What Are Institutional Repositories?
Slowly becoming more popular around the world, Institutional Repositories are open access databases of the works created by the people who work in or study at the repository’s host institution. One major survey of Institutional Repositories, the University of Michigan MIRACLE1 Project, found that research institutions were more likely to develop Institutional Repositories than universities and colleges that catered only to master’s and baccalaureate students. It also found, however, that there was a “sleeping beast of demand” among these master’s and baccalaureate institutions. That said, the concept of an Institutional Repository (at least in the digital context in which it is now used) is still in its growth phase, and its benefits and weaknesses cannot accurately be understood or assessed on a larger scale because of its limited expression in the real world. However, that has not stopped researchers from searching for and discussing these benefits and weaknesses or at least expressing their views concerning them.2
Why Create an Institutional Repository?
The main purpose of an Institutional Repository is to provide online access to essays, papers, presentations, and other digital works created by the faculty at a specific institution or school. One of the most important jobs of a library is to provide its users with access to a wealth of knowledge relevant to their interests and needs. Therefore, one would assume that the wealth of knowledge preserved in an Institutional Repository has a significant audience, at least for those who started the trend. It should come as no surprise, then, that many of the earliest developed collected the works of workers at researchfocused institutions and that one large set of institutions following suit is comprised of universities and colleges. The access granted by these institutions allows many people to gain access to scholarly works to which they may not normally have access, whether it is because they are not in the databases to which they have access on their own or through their own respective institutions due to budgetary constraints or for whatever reason. Librarians, often focused on the transfer of information and the creation of knowledge through this communication, will immediately recognize these benefits in Institutional Repositories However, there are other qualities that can help justify the existence of Institutional Repositories.
For one, certain repositories are more affordable to host and easier to create than they have been in the past. Several pieces of open source software for the creation and management of Institutional Repositories have been developed and are available to whichever institutions are willing to host them. Items can be more easily found with greater standards regulating metadata and its use. Items can be labeled accurately and then disseminated from a central resource. This saves faculty members time and effort as the maintenance of labels, formats, and thoughts concerning a work becomes increasingly complicated.3 And, of course, trends change and so do the opportunities for outside thinking. Scholarly works that would not normally fit into certain standard database groups may be difficult to find through “normal” resources.4 On a more basic level, Institutional Repositories provide libraries with the opportunities to develop new strategies and standards for digital collection management5 and have even expanded the perception of the library as a “viable research partner” in institutions.6
What Issues Must Still Be Addressed with Institutional Repositories?
As with any good library, the interface providing access to works must be appropriate for its patrons. In the Communities Thread, Lankes points out that there are many Institutional Repository home pages that only begin to provide access to works. However, the aim of librarianship is no longer to simply match people to a resource or a set of resources for which they are searching; it is (as the Atlas emphasizes) to encourage the creation of knowledge through conversations, and most Institutional Repositories do not yet do this. While looking at the initial interfaces of six different Institutional Repositories, I encountered none that came as close to providing conversation as the PLoS Biology Repository did in the Communities Thread, and only two even began to feature any information not simply for searching the database (those of Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
Institutional Repositories result from interdisciplinary work and the cooperation of many parties. Of course, sometimes certain parties cooperate more than others, and the balance of power may not be stable. There have been times when Institutional Repositories have been overcome by administrative control and policy requirements. Although administrative support is good, an overbearing administration can limit enthusiasm and growth and reduce the effectiveness of the enterprise. There may even be the tendency to treat the repository as if it were a standard journal, but “the institutional repository isn’t a journal, or a collection of journals, and should not be managed like one.”7
Finally, although it provides works in an “open access” form and may use open source software in its development, a well-structured Institutional Repository requires quite a bit of work and maintenance along with people who know how to run it. Creating an Institutional Repository is not cheap or easy and will require staff members to dedicate some hours to it. It may not even be helpful to all institutions, especially if not advertised correctly to the members of their communities. As with other programs, it must be kept relevant and up-to-date to ensure that people will use it. In the case of a school where the library is not visible and does not see much use from the students or faculty, it might not even be worth considering creating this type of collection.
• What are the limitations of Institutional Repositories?
• Do the benefits of being able to centrally locate all the works by individuals from a specific institution outweigh these limitations?
• When considering relevancy to a community, should a librarian working on creating or maintaining an Institutional Repository focus on making it helpful for the university’s community or for the world as a whole?
• How might one’s work differ to address these two potentially different groups?
• If Institutional Repositories provide such great access to work, how can a library maintain its status in the community? That is, if it actually is all on the Internet, why would someone come in to use the library (outside of to gain access to the Internet)?
American Society for Information Science and Technology. (2009, April). Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology April/May 2009. Retrieved October 31, 2009, from ASIS&T: The American Society for Information Science and Technology: http://www.asis.org/Bulletin/Apr-09/index.html
Annotation: This issue of the ASIS&T Bulletin provides a strong look at the many debates focusing around Institutional Repositories, including whether all universities should have one, how they should be created, how they should be maintained, and what is required for repository success. Both sides of each debate are presented by various authors with experience in large institutions, encouraging and displaying a true conversation on the topics.
Harvard launches DASH repository. (2009). Advanced Technology Libraries, 38(10), 1, 10–11.
Annotation: This article describes the history of the development of the DASH repository at Harvard University, including school policy and copyright issues addressed during the DASH’s development. Although there is strong support for the idea of allowing open access to all scholarly works through the repository, the university has created an opt-out policy to ensure that there is choice for the scholars to grant or not to grant permission for their work to go into DASH. Faculty authors’ names, when included in search results, are linked to their main profiles. By employing several unique ideas, DASH is growing and providing a good example of what Institutional Repositories can become.
Palmer, K. L., Dill, E., & Christie, C. (2009). Where there’s a will there’s a way? Survey of academic librarian attitudes about open access. College & Research Libraries, 70(4), 315–335.
Annotation: This article explores the results of the 2006 MIRACLE Survey concerning librarians’ opinions on open access resources, how well their actions support or contradict these results, and the potential repercussions of expanding open access resources too much. They cite several experts who question the limitations of open access resources and their growth, both in terms of where emphasis is placed (should we really be doing this simply because it might save money in the long term?) and how effective the movement actually is (will Institutional Repositories replace the library?).
1. Making Institutional Repositories a Collaborative Learning Environment.
2. Smith, K. (2008). Institutional repositories and e-journal archiving: What are we learning? Journal of Electronic Publishing, 11 (1).
3. Lynch, C. A. (2003). Institutional repositories: Essential infrastructure for scholarship in the Digital Age. ARL (226), 1–7.
4. This is mostly in reference to my own experiences searching for respectable resources for a term paper on the music of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was able to find several essays in books about Buffy and several Web sites which seemed to host respectable- enough resources. Having a set of databases which may not be as restricted to significant and traditional scholarly works, as some Institutional Repositories may eventually be, would have been incredibly helpful in this endeavor. Of course, this only helps if one knows where to look or has a centralized search available covering multiple repositories.
5. Lynch, C. A. (2003). Institutional repositories: Essential infrastructure for scholarship in the Digital Age. ARL (226), 1–7.
6. Smith, K. (2008). Institutional repositories and e-journal archiving: What are we learning? Journal of Electronic Publishing, 11 (1).
7. Lynch, C. A. (2003). Institutional repositories: Essential infrastructure for scholarship in the Digital Age. ARL (226), 1–7.