The uses of USIR: research and your institutional repository

By Dec.21, 2009

Last week I attended an awareness-raising event all about Salford’s Institutional Repository (USIR). The presentations and discussions made a really convincing case for the many benefits of using an institutional repository to make research freely available online.

You may have noticed that last month the University of Salford made the front cover of the Times Higher Education, for being the 100th organisation in the world to mandate the use of their University repository by employees (see also blog post from 20 October). From January 2010, all research active staff will be required to deposit digital versions of their research outputs into USIR. The focus of the event last Tuesday, however, was very much on the incentives for using the repository rather than on the details of the mandate itself.

The event was introduced by the Vice-Chancellor Prof Martin Hall, a keen advocate for Open Access (see, for example his previous keynote speech and blog post on open access and open content). This was followed by presentations from Prof Ghassan Aouad (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation), Dr Alma Swan (a scholarly communications consultant) and Julie Berry (Associate Director of Library and Learning Services, where USIR sits). All these presentations have been made available online. But I will attempt here to summarise the gist of the case that was made.

Benefits

The beneficiaries of institutional repositories fall roughly into three categories:

  1. the individual researcher;
  2. the researcher’s institution;
  3. the global research community.

The argument goes something like this: the individual who puts their research outputs into their institutional repository instantly makes their work more visible. Repositories such as USIR are indexed by Google and other search engines (incidentally, for those curious about their readerships, it is now possible to view the repository ‘dashboard’ to see the number of times an individual document has been downloaded, the academic domain where these downloads have occurred, and the search terms your readers entered before finding your article). Each download increases the likelihood of your work being cited by someone, and this in turn increases the potential impact of your research, and raises your profile. Your institution will be pleased about this because (in research assessment terms) it benefits from high profile researchers whose work has an impact, and research that is more likely to lead to collaboration with industry and other sectors. From the institutional perspective, a repository also offers a very useful tool for managing and promoting the university’s research assets. Finally the benefits of open access repositories to the broader research community are also clear – they make sharing knowledge and research results a whole lot easier, cheaper and more efficient. Researchers’ access to online journal articles is currently limited by the range of journals that their institutional library pays to subscribe to. Not even the wealthiest University library can afford the subscription rates for every academic journal, and in the developing world, these rates act as a major barrier for academics wanting to access research. This is a situation that the open access movement aims to change.

So those are the advantages, in a nutshell (and for more details, please see the presentation slides). It is worth stressing that if you are a PhD student, then these benefits are just as applicable (if not more so) to you as they are to established academics. You may not yet have (m)any publications, but when you do, the repository will help you to make maximum use of them for developing your research profile.

What’s not to like?

Seems like a pretty straightforward case then? When questioned during the closing discussion at Tuesday’s event, the panel were adamant that there were no disadvantages of using an institutional repository to promote your work. And the audience (mainly academic staff and support staff) seemed on the whole supportive of the drive towards open access, and the role of the institutional repository in achieving this. However, the questions that were asked as part of the panel discussion echoed significant concerns that have often been raised in debates over open access, and point to some commonly perceived barriers. These included:

1. Intellectual Property

What are the threats to intellectual property? For example, in cases where patents are involved?

The requirement to make outputs available in the repository only applies to work that has already been published. There is no expectation that researchers deposit un-published work or work in progress (though the option is there if you want to), particularly when involving sensitive or confidential material. The repository simply makes work that is already public (eg. in a journal, book, or report) and makes it easier to see, or, as the panel put it, open access is a way of “publishing work better”.

Copyright, however, can be a barrier to depositing the full text of articles in the repository. Different publishers have different policies regarding the author’s use of repositories. Luckily at Salford, the Library has dedicated staff who can check the policies of your publisher for you, and can advise on all aspects of copyright.

2. Other Research Activity

What about other types of outputs?

The discourse surrounding repositories often seems biased towards printed outputs and particularly journal articles (due to the fact that repository development and adoption has been led by the sciences). This can be potentially off-putting to researchers in disciplines where  books/monographs are a more significant mode of presenting research results, or practice-based researchers where an output is more likely to be an exhibition or a film than a journal article. But in actual fact repositories are able to accommodate a wide range of items, including book extracts, images, audio recordings, videos, datasets and patents. They are far better at presenting multimedia items than they used to be, as developers have worked in partnership with art universities (such as the University of the Arts, London) to enhance repository software so that it can showcase applied and creative arts.

3. The fate of journals

Another area of concern is what the open access movement will mean for journals, and the valuable role they play in facilitating the peer review process. There seems to be no easy or simple answer to this. As the panel at the USIR event stressed, publishers will need to “think in new ways” in order to survive, potentially being paid for the service of peer reviewing rather than for the actual publication of research. This would rely on funding from Research Councils or Universities. It was stressed however, that from a library perspective, the current model of journal subscription is not working and is not sustainable. For a more detailed discussion, see the Times Higher article

Getting Started

All the practical information on how to deposit your research in Salford’s repository can be found on the USIR help pages. This includes an online tutorial and a deposit guide. For any queries about the process, you can also contact the USIR team on usir[@]Salford.ac.uk

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