Boston College Libraries Faculty Newsletter



Opinion Piece

Institutional Repositories: A Proposal to Increase Faculty Content

In recent years numerous universities have established digital institutional repositories ("IRs"), most sharing the goal of promoting electronic open access to their institution's intellectual capital. This "open access" component is critical, most IRs adhering to the 2001 Budapest Open Access Initiative (Boston College is a signatory) which has the aim of making research articles in all academic fields freely available to anyone with Internet access. However, even a cursory analysis of university IRs reveals that they contain only a small proportion, often less than 10%, of the peer reviewed articles of their institution's faculty. Though many economists have long archived their scholarship into the disciplinary digital repository RePec and many computer scientists, mathematicians and theoretical physicists have archived theirs into the disciplinary digital repository, faculty in many arts, humanities, social science and science areas often have little knowledge of either institutional or disciplinary repositories or, indeed, of open access. Moreover, numerous faculty neglect to retain copyright over their own work so that even if they wished to deposit it into their institution's repository and have it freely available on the Internet, they would not be legally entitled to do so. Furthermore, how IRs are typically organized is often not conducive to faculty depositing their research. While there's often initial faculty eagerness to assist the library in performing a retrospective deposit of eligible past articles, after this early effort faculty "forget", and probably understandably so, to deposit current articles. While they may respond to library prompts about new publications, it's an ineffective system for librarians to be watchful for new material to deposit into the IR. Accordingly, most IRs must be assigned a failing grade for their goal of capturing, preserving, and freely disseminating their university's scholarly productivity.


As a solution to the very low proportion of scholarship in IRs, I propose that universities require deposit of their faculty's peer reviewed articles. Such mandation is not unusual. A number of funder agencies already require deposition into digital repositories of articles resulting from their funded research. The National Institutes of Health has been much in the news recently with its newly implemented (7 April, 2008) policy mandating: "that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine's PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication." Other funder mandates include: Wellcome Trust (UK); Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR); Howard Hughes Medical Institute; European Research Council; Swiss National Science Foundation. Currently six of the UK's seven Research Councils have a mandation policy. However, while most science, medical, technological research in the US and overseas is directly financed by funding agencies, both state and private, much arts, humanities, even social science research is not. So, relying on funder mandates to achieve deposit of peer reviewed material into digital repositories means that a great amount of research productivity in many disciplines is left out. Consequently, while funder mandates are clearly potentially better than voluntary deposition policies, it stands to reason that universities requiring deposit of their members' research articles into their digital IR will result in substantially more open access articles in more disciplines.


Harvard is the only university in the US to have an institutional mandate policy. On 12 February, 2008 Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted to require that authors deposit their peer reviewed articles in Harvard's digital repository and that they assign copyright permission to Harvard to preserve and to disseminate these articles. Though they also voted for an opt-out clause that would waive the policy for particular articles, there is no doubt that the vote must be considered a momentous event. In effect, Harvard's A & S faculty voted that henceforth open access dissemination would be the automatic standard for their reviewed articles. Steven E. Hyman, provost, commenting on the vote declared "The goal of university research is the creation, dissemination, and preservation of knowledge. At Harvard, where so much of our research is of global significance, we have an essential responsibility to distribute the fruits of our scholarship as widely as possible. . . . Today's action in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences will promote free and open access to significant, ongoing research. It is a first step in the creation of an open-access environment for current research that may one day provide the widest possible dissemination of Harvard's distinguished faculties' work" (Harvard University Gazette, 13 Feb., 2008). Almost three months later, faculty in Harvard Law School emulated their colleagues in Arts and Science by voting unanimously to mandate that their peer reviewed articles be deposited in a digital institutional repository and be open access.


It is probable that Harvard's prestige may influence other universities to require their faculty to deposit their scholarship into IRs. Indeed, there has been talk for some time that the University of California has been deliberating over taking such action. In April, 2008 two UK universities implemented mandate policies. On 9 April the University of Stirling become the UK's first academic institution to oblige staff to make all their published research available online. The same week, the University of Southampton whose School of Electronics and Computer Science was the first (1999) in the world to adopt a self-archiving mandate has now applied the mandation policy to the whole university. Other institutional mandates include: Queensland University of Technology; CERN: European Organization for Nuclear Research; University of Minho (Portugal); University of Zurich.


Digital repositories are vehicles for the democratization of the dissemination of information and knowledge. Presently there is a problematic access barrier to much scholarship, namely the exorbitant price of many journals, which naturally results in low readership. However, a network of IRs whose free scholarly content can be harvested by such search engines as Google clearly has the potential of opening scholarship, much of which has been funded at taxpayer's expense, to a far greater number of readers. In addition to this ethical rationale, IRs help to enlarge an institution's visibility and prestige, thereby attracting more qualified students and faculty. More research funds will be garnered. It would seem obvious that faculty would welcome IRs. Faculty want their research to be read. Having it deposited in digital IRs will ensure that it be disseminated far more widely as well as more speedily. It will then be cited more. Though the benefits of IRs seem patent, the challenge is populating them with appropriate scholarship. Voluntary deposit by faculty into university IRs throughout the US, and overseas, has generally been extremely low. My recommendation is that universities require deposit, in short, an institutional mandate.


Brendan RappleBrendan Rapple
Collection Development

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