September 13, 2007

Repositories 101– Part 1

Filed under: Repositories,Repositories 101 — Neil Godfrey @ 11:39 am

Having been involved with a number of different repositories primarily for university scholarly works for a couple of years now I notice myself beginning to slip too easily into a foreign technical language, so decided it’s time I took a step back and share what I have come to understand about the basics of what such repositories are about and how they compare with traditional libraries.

This series of posts will be primarily for the benefit of those who have a background in academic libraries and who may be hearing about repositories and wondering how they may affect the practices and services they have become used to. It’s also intended to give librarians a tool to understand some of the “foreign technical language” repository managers and metadata people tend to slip into. (As I go through this series comments for clarification, correction, questions will be welcome.)

Institutional repositories for scholarly works

Different kinds of repositories

There are different kinds of repositories, and they will often be built with different computer hardware and software because of their different requirements and purposes. Some are for Learning Object Materials (LOM) in educational institutions; some for archival materials in museums; some for scientific data at scientific institutions. . . . But the ones I will be addressing specifically will be those for universities.

Primary purpose(s) of a university institutional repository

The primary purpose of a university’s institutional repository has generally been said to store, preserve and showcase to the world the intellectual output of the university.

Some universities have policies to restrict their repositories only for peer-reviewed works by their academics. Others have broader policies and use their repositories to include with peer-reviewed scholarship all of the grey literature, discussion and working papers that are written and shared among academics, and exceptional student work. Some focus on research and datasets. Some store all of their student theses in digital format in repositories. Some will house historical records for their institution, and many include reports of various kinds. And there are no doubt other policy variations. But the backbone of the repository collection is the scholarly output. Especially published works. Many will also include unpublished but submitted-for-publication articles and conference presentations.

The purpose of this repository collection is principally to showcase to the world the intellectual output of the institution.

Open access, copyright, and “dark” repositories

Repository collections are generally available on the web and hence an institution’s academic citation rates can expect increase.

Copyright policies and liaison with publishers are central to repository management to make this possible, and this is a topic that will be discussed in more depth in a future post in this series.

Some national governments have mandated academic reporting policies and in many places repositories have become central to the facilitation of this process. This has meant a slight shift in the showcase rationale for repositories with some leaning to “dark repositories” or closed access to certain materials that are subject to legal restrictions but obligated for deposit because of the government reporting requirement. Again, this will be covered in a future topic.

Some repositories examples

  1. e-Prints-Soton (c.f. QUT ePrints)
  2. MIT’s DSpace (c.f. Demetrius)
  3. UQ eSpace
  4. Monash University ARROW Repository
  5. e-publications@bond
  6. The New Zealand Digital Library

These above examples of university repositories are selected because they are also representative of different types of repository software packages. Numbers 1, 2, 3 and 6 are examples that use open source repository software; numbers 4 and 5 have proprietary repository software.

The pros and cons of open-source and proprietary repositories will be the discussion of a future topic.

Repository versus Library Collections

The following will sound very basic but bear with me since it is the starting point of everything that follows.

Collection contents

Repositories hold different types of materials in their collections from those we find in libraries, and they are accessed differently, too. They are also managed differently from library collections. I’ll begin with some of the basics and then move on to how these differences compare with traditional library practices.

An academic library will typically acquire, catalogue and process the following types of materials for its collection:

  • a complete book or set of volumes
  • a journal subscription
  • a bound set of conference papers
  • audio-visual materials
  • access to electronic books and journals housed in some other part of the world
  • and other stuff

Compare a typical repository collection:

  • a chapter of a book or encyclopedia entry
  • a single article that may or may not be published
  • a conference presentation or paper
  • a single jpeg image
  • a link to a journal article at some other site
  • and other digital stuff

Collection use

Library collections are there to give users the actual books, journals, videos, or computer access to the journal that they want to read or see. Users walk in to the library to get what they want from a shelf or across the desk, or at a computer monitor or microfilm reader in the building. Favoured patrons will have special accounts to enable them to receive some of these services from a distance well removed from the library itself.

Repository collections are there to give users access to digital versions of journal articles, conference papers, book chapters, unpublished papers, etc, directly via the repository interface (or portal or computer screen). Users as a rule do not need special accounts but can access the repository collection from home via Google.

What these differences mean

These differences in the types of resources housed in the collections, and in the purposes of the collections, as well as copyright and open access rights questions, — all these are the basis of the differences in management, acquisition and processing methods, standards and tools used for these tasks, and how the resources are handled and made accessible to users, and the language used in the performance of all this.

Will begin to zero in on specifics next post.

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