According to the Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR), based on our number of records this is where we (ORO) sit in the ‘league table’ of UK institutional repositories:
- Cambridge University
- University of Southampton
- University of Bath
- Open University
Until quite recently we were fourth in this table… then fifth for a while… and now all of a sudden we’ve plumeted to ninth. On the face of it this looks like bad news and poor performance; but, as you’ve probably guessed by the title of this post, I’m about to explain that it isn’t, why it has happened, and why we may well drop even further.
The main problem with comparing repositories simply by the number of records they house is that we are not comparing like-for-like. For example, Cambridge – who sit at the top of the pile – not only produce a larger amount of research than the OU (and thus have more available to deposit in their repository in the first place), but they also accept a much broader range of material (e.g. datasets, multimedia files, images, learning objects, administrative material, and so on). Our current policy for ORO is to only accept peer-reviewed published research. This is clearly a limiting factor when thinking about and looking at repository size.
The point about policy extends beyond the type of material a repository houses to the way in which that material is collected. A decision was taken quite early on with ORO that a self-archiving approach would be used; that is, academics themselves deposit their work, or at the very least make a decison to instruct a member of administrative staff within their faculty or department to do it for them. Either way, they have knowledge of what’s being deposited and, more importantly, engage actively with ORO.
The alternative, non-self-archiving approach, is for library staff to mass-deposit items on behalf of staff in the background, often without their knowledge. For example, automatic imports from commercial databases such as Web of Science or Scopus could be used, or perhaps library staff could surf their university’s staff pages and manually add items from existing publications lists, CVs etc. Not relying on self-archiving by the individual user in this way inevitably boosts the size of your repository in a relatively short space of time, and this is another reason why ORO has been, and will probably continue to be, overtaken in the above league table.
In short, there is absolutely no point in comparing ourselves to institutions that have different policies and different models of deposit.
Why then, you may ask, do we stand by self-archiving? If we really want ORO to take off and be a true reflection of the OU’s research output why don’t we just get on with it and do it all from within the library and not bother our very busy academics in the first place? The broad answer is one of sustainability; slow and steady growth of ORO and the gradual establishment among OU staff of what it means in terms of access to their research, as well as what it can provide in return. How can this happen without their active involvement?
In my opinion, however, the biggest disadvantage to not adapting a self-archiving appraoch relates to open access. Third-party depositing without the involvement of the author will almost always result in a metadata-only record; that is, there will be no full text attached to the item, and thus no open access to the research it reports. The third-party depositor could perhaps contact the author and ask for the full text, but this is time consuming and generally unsuccessful, especially if the author has had little to do with the repository in the past and therefore, frankly, doesn’t really care about it.
Of course all this depends on what you want from your repository. If all you want is a static publications database that can occassionally be used to output data for administrative purposes, then a third-party approach might be ok. However, if you – as we do with ORO here at the OU – really want to provide a service to academics by opening up their research to a wider audience through open access, then the depositor has to be actively involved.
Self -archiving is the best way to obtain full text, the best way to provide open access, and therefore the best way to showcase your university’s research. Once you have the involvement of researchers at the front end of the system, you can then begin to demonstrate what they can get in return, and hopefully what you end up with is a sustainable open access repository embeded into the culture of your institution.