to do that. But I realised could put some research in motion and contribute to the greater good in that way.  

It’s about being responsive as a researcher to situations that arise, and about what you can do to highlight a problem and contextualize it within a particular field.   

Existing research helped us see how LGBTQ young people could be vulnerable, but we also know that LGBTQ communities are often efficient at networking within online communities and good at mobilising quickly. So our research questions examining the psychological well-being of LGBTQ people consider both vulnerability processes and also the strengths and resilience people have built up too. 

What was your experience of Open Access and preprints before this pandemic started? 

I would usually use Research Gate to access preprints, either asking other researchers for private copies of their work or, if they had uploaded it, the public version. However, preprints are not peer reviewed, so there is a reliance on researcher integrity and you have to be aware of this.  

I don’t share anything that hasn’t yet been peer reviewed. When publishing, there is often a lot of small print about what an author is allowed to do with a preprint version of a paper. I usually use the Library’s publication repository BIROn. I like that the Library has the expertise to understand the small print and ensure that I’m not breaking the rules the publisher set out. I do often mirror the BIROn papers on ResearchGate, which increase the exposure of my work.  

Have you used preprints during this lockdown period?  

I’ve not released any preprints, but we do have a paper under currently under review for a special pandemic issue of the Journal of Homosexuality which cites many preprints. These preprints account for 10 out of the 29 references in the paper. Which is a little higher than I’d usually expect.  

At the beginning of lockdown, when we were looking to apply for funding for this current project, we knew there was very little out there on the topic. Our funder, The British Academy, require that we undertake a literature review to show that the project is grounded and would contribute to the academic field. So we had to use preprints in the literature review as that was where the relevant literature was.  

Another example of using what was out there were the BBC News reports, reports by the EC and UN, and by community organizations that I mentioned earlier. This was again more evidence that this research would be important and deserved funding.  

So the preprints, and the reports, went into the application to build the case that this was timely and relevant research.  

Can you tell us about the expanded survey you are running now?  

It’s been expanded in response to LGBTQ* community feedback. We were being approached by those over 35 with a desire to be represented. We also wanted to ask more on the pandemic experience, so there are more targeted questions on challenges and opportunities due to the pandemic. These questions were formed out of the first survey respondents’ written comments on the wider impact of the pandemic on their lives. 

Dr Fiona Tasker is currently running an expanded second survey for the UK LGBTQ* COVID-19 Lockdown 18-60 Experiences Research Project. 

For details on the survey, including how to take part, visit the project web page

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Welcome to Open Access Week 2020

Open Access Week is a global event, now in its tenth year. It is an opportunity for the academic, library and research community to learn more about the benefits of Open Access and to share their experiences with colleagues, and to inspire wider participation in making Open Access a new norm in scholarship and research.

Banner advertising Open Access Week 2020

At Birkbeck we usually organise a range of online and in-person activities, such as panel discussions and workshops, as well as opportunities to share your thoughts on OA topics.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year we have opted for a series of blog posts written by our librarians. Through these we aim to highlight what Open Access means for the Library and the collections. We’ll focus on ebooks and ejournals, demonstrating the importance of making content available openly as well as offering some insight into the power of platforms and publishers. We’ll also provide an overview of the barriers we face as a library service in being able to truly participate and contribute to the Open Access movement.

We invite you to start the week by watching and listening to a short screencast from Professor Martin Eve on The Ethos of Open Access.

You’re welcome to comment on and share our blog posts. You can also tweet using the hashtag #OAweek.

Bound to read: collecting Victorian texts in 20th-century bindings

Photograph showing the spines of the eight books discussed in the blog post. The spines feature gilt lettering and decorative patterns.

This guest blog by Birkbeck MA Victorian Studies student Imogen Grubin discusses her collection of early twentieth-century editions of Victorian literature. Imogen was a finalist for this year’s Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize, organised by UCL Special Collections. To our delight, several Birkbeck students submitted entries for the prize, and we are happy to be able to feature Imogen’s runner-up entry and to have her share her thoughts on book collecting with the readers of Bookish.

I have been collecting books for a while, but never considered myself a ‘collector’, or even that my books could be called a collection. When I saw the Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize hosted by UCL, however, I started looking at my books in a new way and realised that some of them told an interesting story about publishers in the early twentieth century. Even though they were all cheap and have never been considered rare, they actually show a lot about reading habits and publishers’ traditions.

The collection I put together for the Prize consists of mostly Victorian novels published in the twentieth century: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, Romola and Silas Marner by George Eliot, Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley, Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis, and three collections of short stories: The Toys of Peace and Other Papers by Saki (pen name of H. H. Munro), The Author of Beltraffio, The Middle Years, Greville Fane and Other Tales by Henry James and Island Nights’ Entertainments by Robert Louis Stevenson.

A photograph of the title page spread of Robert Louis Stevenson's Island Nights' Entertainments. On the left-hand page there is an illustration which depicts a girl sitting among some very large leaves, holding up one of them. She looks a little lost, or perhaps fearful.

I bought these for no more than £3 each, partly because, for me, reading an old novel in an old book adds to the charm of the story being told. The mystery of where they were before, and sometimes of when they were published, adds to my enjoyment.

Photo of the dedication inside the copy of Silas Marner. It says: 'To Con, with love from Steph. Xmas 1911.'

The first four books, by Collins, Eliot and Kingsley, were published as part of the Collins Clear-Type Press, cheap reprints of popular novels. Probably because they were cheap editions, they have no date of publication in them, although similar editions online most commonly put them between 1910 and 1920, with some as early as 1902 or as late as 1960. They are similar in colour and size but do differ slightly. Romola and The Moonstone have a decorative pattern directly above and below the novel’s title and author on the spine whilst Westward Ho! and Silas Marner have a decorative leaf pattern all the way down the spine and the author’s autograph on the front cover.

After collecting these, I started to look for books from other publishers around the same period to see how they compared or differed. Elmer Gantry, published in 1930, is the book most like the Collins editions. It is the same shade of red as the Collins books, has Sinclair Lewis’s signature on the cover and has a decoration all the way down the spine, although not of leaves, but is a slightly larger size. It was published as part of a ‘Collected Edition’, so may have been purposefully adopting similar traditions to the Collins Clear-Type Press to try and appeal to a certain readership. It was published by Jonathan Cape, a London publisher and one of the first British publishers to seek out American novels, and so may have been trying to appear more ‘English’.

Photo of the front covers of Imogen's books, taken from above.

The other three books differ greatly. The collection of Saki stories is a blue volume with a decorated spine and the author’s signature on the front. The spine, however, lists the author both as Saki and H. H. Munro, making it appear more formal and perhaps marking it as more expensive. Both Island Night’s Entertainment and the collection of Henry James’s stories have their titles rather than their authors’ signatures embossed on the front covers, possibly signifying greater expense at the time of publication.

I collected these books because I was interested in how different publishers tried to make their books stand out or fit in. I find it wonderful that even cheap editions were made to look beautiful. I bought them because I wanted to read them, but in doing so began, unknowingly, to build a collection. Competing for the prize made me realise that any group of books can be a collection, and that anyone can be a collector just from buying the books that interest you.

Photo of the illustrated title page spread of Westward Ho! The left-hand page depicts a scene from the book. The title page shows a man sitting in an arm chair by the fire, reading a book.