There are many reasons many university institutional research repositories use reporting codes (in Australia RFCD and FOR) as a convenient substitute for a subject search index. “Out of the box” technical configurations of repository software, costs of adding new configurations and adjusting existing portals to accommodate them, status quo situations with harvesters and costs of entering and maintaining controlled vocabularies are the most obvious ones.
Today I had my first collective meeting with library, legal, R&D and academic reps at our university as a first step towards garnering broader institutional support for a research repository. While we were discussing some details of the data required for deposit into the repository one of the academics gave me a thorough lesson in what those research codes meant in his circle.
A project on forest ecology could fit under research codes for forestry or ecology. In deciding which one to use for a grant application, it will be natural to consider which one is the more likely to lead to the better financial support. Foresters would obviously be more sympathetic to a forest ecology project that offered improved timber yields, and ecologists more favourable to one reducing logging quotas.
Technically librarians or repository editors can, of course, simply add more codes to cover all bases, but by doing that they will be compromising any preservation and authentication functions the repository might have. The fact that a research paper was reported and funded as a “forestry” project, and not as an “ecology” one, may well be considered a vital part of the record.
While it has been easy to think of research codes as a “good enough” substitute for subject indexes in repositories, this particular academic mentor left no room for ambiguity:
I can’t imagine anyone using research codes to search for subjects!