The Value and Importance of Repositories

These are notes from the above CILIP in London evening meeting…I was asked to write the event up for the newsletter so thought I might as well post the longer version of my notes here.

Speaker: Nancy Pontika, Repository Manager, Royal Holloway College, University of London

Nancy gave us a taste of life working with scholarly communication repositories, including challenges within the current Open Access (OA) and copyright environment.

She began with a history of the OA movement, starting from the Budapest Open Access Initiative.  Whilst OA seems simple at first, being materials available at “no cost to the consumer”, the presentation focused on the complexity that exists in different OA journal models (‘gold’ OA) and the implications for institutional and subject repositories (‘green’ OA).

Much of the talk concentrated on the difficulties in populating repositories.  Repository owners are not in a position to perform quality reviews and are, therefore, reliant on the existing journal’s peer-review models.  What repository managers can do is ensure their systems correctly implement the available OA metadata harvesting protocols to ensure transparency to search engines and, therefore, avoid the creation of silos.

What repository managers are allowed to deposit depends on copyright.  This can be very complex as different publishers have different rules over issues such as the length of the embargo period between publication and deposit, versions of documents that can be deposited (very rarely the formatted PDF of final publication) and the copyright applied (normally publishers desire all rights reserved).

An interesting point from Nancy was that she thinks we need to talk about copyrights not copyright.  Such a shift in the language enables easier discussion over which rights a publisher or author seeks to keep.  OA advocates have pushed for this so that people can apply the Creative Commons (CC) licence they find appropriate, for example, not opening their work to commercial use.  It was argued that in many ways the most important element of CC licences is that, by being machine readable, they allow information to pass between systems including ensuring they comply with Google’s advanced search filters.  A template[1] allows researchers to easily set out what they want to maintain in terms of copyrights in digital distribution prior to seeking publication.

There has been hope in the OA community that research funders might help swing the arguments away from continuing subscription based journal models.  However, there was disappointment with RCUK who pushed out a gold OA/journal-centric OA policy that depressed the repositories community.  Problems with this include that there are not many big OA journals outside of medicine and that it does not give any encouragement to academics to change their practice as career progressions remain based on prestige and, in most subjects, this means subscription journals (including those who ‘double dip’ by also charging the author processing fees).  The RCUK providing funding to pay for processing charges but it was not enough to cover the costs.  Overall, it was argued that RCUK had left most sides in the process disappointed as this lack of funding is then forcing universities to go down the repositories route while publishers disliked their demands for the CC-BY licence to be applied.  HEFCE meanwhile are supporting an OA future for the Research Excellence Framework but with a focus on repositories over journals, complicating matters even further for those seeking funds from RCUK.

The Q&A session following the talk expanded the discussion to consider how repositories can be used beyond peer-reviewed journal articles.  There was discussion over the value of repositories hosting learning materials and under/postgraduate research papers, could they be used more as a storage backbone to Virtual Learning Environments with the VLE software adding the collaboration and assessment elements of a course?  There was also some discussion around the statistics available from repository platforms, and the resistance to expose these in case it makes repositories or particular academics look underused.  The challenges in managing data in place of, or in addition to, text based research papers were also outlined.

As for the future, the message was very much that things will continue to change and there remains scope for further experimentation.  Nancy’s personal take being that repository owners ideally need a balance of good OA and subscription journals, but the expense of the latter may not make this feasible.  Overall, the talk provided an extensive background to OA and repositories past, present and future.  This was timely as, later in the same week, Creative Commons called for further reform to copyright[2].  Slide basis of the presentation available at: http://www.slideshare.net/NancyPontika/cilip-27241430

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