Repository revolution

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As institutional repositories evolve, library publishers and university presses worldwide are using the systems to publish research papers and more. What will be the impact on traditional publishing models? Rebecca Pool investigates

Once upon a time, the institutional repository (IR) was quite a different beast. Originally set up by universities to manage and disseminate manuscripts created by its members, the IR was, at best, tolerated, and at worst, loathed by academics who often asked ‘Why would I publish here’?

But times have changed. The internally focused, preservation archive of limited publishing scope has evolved into a platform for libraries to publish the entire expanse of an institution’s scholarship. Be it a book, thesis, journal or presentation, the modern IR can showcase content with added support for images, video, audio and more

Latest figures from the Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDoar), spearheaded by the University of Nottingham, UK, cite 2,600 IRs worldwide. And these are just registered IRs.

So why the rapid evolution? A need for research transparency is a key driver.

‘There’s a growing, primarily funder-driven, movement towards greater transparency, particularly in the sciences,’ highlights Phill Jones, head of publisher outreach at Digital Science, UK-based provider of digital tools, including repositories, for researchers.

‘But funders have offered little guidance on how this should be done, and frankly, this has been a tough situation for most researchers,’ he adds. ‘Repositories have been the obvious answer to this problem.’

Indeed, a decade ago, open access (OA) repositories were already on the rise, worldwide, following calls from OA advocates to open up research information. And today, the likes of the US-based National Institutes of Health, NIH, The Wellcome Trust, UK, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, US, heavily mandate that any funded paper must be deposited in a public repository at some point after publication.

‘The harsh reality is that traditionally researchers have had little interest in repositories, but increasing funder mandates have meant it’s becoming part of their job to deposit data,’ says Jones. ‘While a few years ago the repository was met with a mixture of suspicion and horror, we now see a growing acceptance that it’s necessary.’ 

But beyond necessity, publishing in a repository has clear benefits. As Jones jokes: ‘The academic once thought ‘I’m not putting my data out there, someone will scoop me, reinterpret me and try their best to prove I’m wrong’.

‘But today, you could put your 3D scans of your dinosaur bones online, somebody may make 3D printable model, publish it, credit and cite you and then you both get the impact and the fame,’ he says.

Crucially, realisation that the repository can be so much more than a ‘holding space’ for research data has driven the library publishing movement forward. From straightforward green open access self-archiving or publishing of research papers and books to highly curated datasets, such as genomic data, Jones has seen it all.

He adds: ‘There’s this second type of data that exists – non-structured  data – which, quite simply, is everything else that researchers make. The number of data objects out there is just massive.’ (See ‘Repository appeal’.)

Irene Kamotsky, director of strategic initiatives at US-based open access scholarly publisher, Bepress, and provider of the institutional repository platform, Digital Commons, tells a similar story. Like Jones, she now sees a pot-pourri of content being published, which she describes as ‘the longer tail of scholarly publishing’.

‘We see a lot of books, journals, conference presentations and posters as well as grey literature including unpublished research such as technical reports,’ she says. ‘We also see research data, images, audio, including, for example oral histories, administrative documents from campus newsletters to enrolment data, and also a lot of material from students.’

‘Any digital materials that need a place to be shared have definitely found a home in the institutional repository,’ she adds.

So with the flow of publishing data to the repository in full swing, how has this rising publication outlet affected local university presses? Historically in the US, the vast majority of universities have existed without a university press, so institutional repository platforms have enabled publishing services to be offered directly from the library. And, with the wealth of content that has ensued, several so-called digital native presses, that publish open access scholarly content, have emerged.

‘Thanks to platforms such as Digital Commons, many universities are creating presses where there had never been a press before,’ says Kamotsky.

New Prairie Press is one key example. Founded by Kansas State University in 2007, the press publishes open access journals, monographs or conference proceedings in a range of disciplines.

Likewise, the Pacific University Press grew out of Pacific University Oregon library and publishes open access e-books. ‘Here we will have seen interest on campus that kind of snowballed, and a digital native press was created,’ highlights Kamotsky.

But digital native presses aside, the rise of the institutional repository has also led to the number of collaborations between library publishers and university presses growing. Indeed, some have highlighted this ‘convergence’ of the institutional repository and university press as an alternative publishing movement that complements, or even threatens, traditional publishing models.

Supplemental or detrimental, as Kamotsky puts it: ‘My theory behind what’s really driving this is a mutual recognition from the press and library that it would be better to collaborate.

‘Libraries have found themselves publishing more because institutional repositories have made this easier,’ she says. ‘So the press on campus has been thinking ‘well here I am, I’m also publishing, let’s get together and talk’.’

According to Kamotsky, the university presses that she has seen collaborating with libraries tend to be relatively small, and will use the institutional repository to publish backlists of books and journals. ‘These publications may have peaked, but this is a great way to bring them back online,’ she says. ‘Some press directors have carried out studies on how this impacts sales, and found it isn’t a problem – it’s great for readership and doesn’t harm sales.’

But it’s not just books and journals; these library-university press collaborations have also published a lot of content that is not part of a main press imprint. Kamotsky describes these as ‘more experimental collections of publications’ and ‘probably more significant than backlist books and journals’.

‘This could be full open access journals, student journals, or simply journals that don’t have the same kind of revenue as main-list journals,’ she says. ‘I have seen experimental books as well as beautiful books that are just too complicated, and books that are maybe even subsidised by the author.

‘The institutional repository gives these publications a second space that doesn’t harm the brand of the university press’s primary imprint, and also let’s the presses experiment,’ she says.

And, importantly, Kamotsky is certain for any university press, the institutional repository will remain supplemental to primary business. ‘The institutional repository complements what a press does and provides a means to do to something that isn’t revenue-oriented,’ she says. ‘Unless something very fundamental changes in the economics of presses, an organisation is not likely to move its business in that direction.’

Growing content

In 2011, Graham Stone, information resources manager at the University of Huddersfield, UK, along with colleagues, won JISC funding for an open-access publishing project that aimed to develop a low-cost, sustainable, open access journal publishing platform.

Using EPrints’ institutional repository, the team migrated a university journal ‘Teaching in Lifelong Learning’ from its existing print subscription model to an OA e-journal. As part of the project, Stone and colleagues developed a front-end and landing pages specifically for the journal, with content archived in the repository.

According to Stone, his team selected the university’s existing institutional repository over other systems, such as the journal and publishing management system, Open Journal Systems, as it was already very well indexed in Google. What’s more, the repository was to be included in the DOAJ, making its content retrievable via library discovery systems such as Summon.

Four years on, the project has been a resounding success with the repository now home to eight journals, each with an editorial board. What’s more, Stone is being approached more and more by academics that want their research data included in the system.

‘A lot of the content is from the social sciences and humanities and what we are seeing tends to be journals at the research practitioner crossover,’ he says. ‘But we are just about to launch our first STEM title, a pharmacy journal, and academics are very interested.’

According to Stone, in the UK alone, at least two other universities have since adopted Huddersfield’s approach of using a repository platform developed with E-Prints. And, he adds: ‘Cardiff University has just launched a press, UCL has a monograph press, so activity is growing in the UK, and has already certainly exploded in the US.’

Right now, Stone says content tends to come from early-career researchers; one of the eight journals, Fields, covers undergraduate research. And research papers aside, content comes in many forms.

‘In areas such as music, art and design, we’re seeing more people understanding how to put non-textual outputs into the repository,’ says Stone. ‘But we’re also seeing more researchers understanding how to add, say, an exhibition with a podcast.’

Clearly, general academic interest in the institutional repository is rising across the globe,  as library publisher interest follows suit. But to any academic, the impact factor of publishing is immensely important, and citation metrics are king. And of course, right now, even the institutional repository that attaches a DOI to each piece of content and also makes content discoverable via Google or other search engines, can’t offer this.

But developments continue. Most repositories, including the EPrints platform, include a statistics package so academics can track how many times an article is accessed. As Stone adds: ‘Being in DOAJ helps, being found on Google helps and of course the next thing to look at is citations.’

Indeed, as Jones states: ‘Data citations are going to happen as everything that goes into most repositories gets a DOI from DataCite. I know that Thomson Reuters is tracking when [pieces of content] get cited so some kind of infometrics is in the pipeline from them.’

However, neither Jones or Stone are under no illusion that the credit from any institutional repository is going to match that from a primary publication, describing hypothesis-driven research. But does it matter?

‘We already have conference proceedings and review articles that don’t carry as much weight as primary pieces of research that are hypothesis driven,’ asserts Jones. ‘I don’t buy this argument that there is some level of yet-to-be-determined credit that could be some kind of game-stopper.’

And while a convergence between the repository and library publisher is underway, does this really threaten existing publishing models? Stone thinks not.

Highlighting how its still early days for institutional repositories, he says: ‘In real terms we know that this is still a few universities doing this and we’re not necessarily treading on anybody’s toes. But by publishing in an institutional repository, we can help young academics get used to the whole publishing process,’ he adds. ‘I think this and [traditional publishing] can probably live together.’

Repository appeal

Over time, repository platforms have evolved and now include many of the features necessary to handle massive collections. Excellent standards in metadata are being developed and interoperability between systems is rising.

Importantly, the major platforms are available as hosted services, with key software including Digital Commons, Dspace, EPrints, Fedora and Islandora, as well as Dryad and cloud-based solution, Figshare. Hosted services allow for automatic systems upgrades, provide consistent platform versions across the community, and free librarians to focus on content rather than managing installation and upgrades.

For the academic, discoverability is key, so work hosted in most repositories is allocated a DOI number and can be easily located by a Google search. As Irene Kamotsky from Bepress puts it: ‘When faculty and authors put their work into a repository, what they really want is to be discovered in the disciplinary context of all their peers at all the universities around the world.’

And for Phill Jones from Digital Science, a developer of repositories including Figshare, interconnecting the repositories is also going to be vital, if these systems are to have a large impact on research communication.

‘By pooling metadata, repositories can become vastly more discoverable,’ he says. ‘We’ve developed an institutional version of [our repository] that’s supported by an Internet-based discovery layer and allows searching across repositories, published outputs and individual contributions.’