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Open Access Repositories: Revealing the Mother Lode of Research to the World
Volume 41, Number 6 - November/December 2017

Collaborations among researchers and their institutions to make research reports and datasets broadly available isn’t new. Today, due to the easy availability of complex data management software solutions, the number of institutional, collaborative, and research repositories—for data, dissertations, research reports, preprints, and any other research materials of value to the progress of science—has grown dramatically. Recently, the MIT Libraries released a vision report in which a new vision for its research library was asserted:

We are on the cusp of a fundamental transformation of research libraries. Digital access has already changed the face of research, making it more efficient for individual library users … We believe that this transformation—from libraries where knowledge is accessed individually through analog and digital means into ones where creation and access to knowledge are dynamically networked—will affect all aspects of the research library.

In a two-volume tome on Curating Research Data (ACRL, 2017;, editor Lisa R. Johnston notes that “the abundance of digital research data challenges library and information science professionals to harness this flow of information streaming from research discovery and scholarly pursuit and preserve the unique evidence for future use.” With the availability of technologies to bring quality publishing systems to any organization, even smaller libraries are now taking on the publication of research materials, books, journals, and educational resources. Last year’s edition of the Library Publishing Coalition’s Library Publishing Directory ( included information on “over 115 college and university libraries actively publishing books and scholarly journals—all Open Access (OA) and available freely on the web.”

A recent article in The Scientist ( notes, “OA papers are more popular in the scholarly literature than they’ve ever been, and this trend shows no signs of abating.” In August 2017, a research study in PeerJ ( found that “at least 28% of the scholarly literature is OA (19M in total) and that this proportion is growing … [and] around half of the literature of interest is available without any subscription,” which puts in question the traditional library reliance on commercial publishers. However, with research now available in a multitude of locations, not easily identifiable in traditional indexes, how are we to discover relevant research in this era of transition?

Years ago (for me beginning in the 1970s), Current Contents (those flimsy weekly periodicals) allowed researchers access to tables of contents and the addresses of corresponding authors, allowing others to connect with these researchers or request copies of their articles at the time of publication. Today, we are seeing the rise of a somewhat staggering number of repositories which intend to perform similar roles, but far ahead of formal publication.

Currently, there are many types of repositories: research institutions (or departments with these institutions), theses/dissertations, open/linked datasets, learning/teaching objects, multi-institutional/cross-institutional repositories, research data, article/chapter preprints, or reprints. With the rise of open educational resources (OER) in 2001 and massive open online courses (MOOCs) a few years later, TED talks and other media also became free available.

As the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR) notes in its manifesto, “Each individual repository is of limited value for research: the real power of OA lies in the possibility of connecting and tying together repositories, which is why we need interoperability. In order to create a seamless layer of content through connected repositories from around the world, Open Access relies on interoperability, the ability for systems to communicate with each other and pass information back and forth in a usable format” ( While these connections are tentative and in no way comprehensive, they are still useful. Here is an overview of the types of open access (OA) repositories most critical to information professionals today.

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Nancy K.Herther is the anthropology/sociology librarian at University of Minnesota Libraries, Twin Cities Campus.


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