One of the things I’ve noticed increasingly, working in the field of repository management, is how senior managers tend to look at repositories with a library mindset. Talk to most senior librarians and heads of service about what’s the number one priority for their repository right now and they’ll say “Getting it as full as possible of all academic’s publications.” Which while a laudable goal rather demonstrates the librarian thinking that increasingly seems to retard the really important role of repositories.
Getting the research already in there used.
Librarians, for all their faults, are all about building great big collections of objects that are meticulously catalogued according to archaic and intricate laws that make AD&D or Warhammer 40k rules look like simplicity itself! For generations they’ve squirreled together buildings full of big papery volumes which feel like they are developed according to the Field of Dreams maxim “If you build it, they will come.” More stuff for the sake of completeness.
In this modern age of librarianship thankfully people are slowly coming to realisation that no one location or library can ever hold everything that people want. Yes, not even the British Library folks. And this is a good thing which means in time librarians will focus more on enabling access.
But what about repositories? You see the problem is that the underlying and false assumption that predicates the library driven collection building policies of most institutional repositories is that every single academic’s publications are of the same value. They might well be in the myriad of academic spheres within which they each research, but these readers are likely to have already read the publications. The big bonus of repositories is that they are readable outside the silos of academia in the great beyond – the world we call the rest of the world. And it’s in the rest of the world where the major economic benefit and impact from the research can be realised.
Commercial bodies don’t buy many, if any, research journals. Where do they turn when they need to find some exploitable research? Sure they can pay the British Library an arm and a leg for a commercial copy of an article, but with limited funds that’s a dying art. Chances are these days the smart ones turn to a repository. Which means for academics, if you’re not putting your work in the repository; well good luck holding onto your funding over the next 10 years as you’re for all intents and purposes utterly invisible. The likelihood of someone wanting to collaborate with you, or heaven forbid take your work and make a REFable impact with it are as next to zero as you’re likely to find outside of the Maths’ dept.
Want to demonstrate real economic value of the repository – get what is in there used. What I believe repository managers should be focussing on is getting the most out of what we’ve got. Sure get it indexed well, get it OCRed if you can and share it left right and centre through the social web (although truth be told you need the academics to embrace that ideal as well). The sad metric of number of items, so beloved it seems by most senior managers, is a tawdry tin cup to the golden path of the actual usage of the materials in the right markets.
Of course the tricky thing is always going to demonstrate that it was from the repository that the multi-million pound deal with a major international drug company came about. Which is why repository managers need to forge strong links with outward facing business and enterprise units. Get yourself on their agenda when they meet local (and not so local) companies. Capture those rare occasions where you do get a CEO mentioning that they found the work in the repository, these kind of tales might be anecdotal but you can bet the VC’ll stand up and take note when names are named; far more than a bar chart no matter how many colours you use.
Forget the academic audiences, forget the metrics of number of items, and forget student use. These are all false friends. Focus on the golden treasures within and market them to the world. That’s how repositories can make a real economic difference to their institutions, authors and hell in the long run Britain.
But for now I guess we’ll all have to keep focussing on stuffing them full of more fluff, and rather than shining our light upon the real treasures that lie buried deep within. Unless we can all somehow get senior managers to break their ingrained librarian thinking.