Deposited or not, you're coming with me creep
Mandate or not, you're depositing with me creep

For a while I’ve been mulling over that being a repository manager is rather like being RoboCop.  Yeah, I know I’ve only just finished banging on how Babylon 5 is linked to the world of open access and repositories – some humour me okay as I go all SciFi on you.


If you don’t know RoboCop – go watch the film okay, it’s a monumental satire on the dysfunction of the American Dream, individuality, self and a combination of ultra-violence and comedy.  Trust me you’ll love it.  And if you don’t…oh well, there’s always schlock like Downton Abby for you then.

Ctrl+Alt+Del anyone?Right, so you spotted the link right?   It’s the prime directives.

  1. Serve the public trust
  2. Protect the innocent
  3. Uphold the law
  4. <Classified>

Think about it – this is exactly how a repository manager works

  1. We serve the public trust by making all this publicly funded reasearch, paid for out of taxes and with (one hopes) the aim of furthering the knowledge of mankind, available to anyone in the world free of any pay wall barrier.  It’s real good guy stuff, and so I really believe we are serving the public trust.
  2. We protect the innocent by having things like takedown policies in place – so that (heaven forbid) a publisher or other rights holder gets uppity and launches a challenge, then we protect the innocent author from legal exposure by taking down any potentially offending material there and then.  Not to mention the fact that we
  3. Uphold the law of copyright, in some regards we are all very copyright conservative.  You should see the loops we repository types tie ourselves into to ensure we don’t breach copyright.  Not that our poor authors on the whole realise quite that they’re throwing away their rights every time they sign an agreement; nor indeed the fact that there is an argument that says they don’t have the authority to sign away the rights to material created under the auspices of their employer’s business.  But we uphold the law, and the licences no matter how crazy and often contradictory they may be.
  4. Oh sorry, this one’s classified.  Can’t say any more…oh wait, you’ve seen the film.  Directive 4 is that RoboCop won’t act against the best interests of his owner and employer OCP.  In the same way by carrying out Directives 2 and 3, we hopefully ensure that we’re not going to bring our employer into disrepute.  But at the same time each of the organisations in which we work have agendas, and these are not always perhaps in the best interest of the open access agenda.  Which can be tricky for a poor repository manager caught on the horns of Directive 4 – wanting to give the research from their authors the maximum impact and visibility, but getting caught up on what the institution thinks is “best”.  And like Alex Murphy we can’t go against Directive 4 or face shut down; or getting shit canned in our case.
RoboCop 2
Attempt to link repository to CRIS: Not a total success

Still with me?  Good.  Now think about what happens at the end of the film.  No not that awesome final exchange between the Old Man and Alex.  I mean that Murphy learns to work around his directives.  And for many repository managers today that’s what’s really tieing us in knots.  I often wonder if we need to be like Murphy in RoboCop 2 – and get all directives wiped.  Maybe then we can continue to act in the enlightened self-interest of our authors – I for one belive passionately in getting their readability, discoverability and use up; but at times these Prime Directives hold me back.

I’m not alone, and you might find people like Peter Murry-Rust have things to say about repository managers slavishly following their directives (especially number 3).  Like the author’s who on mass are currently making a stand against one of the bigger publishers, should we repository managers likewise plug ourselves into a proverbial electric fence, wipe the directives and throw caution to the wind and build our repositories’ contents as a true counter to the paywall fenced off journals of publishers?  It seems this may be one of the few ways that we’ll even come close to reaching the critical mass of open access publications we need make an impact, and what could stop us?

Elsevier 209: Put down your mandate, you have 20 seconds to comply!
Elsevier 209: Put down your mandate, you have 20 seconds to comply!

Oh right. Yes I remember now.  Great big fat law suits from the multinational’s library land have fed over the years.  Where’s a cobra assault cannon when you need one?

I should add that having RoboCop’s armour and Auto-9 would have come in handy more than once when I’ve walked into a den full of academics.  But heck, my prime directives would have stopped me doing anything foolish…especially that tricky directive 4.

Still, after the more hostile of receptions the mental image is one that makes me give a little Alex Murphy grin.  And maybe that’s it – maybe like RoboCop being a repository manager does mean following the rules, keeping everything shipshape and Detroit fashion.  Making sure we don’t do anything to upset the corporate balance or shock the suits.  Counting our small victories, and learning to work within the rules – but always knowing we could do so much more.

If only we could break our in-built prime directives.

I’d buy that for a dollar.


2 thoughts on “RoboCop

  1. This was a metaphor well worth waiting for!

    The comparison with RoboCop seems particularly apt in light of the film’s emphasis on privatisation and monopoly of public goods. In the film’s case, the police; in our case, publicly-funded research. The film argues that giving corporations too much power ultimately leads to disaster and that it takes extreme methods to fight their greed: methods such as wide-ranging boycotts or ultraviolent cyborgs.

    At the moment, I think repository managers are unfortunately more like the police – getting trampled upon and ignored – when they should be more like RoboCop. Only with less murder.


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