Current issues for digital repositories fall into 5 broad categories:
- Open Access
- Rights management
- Policies - to mandate or not to mandate?
- What kind of content?
- Pre-prints v. post-prints
- Author’s final formatted post-print v. publisher’s final formatted post-print
- Full text or not?
- Copyright or license to publish?
- Content formats
The role of Open Access (OA) in a repository, especially in an institutional repository, (IR) is an ongoing debate within the higher education community. There is a general consensus among the IR community and a growing number of researchers that OA is good thing, supporting scholarly communications and, in broader terms, making research outputs available to a wide audience that extends well beyond the HE community, out into the general public. Indeed, funders are now, in some cases, stipulating that project outputs should be made available under Open Access terms, a role eminently suited to the IR or the subject repository.
However, on the other side of the debate, there are some who see OA as a negative force within the repository field. In practical terms, many IR managers find hostility among academic researchers themselves to the idea of OA. Researchers spend much of their careers building up their publications records, working closely with the editors of academic publishers and aiming ultimately, at having their research published in the leading academic journals within their field. Although not all publishers are hostile to OA, many are still deeply suspicious of a model they see as offering ‘free content’ - something they perceive as threat to their journal sales. Unwilling to jeopardise a relationship built up over many years, researchers themselves become wary of dealing with OA if they perceive such a move would upset a publisher who they deal with on a regular basis. In order to manage the initial hostility, some IR managers have taken a route of focussing on content first, OA second. This means they encourage deposits without insisting on OA for all deposits. Whether this compromise is a positive or negative contribution to the IR community is a matter for debate.
The question of whether all repositories should be 100% open access is a difficult one in practical terms too. Some research material may not be suitable for OA for a number of reasons such as sensitive material (political, religious, legal cases etc), research funded by or undertaken with a commercial partner, where business confidentiality needs to be maintained, and research where the Data Protection Act could be compromised. In such cases, should the IR seek to support the deposits of all research outputs, even where those outputs can never be OA, or should it take only OA deposits?
Managing the rights of both copyright and/or IP owners and those who use a repository is increasingly an issue for repository managers as repositories develop and grow. Balancing both sides of this equation means being able to check and manage licenses on one hand, and, at the same time, manage the permissions of repository users so they can see content that licenses permit them to see, but can’t access material where the license does not permit them to view or use that content.
The issue of this balance has increased in importance as repositories expand their remit and become more deeply embedded into the institutional framework. For example, many repositories now handle teaching and learning objects, such as images, course material of various types and potentially e-material, where rights are negotiated via licenses with content creators/providers. Such activity results, potentially, in a mix of open access content, paid-for, licensed content and free content available to only a subset of repository users.
Rights management is often linked to authentication and authorisation of users, and much work is currently going on in the repository community in this area. By managing the access of individual users and/or groups of users, access to content that is available to specific users only can be made available to them and meet the requirements of content providers who use licenses as a means of permitting access to their content.
Policies - To Mandate Or Not To Mandate?
Initially, getting full-text content into institutional repositories presented a challenge. Researchers were encouraged to make deposits of their work, but this wasn’t in enough in all cases. In some institutions, the carrot of encouragement has been supplemented with the stick of the institution-wide mandate. Such mandates are often individually tailored to a specific institution in their details, but are broadly similar in requiring all academic research of a certain standard (defined, usually, as published or accepted for publication or some other mark of quality assurance such as approval by head of department etc) to be deposited within the repository. The penalties for not depositing research work vary, but again have common themes across institutions. Research not in the repository may not be counted as part of the output of an individual researcher during an annual assessment, thus jeopardising promotion and/or further research funding, as well as damaging the reputation of an individual researcher. In addition, the ultimate penalty is that, once the mandate is in place within an institution, any individuals not depositing their work are, technically, often in breach of their contract of employment.
The drivers for institutions to adopt a mandate are usually:
- a need for research outputs to be gathered in one place for easy assessment
- seeing the IR as a showcase of their research output and wanting to show all research coherently to the outside world
- an external requirement such as the UK-wide REF, where research output needs to be logged as part of a wider requirement for further funding etc.
There is much debate about the effectiveness of the mandate among the repository community. On the plus side, some see a mandate as a seal of approval for the repository from the senior management of an institution. They argue that such obvious backing and potentially serious penalties make researchers take the need for depositing research papers in the repository seriously, thus encouraging them. In the opposing camp, some feel that taking such a ‘heavy handed’ approach alienates researchers and makes them hostile to the repository, thus actually decreasing the amount of deposits. They would also argue that very few penalties are actually applied if the researcher fails to deposit. The point that both sides of the debate agree on is that getting researchers to make any deposits is a huge cultural shift. Of course, some within the repository community see a third way, that of using both carrot and stick, so researchers face penalties but also have positive reasons for making deposits, such as inclusion in subject or national research repositories/portals via their submission to the IR, being able to use the IR as a safe place to store research outputs and being able to quickly and easily showcase their work via the IR deposits they have made.
This is an ongoing debate across the IR community.