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Magazines > Searcher > May 2004
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Vol. 12 No. 5 — May 2004
Institutional Repositories: Hidden Treasures
by Miriam A. Drake • Professor • Emerita Library • Georgia Institute of Technology

The world's universities, museums, governments, and other organizations house treasures that have been hidden in archives, basements, attics, print formats, and a variety of storage devices. These treasures encompass scientific, technological, cultural, artistic, and historical materials generally unavailable to searchers and the public. Institutional repositories are now being created to manage, preserve, and maintain the digital assets, intellectual output, and histories of institutions. Librarians are taking leadership roles in planning and building these repositories, fulfilling their roles as experts in collecting, describing, preserving, and providing stewardship for documents and digital information.

Development of institutional repositories has largely taken place in universities. Three articles describe the activities of universities1. While the key articles describing institutional repositories relate to universities, any organization can adapt and adopt the concept. Corporations and not-for-profits may establish repositories to archive and preserve their institutional histories and administrative documents. Materials in corporate repositories would most likely remain proprietary and unavailable to people outside the company. Not-for-profit organizations may find repositories useful for relating the histories of the organizations, raising funds, and creating interest in the projects and activities of the organizations.

Repositories provide services to faculty, researchers, and administrators who want to archive research, historic, and creative materials. The open access and open archives movement, the need for changes in scholarly communication to remove barriers to access, and the increasing awareness that universities and research institutions are losing valuable digital and print materials have begun driving the establishment of institutional repositories. Using open archive models [], established metadata standards, and digital rights management, important new information sources are seeing the light of day and becoming more generally available.

While the main purposes of institutional repositories are to bring together and preserve the intellectual output of a laboratory, department, university, or other entity, the incentives and commitments to change the process of scholarly communication have also begun serving as strong motivators. Computers have been ubiquitous on campuses since the late 1980s. Students and faculty are comfortable with the power of online communication. Faculty teachers and researchers want to archive their own materials and have them available on personal or institutional Web sites, these articles, along with the development of the Internet and more powerful search engines, have enabled people to think in practical terms about the establishment of central facilities for storing, archiving, preserving, and making scholarly and artistic materials available. Repositories may be limited to one field, one department, one institution, or a consortium of several institutions. Collaboration through a consortium reduces costs for each member through resource sharing while expanding access to digital materials.

For universities, repositories are marketing tools communicating capabilities and quality by showcasing faculty and student research, public service projects, and other activities and collections. Repositories in universities may include preprints and postprints of journal articles, technical reports, white papers, research data, theses, dissertations, work in progress, important print and image collections, teaching and learning materials, and materials documenting the history of the institution. Digital university presses, such as Highwire [], University of California eScholarship editions [], the University of Chicago Press, the Chicago Digital Distribution Center, and BiblioVault [] are publishing online and establishing digital archives.

Scholarly societies may establish discipline-based repositories to preserve the history and literature of a particular subject area. However, these societies have a serious dilemma. They publish journals to disseminate research about their fields. If the societies establish open access repositories, they could experience reduced or zero publishing profits, which might in turn affect their ability to pay overhead expenses and to provide enhanced member services. The loss of revenue could place these societies in the position of having to ask members to pay more of the cost of member services.

The increased demand for scholarly information, especially in science, will probably increase the pressure on scholarly societies and universities. Digital publishing, global networking, more research, and increased communication among communities of scholars are driving the demand for broader access. The idea of the invisible college nurtured by meetings and preprints of journal articles has been replaced by global, discipline- or project-based online communities.

Governments and government agencies may use repositories in the same ways as universities to document work in progress and the histories of agencies. Some agencies will find repositories useful for storage and access to technical reports, white papers, hearings, and other documents.

Institutional Repository Examples

The Dspace repository project [] at MIT has received extensive coverage in the news and literature. The Dspace Web page describes the project as "a groundbreaking digital institutional repository that captures, stores, indexes, preserves, and redistributes the intellectual output of a university's research faculty in digital formats" []. The MIT repository contains a variety of research materials deposited in accordance with the policies developed by departments and research units at MIT.

Dspace developed open source software with a grant from Hewlett Packard and created a federation of universities to work collaboratively on the project. The Federation includes Cambridge University, Columbia, Cornell, MIT, Ohio State, University of Rochester, University of Toronto, and the University of Washington. Research institutions worldwide may acquire the Dspace software at no cost and any institution can adapt it to their own needs.

The University of California's eScholarship Repository [], part of the California Digital Library, offers faculty on the 10 UC campuses a central facility for the deposit of research or scholarly output. Individual research centers, departments, and sponsoring units set the policies for acceptance of content. Determination of acceptable content is in the hands of researchers and faculty. The system uses Berkeley Electronic Press software [] licensed by the University of California.

The developers of the Ohio State University (OSU) Knowledge Bank [] plan to include the digital assets and information services available to the OSU community in the repository. The library manages the Knowledge Bank as part of its knowledge management initiative.

In the U.K., the Consortium of University Research Libraries (CURL) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) have established Project SHERPA [] to build institutional repositories in U.K. research universities. CURL's [] mission is to increase the ability of research universities to share research for the benefit of research communities. JISC [] aims to support teaching, learning, research, and administration in higher education through the use of information and communications technology. The institutional repository projects support the goals of both organizations and promote collaborative development and operations.

Repositories and open archives are being established worldwide. Many institutions use GNU e-print software for these projects. The software, developed at the University of Southampton in England, is free. It creates an open access archive through author and/or institutional archives []. For a list of projects using the GNU software for author self-archiving, go to

Access and Use

Repositories now represent potentially rich sources of information, data, images, and valuable research results. The movement is new and the time it takes to plan, formulate policies, and bring institutional communities to consensus can make it a slow process. Each institution defines its own policies dealing with access to and use of materials in repositories. Not all materials can be made available freely. Copyrighted materials may carry a variety of restrictions. Nonexclusive publisher licenses would increase availability to these materials and place the publishers in the open access arena.

Some publishers permit authors to self-archive. Other publishers opt for exclusive licenses for a limited time, while still others will not allow any deviation from exclusive copyright.

Some materials may be restricted to a small group of researchers or to people associated with the institution because they represent work in progress deemed proprietary or that may entail sponsor restrictions. For example, a group working on a patentable device or process may want to share data only with members of the group.


Librarians both use and create institutional repositories. In establishing repositories there are a variety of decisions to make. Policies, systems architecture, and other elements will depend on institutional context and the scope and purposes of the repository. Policies appropriate for an academic institution may not work in a corporate setting. Not-for-profit organizations have unique purposes and cultures that will dictate how their repositories are formed and maintained.

Here are some of the key issues to consider when developing repositories:

• the institutional culture

• the scope of the repository

• content

• access levels

• legal aspects

• standards

• sustainability

• funding

Institutional culture depends on how the organization is structured as well as how much collaboration and trust exists within an institution. In academic organizations, faculty belong to departments, disciplines, and research groups. Academic competition may be fiercer in some universities than in corporations. In an internally competitive environment where cooperation and trust are not nurtured, building a repository will become more difficult. Faculty will not contribute willingly to a central repository unless they have been consulted and trust the process. Faculty need to be convinced that contributing to a repository will enhance their reputations in their disciplines and result in wider dissemination of their work.

Repository advocates must decide early on the purposes and scope of the repository and communicate them to all affected parties. The sooner participants can buy into the process, the better. Will the repository be central? Distributed? Will it cover only parts or all of the organization? For some institutions, community-based repositories will work well. Large and complex institutions will need consensus on key issues and technical standards. A repository may be limited to self-archiving by authors or may include the intellectual output and business and administrative documents for the whole institution. Many institutions have treasures known to only a few people. Repositories provide the means for unearthing these treasures and bringing them to light.

Decision-making on content can become a contentious issue. Criteria for deposit into the repository could come from each community or from a central body with input from the participants. The Dspace project at MIT includes articles, reprints, technical reports, working papers, conference papers, e-theses, data sets, image files, audio and video files, and reformatted digital library collections. Policies for the deposit of content and who may contribute content come from each MIT community, but the Dspace guidelines specify that material must be "education-oriented," in digital format, and produced by an MIT faculty member. The author/owner agrees to give MIT permission to distribute and preserve the material. Access policies are determined by MIT [].

Legal Considerations

Librarians and administrators responsible for operating and maintaining repositories need to ensure that all legal requirements are met. These requirements include appropriate software and content licenses. At MIT, authors must sign a nonexclusive license granting MIT permission to deposit, distribute, and preserve repository materials. Many universities have comprehensive intellectual property policies setting forth the responsibilities of faculty and administration. Corporations and not-for-profit organizations may have formal intellectual property policies. In some cases, intellectual property issues may be covered in employment contracts.

If there are limits on distribution of materials or access levels, the repository software needs to build in those limits to ensure compliance. Academic institutions usually opt for open access but may have to restrict access for some research activities. If student portfolios are included in the repository, privacy considerations may limit access.


Interoperability requires that repositories employ standards developed to handle issues associated with open access. These standards include the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) Reference Model [], Open Archives Metadata Harvesting Protocol (OAI-PMH) [], and the Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard (METS) [].

Software is a key element in the construction of an institutional repository. Guide to Institutional Repository Software, version 2, published by the Open Access Society [] is a valuable tool for selecting software appropriate to the needs and context of the institution and its repository.

Other organizations involved in standards and repository design and operations include the Digital Library Federation [], Coalition for Networked Information [], OCLC [], RLG [], the electronic theses and dissertations program at Virginia Tech [;], and Creative Commons [].


Librarians, archivists, faculty, and information technology staff have gained increased understanding of each other's work and learned to work more collaboratively in recent years. Each group now recognizes and appreciates the expertise and creativity of the others. The talents and commitment of time and energy from each group are essential to the success of a repository project. Creation and sustainability of a repository heavily depend on thinking together and learning what others on the team think so decisions can be made within their working context.

In simple terms, success in building a repository involves eight "C" words:

• comprehension

• collaboration

• context

• change

• caring

• commitment

• creativity

• competence

Comprehension means that all members of the team must share a common vision and understanding of the purposes and scope of the repository. Collaboration involves thinking and working together, with different people contributing their different talents, working with others to solve problems, and making important decisions. Context is each person's world view and working environment. Each person has a unique mind-set based on background, education, and experience. Thinking and working together in a non-threatening atmosphere helps people integrate other contexts into their own.

Repositories involve change in the way research is disseminated, preserved, and published. This change requires faculty to deposit their research results, data sets, and other materials in the repository — a new step in the research process. In corporations, management may require staff to deposit items, such as strategic plans, marketing plans, and working papers.

Caring motivates the desire to share research results and joint scholarly endeavors, preserve history, and provide knowledge and information needed for future generations to learn. Caring leads to the commitment to deposit one's scholarly work in the repository, encouraging others to do likewise by contributing ideas and energy. Managers show their commitment by understanding that repositories will grow and require support and funding in perpetuity.

Creativity involves imagination and the ability to visualize a new way of doing things. New ideas can come from anywhere — from individuals or groups of individuals.

Competency means knowing how to make the repository work for all its constituents. Librarians and archivists need to carry their collection development skills and operational know-how to the repository project. Information technology staff demonstrate their competencies by knowing about the software, hardware, networking, and standards needed to make the repository serve everyone.

Sustainability and Funding

Maintenance and sustainability are key issues that involve the long-term commitment of money by management. A repository cannot run by itself. It needs constant attention. Maintenance of content, software, and accessibility can change. IT staff and librarians need to know the consequences of changes in hardware, software, and standards and be able to adjust accordingly.

Librarians need to prepare to handle problems arising from a faculty member or key person leaving the organization, faculty collaborating with faculty in another institution or group of institutions, or with government or industry. Having clear policies concerning deposit, accessibility, and other anticipated contingencies will ease the problem-solving process.

Repositories cannot be sustained without long-term infusions of funds. Everyone involved in a repository needs to understand that the project has become part of their everyday lives and will require attention and funding in perpetuity. Too often managers in corporations seem unable to look beyond the quarter's bottom line and shy away from long term commitments. Their reluctance to commit funds is exacerbated in an uncertain economy. Many managers in academe emulate their corporate colleagues through their reluctance to raise and dedicate enough money to ensure that the repository is funded at an appropriate level forever.

Effect on Publishing

Institutional repositories and the open access movement will affect the publishing business. Each day, it becomes clearer and clearer that academic institutions, corporations, and other organizations will no longer pay the prices charged by scholarly publishers.

Players in the open access movement and builders of repositories have reacted to high journal prices by beginning plans to disaggregate the structure of scholarly publishing, to eliminate or curtail the distance between author and reader, to disintermediate. Raym Crow points out that one of the purposes of institutional repositories is to form a global system of interoperable repositories that will become centers for scholarly publishing. "Altering the structure of the scholarly publishing model will be neither simple nor immediate. The stakes are high for all the well-entrenched participants in the system — faculty, librarians, and publishers — and the inertia of the traditional publishing paradigm is immense."2

The open access movement is driving changes in how publishing costs are paid. For example, the Public Library of Science charges authors for value-added services (editing, refereeing, marketing, etc.) but does not charge readers for access. The drivers of the open access movement are high. In a world where journal prices continue to rise while the costs of information and networking technologies that enable interoperability continue to drop, recognition of the benefits of knowledge sharing grows.

Richard Johnson of SPARC made this observation:

The current system of scholarly publication limits, rather than expands, the readership and availability of most scholarly research (while also obscuring its institutional origins)3. People with no affiliation with research institutions have a difficult time identifying and finding research information. Despite the vast amount of U.S. government information available online, large amounts of scientific and medical research results are not readily available. Libraries buy technical reports from the National Technical Information Service and, until recently, the National Institutes of Health. The availability of these reports would increase if they were made part of the Federal Depository Library Program. Governments at all levels need to regard dissemination of the information they generate as crucial parts of technological and economic infrastructures and essential in a democratic republic.

The open access movement and institutional repositories could contribute significantly to economic growth by broadening the market for scholarly publications and research results, especially in science and medicine. Lower access costs would broaden usage. Economist Joel Mokyr found in his studies of knowledge creation and dissemination that lower access costs brought knowledge to people who used that knowledge as the basis of invention and innovation4. He also pointed out that ideas and knowledge may be expensive to generate, but inexpensive to use once implemented. The future will bring greater innovation and technologies through open access and institutional repositories.



Crow, Raym, The Case for Institutional Repositories: A SPARC Position Paper [], Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, 2002.

Lynch, Clifford, "Institutional Repositories: Essential Infrastructure for Scholarship in the Digital Age," ARL Bimonthly Report 226, February 2003, Association of Research Libraries []. Branin, Joseph, "Institutional Repositories," Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, Forthcoming May, 2004 [].

2 Raym, op. cit. p.3-4.

3 Johnson, Richard, "Institutional Repositories: Partnering with Faculty to Enhance Scholarly Communication." D-Lib Magazine, November, 2002 [].

4 Mokyr, Joel, The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy, Princeton University Press, 2002, p 1-27.


Susanne Bjørner is an independent consultant to publishers, authors, and librarians and writes about the information professions and industry. Contact her at Bjø

Stephanie C. Ardito is the principal of Ardito Information & Research, Inc., a full-service information firm based in Wilmington, Delaware. Her e-mail address is


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