Repositories Meeting – reflections

I thought it might be useful to try and pick out a few themes from last weeks JISC repositories programme meeting and have a little think about what the programme has achieved, and what implications it might have for the use of the repository at Lincoln.

First there is little doubt that the programme succeeded in creating lots of new repositories of which ours is one. It also brought together a lot of people with a technical background, a lot of people with library backgrounds and even the odd educational developer. (That would be me I suppose!)   But a new phenomenon comes with a new set of problems and the most urgent one facing the meeting was the question of converting the repository from a “project” into a “service.”  From our perspective the question is how do we change the Lincoln Repository (Not its formal name – we’re still working on that at the time of writing) from something that is the concern of a few people meeting together in a room to something that impinges on the institutional consciousness on a scale that, say, Blackboard, does.  How do we ensure that researchers have the confidence to use it. How, for that matter, do we define what research is? 

One potential solution, broadening its constituency to include learning objects was discussed at the meeting,  although not without any conclusion. I have slightly mixed feelings about this, and did raise the question of quality of the learning objects that might be included. Although I know not everyone agrees with me I am not sure that the repository is the appropriate place for a short lived set of Powerpoint slides. The more of this kind of stuff is in the repository, the more “poor results” are going to be turned up by searchers and that might have consequenses for the reputation of the repository. On the other hand, who is going to make decisions about what is of suitable quality? We don’t want to discourage people from using the repository, and if storing a handout or two in it encourages people to deposit their research alongside their teaching materials I can live with it. I’m also sceptical of having multiple collections. When I worked in libraries I could never see the point of having “special collections” separate from the main sequence of books.  All it meant was that things got shelved in the wrong place and nobody could find them.  Anyway  the discussion at the meeting didn’t really resolve the issue, possibly because it isn’t resolvable in a way that will satisfy everyone.  Perhaps the answer lies in the way we manage metadata. Maybe we could hide LOs from Google, limiting them to user only access.

Secondly, and just focussing on research there is the issue of discipline based versus institutional repositories. We had a very interesting presentation on a crystallography repository at Southampton. One of the ways that this had promoted interest among users was by offering subject specific metadata that addressed particular needs within the crystallography community. That of course raises the rather obvious question of why a Southampton based crystallographer would want to use Southampton’s Institutional repository rather than the subject one and I suppose the answer is that the Institutional repository should offer services that the subject one doesn’t. 

That raises the third point – what exactly are the services that an institutional repository can or should offer to its clients. Among the suggestions were easy deposit of material, simple metadata creation, statistical and analytic services, rss and other feeds  – for example, information about who looks at the material in your repository. Of course we already offer some of these and any other ideas would be very welcome!  But really there is another client that we should not ignore, and that is the institution itself. Why should an institution bother with a repository? The real challenge is to produce legible products and evidenced outcomes from the whole programme that sell the idea of the repository to the senior management of the institution. There’s an inevitable chicken and egg air to this though because the repository won’t achieve any tangible outcomes until it gets a critical mass of content. But it won’t get that without a reason for people to use it. So if there’s any lesson to take from the two days it that’s we have (as a community) done a tremendous amount of hard work, and achieved a great deal. Only thing is…

… the REALLY hard work begins now.

Oh, and as a mildly amusing aside did you know that there is actually a Repository Road in London SE18. Apparently it leads to HaHa road. Not sure what to make of that!  (I’m not making this up – check out David Flander’s blog for proof!)