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FEATURE Institutional repositories

Repositories play their part in institutions

Siân Harris speaks to four providers of institutional repository software and services


nstitutional repositories (IRs) play a key role in open-access policies and programmes – and in showcasing an institution’s activities. ‘Institutional repositories

are evolving;

initially they were local repositories for the scholarly output of an institution – primarily documents like theses, dissertations, and journal publications. However, modern IRs need to support a broader range of content, including multimedia and research datasets (which can be large and complex),’ noted David Wilcox product manager for Fedora with DuraSpace. ‘Additionally, IRs are starting to participate in the world of linked open data, including external authorities for authors and subjects, as well as the capability to openly share local resources in a standardised way.’

For Irene Kamotsky, director of strategic initiatives at Bepress: ‘The two themes we see are low-hanging-fruit: digital content that is already in hand or easy to get and has few copyright issues; and content that is tied to a strategic goal or high-level initiative at the institution. She noted that ‘previously published articles are still a core collection at many institutions, but these other types of projects drive more readership and more engagement on and off campus.’ IRs today often need to support research management functions, gathering materials for research assessment. Leslie Carr, a professor in the Web Science Institute of the UK’s University of Southampton and one of the team behind the open-source eprints software commented, ‘With the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF), for example, there is particular reporting required and we have to add in extra fields and tighten up the metadata – but, REF or no REF, a repository needs to tell the story of the institution.’

10 Research Information AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014 Managing

repositories is often part of a university library’s role

Preservation is an important component of IRs too. ‘The primary use case is the long- term preservation of digital assets,’ commented Samantha Fritz, interim project and community manager of Islandora Foundation. ‘Many institutions use IRs to bring awareness to unique materials and content within archives and special collections. IRs are a great opportunity for an expansion in outreach as individuals across the world can access digital objects that had, in the past, largely been limited to the traditional physical setting.’

Different approaches

The picture of repositories and repository software is complex, with a combination of home-grown solutions, open-source tools and commercial products and services, many of which are built on open-source software. Digital Commons from Bepress has an interesting history because the company started life as a publisher and the Digital Commons platform has retained publishing services features such as peer-review management in addition to its IR capabilities. ‘When a school uses Digital Commons they use it for all traditional IR functions but also for library-led publishing,’ explained Kamotsky.

One of the questions people debate with repositories is whether institutional or subject- based repositories are the best approach. Carr of eprints noted that people in disciplines with established subject repositories are very much in favour of them and that there are many advantages, for example the huge coverage of ArXiv. On the other hand, he said, ‘evidence suggests that those disciplines that are well matched to having subject repositories probably already have one.’

In addition, he noted that there is a challenge of where to host subject repositories. ‘They are not particularly expensive but they are not free,’ he observed, giving the example of how ArXiv had to leave Los Alamos National Laboratory and was then given a new home at Cornell University. ‘Where does the responsibility for producing the research and employing the researcher lie? It’s in the institution,’ he added.


Discovery of content is an important part of the value of any repository. ‘Discoverability, including features that allow users to search and browse, is critical considering that IRs tend to house extraordinary amounts of content and data. Without discovery layers and tools,



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