Institutional Repositories: DOA?

Of late, an air of discouragement has begun to permeate discussions about institutional repositories. Of course, this is understandable. E-print deposit rates have been disappointing, deposit mandates hard to come by, and real operational costs have been higher than some imagined.

Are institutional repositories dead on arrival?

The answer is determined by our expectations.

If we expect swift, easy, rapid progress with university administrators and faculty enthusiastically rallying behind institutional repositories, the answer is "yes." The thrill of putting up the repository software and seeing the initial inflow of e-prints is, for many, gone; the experiment has failed; and it's time to cut our losses and move on.

On the other hand, if we expect that the establishment of fully functional institutional repositories will be a complex, lengthy, and expensive venture, we are on target, and remarkable progress has been made worldwide in a short period of time.

I'm in the latter camp. I cannot say this enough: successful institutional repositories are not primarily determined by technical factors, rather they are determined by attitudinal factors. In other words, faculty, especially key faculty such as holders of endowed chairs and journal editors, and university administrators, especially provosts and presidents, must be convinced that institutional repositories are essential infrastructure for the 21st century. For the most part, the argument rests on the scholarly communication crisis theme, with institutional repositories portrayed as part of the remedy. However, institutional prestige, institutional visibility, and improved citation impact factors are important themes as well. The successful, relentless communication of these themes to key constituencies is essential to the successful establishment of institutional repositories.

In my view, the best strategy for a institution without a repository is to start a vigorous scholarly communication outreach program first. The next best strategy is to do so in parallel with putting up an institutional repository. Next is to implement a scholarly communication program after the repository is up. The worst strategy is to put up a repository with no scholarly communication program—this is a recipe for failure.

So, chin up. It will take slow, steady effort to succeed, but it will be worth it in the end.

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