Repositories and Research Management Systems

Now there’s a title that grabs the attention!

I thought it might be useful to briefly mention a JISC report on embedding repositories into institutional research management systems, because it seems to be a way of promoting the use of the repository. We all know repositories are basically a “good thing” but I still think that we’re some way from achieving anything like the level of integration into institutional practice that they need if we’re to realise the benefits from the investment of time and effort we’ve made so far.

Research Management Systems (for those readers who don’t follow these matters closely) are ways in which universities manage their research. Sometimes sophisticated software packages are used, sometimes it’s done through a rather haphazard collection of spreadsheets and databases.

Now you might say there are two things here. Managers are interested in the latter – knowing how many things the university has published, and where, and less interested in reading the outputs of the research. Academic colleagues are probably more likely to be interested in the outputs. That’s probably true, but there are many benefits to integrating the two.

Benefits at institutional level in the longer term include

  • Preparedness for REF (and its successors), better-populated IRs and better self-service for people interested in contacting/working with the HEI.
  • Speedier processing of grant applications and easier progress tracking during application stages and lower costs of maintaining quality.
  • The spreadsheet-anddatabase systems approach has a number of obvious vulnerabilities.
  • Realising the benefits depends on increasing the number of well-populated IRs and linking or merging IRs and publications database.
    It would promote compliance with OA mandates

The adoption of a common standard for information will further help
interoperability. There is something called CERIF (Common European Research Information Framework) and this is standard does appear to have made some progress towards wider acceptance.

However it does need senior management commitment. Start-up costs are likely to be high, and there will be ongoing personnel costs required to maintain both quality and quality of information.

The resources to manage and maintain IR and RMS are specialist rather than generic, and if there is an increased take-up of the integrated approach it is possible that demand could exceed supply. Which, in these straitened times should be an encouragement for all “repository rats” (A term I’ve stolen from Dorothea Salo) to start thinking hard about these issues

Repository Services?

Got to musing about this having read the report on the JISC funded White Rose project which had some interesting things to say about repository services.  Bit of a rushed post I’m afraid, but I thought it worth recording my notes

Clearly any services have to be derived from an understanding of the requirements of users. Why would they want to use a repository at all? How can the capture of research outputs contribute to a personal or institutional research profile?  How can it help grant holders fulfil grant related open access obligations. Of course the more services we can offer the more visible the repository becomes. 

Ideas included import of Refworks/Endnote databases or come to that bulk import of full text which would be useful because researchers are understandably reluctant to duplicate effort in creating metadata.  It would also be useful to share repository metadata with other internal and external systems. 

Some things we might want to consider that White Rose did – Researcher behaviour – investigate researcher awareness, motivation and workflow though a survey of  their existing archiving activity. 

Interoperability with other univ. systems (such as the library catalogue, Blackboard Content Store and so on) 

Advocacy at a departmental level, which might include production of regular statistical reports of downloads thus emphasising the benefits of using the repository. 

Offering a copyright checking service. (Well we do, sort of.) 

And to finish on a bigger question. Should the repository be a high profile service or should it be, in effect, invisible? I think the answer to that is that it starts high profile and then gets embedded. But how?

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!)

Plugged into the mains again!

My laptop, that is, not me! Just had three very interesting sessions about working with the repository community, working with repository developers and working with repository stakeholders, followed by two very interesting round table discussions about a) the role of learning objects repositories and b) longer term sustainability of repositories. Fortunately for me, everyone has been gaily twittering away, all afternoon, so if you want to get a picture of the event search twitter for the #rpmeet tag. And I don’t have to write it all up from memory. Isn’t Twitter a wonderful thing?

Liveblogging from the final JISC repositories meeting!

Finally made it to Birmingham after a somewhat tortous trek across the East Midlands (Is there any group of people more addicted to pointless burbling than British”train managers”? – If so I do not wish to meet them!) Anyway, the JISC repositories and preservation programme has come to an end and this final meeting is designed to provide an opportunity to celebrate the work we’ve done and to network with a view to building on the work of the programme.

Started with a summary of the programme – It started as a rather single focussed programme trying to build up traditional text repositories  but has grown to include all sorts of e-learning activities, and mesh with other JISC programmes. Repositories are now central to the improvement of both learning’n’teaching and research. (Hmm, we’ll see!) 

We’re being told what the objectives of the meeting are. Day 1(Today) will principally be an ooportunity for project staff to network, share knowledge and experiences. Tomorrow we’ll focus on the impact and value that  repositories and preservation work can yield to institutions and the wider community. 

Meeting should provide a dedicated chance to focus on what has been achieved during the programme, but there are to be forums (fora?) where topics of interest will be discussed, and an “ideas room – where will repository bein5 years time, how can we increase content, what’s our killer content and so on.

Kevin Ashley – plenary


What JISC asked us all to do, isn’t necessarily identical with what people actually do. Inevitably we don’t all end up achieving exactly what we set out to achieve. And where has that left us. Well JISC wanted more repositories, and to enhance those that repositories,there need to be services to support repositories. There were also some projects fpcussed on exploiting repository content. JISC wanted to get to a position  where there was no excuse not to deposit in a repository – every institution should have one, or at least have access to a consortium. 

Then went through a list of all the enhancement  projects and what JISC thought they were doing,inviting us to squawk (out loud, not Twitter angrily) if they were wrong. What is noticeable is the wide variety of aims. Alot were about improved ingest, but many were also about influencing decision makers, controlled languages, blogging and twittering your deposits, registries of metadata schemas, text mining, using robots to managing deposit, developing application profiles, looking at significant properties . (Quite scary how many projects I wasn’t familiar with, having been involved this programme for 2 years!) 

There were also some “mad ideas” – Rapid Innovation was born this way. Take a little bit of money out of the budget, and pay for a very short project – one person, not much project management.Took two days to be agreed – and is now on a much bigger scale (As we know!) – Mr Cute, SNEEP and Fedorazon were all #jiscri projects. 

So what did we get. Certainly got lots of repositories, and services for doing stuff with them. They’re being used for more than research papers, and we’re building links with e-research, institutional admin, teaching and e-learning. There are also far more tools around metadata and preservation.  But we also have more research, better research, which has more impact. There is better teaching and learning, because it is much easier to find, and deploy usable content.  There are cheaper and better administrative processes, and there is much more linking to global services and networks (Open Access anyone?), and of course we are innovating. 

But here’s a thought. Most people visit about 6 websites a day. If somebody recommends a destination site then they’re saying it’s as least as good as Facebook, You Tube or whatever. But is Blackboard really that good. If they go there (they might have to to get a PowerPoint of a lecture) are they going to stay? How do we make our repository a place where people want to stay? That’s perhaps the next challenge  for us.


Battery fading! Back when I find a power socket!

The promised podcast!

As I said in my last post, I made the rather rash promised that I’d make the talk available as a podcast. So here it is.


And here’s the transcript of what I said

Yes, I know it’s too long. I suspect the ideal length of an academic podcast is probably about 10 minutes, so my very first podcast has already broken my rules. But than I did promise the organisers of the meeting at which I gave the talk, that I’d cover pretty much everything we did, so that’s my feeble excuse. It is my first podcast and I’d be very interested to hear (or read!) feedback, so please don’t be shy of using the comments form. Below are the links to the web sites I referred to in the podcast, and of course thanks for listening.

CGI flythrough of the school of Architecture

Lincoln Academic Commons

Academic Earth

MIT open courseware

Embedding your digital repository.

Just for a change, we hosted one of the SUETR workshop events at Lincoln, and in spite of the weather we had a reasonably good turnout of about 15 people from across the sector.  (And, I have to say it was a nice change to go to one of these events and NOT have to drag myself out of bed at some unreasonable hour prior to trudging to some distant location!)

Anyway, the event started with a presentation from me about what we’d been doing with our repository at Lincoln – Modesty forbids that I review myself of course, but I’m hoping to try and make the talk as available as a podcast, which I will post just as soon as I’ve worked out how to do it.  But my theme was about the challenge of building and maintaining a dual purpose repository  (i.e. one that has both research papers and learning objects in it) – We started out trying to build a learning object repository that could handle research, and have ended up with a research repository that can handle learning objects.  I won’t bore you with those issues here, (I’ll bore you with them in the podcast instead!) but go on to the rest of the day.

Next we had Sally Rumsey from the University of Oxford who talked about using the repository to develop a global brand – Obviously Oxford already have quite a powerful brand, and they have taken a rather different approach to their repository. They base their repositories on Fedora which in fact as a sort of base database that can feed data to to a variety of repository interfaces. Sally, perhaps not surprisingly was very insistent on the importance of having good technical support. She admitted that as a librarian she had had no idea how far she could push the boundaries of what could be done when you started to work with a software developer.

In the afternoon we had presentations from Lucy Keating of Newcastle University who rather than talk about Newcastle’s repository gave us a thought provoking overview and raised a lot of questions about how we might persuade colleagues to start depositing their research into our repositories  by adding value to the content that was already in the repository. The final speaker was Mary Robinson from Nottingham, who has been working with the Repositories support team. I’ve run these together, not out of any disrespect to either speaker, both of whom were excellent, but because one of the things they talked about was the importance of ensuring that the data in your repository could be harvested by other services. There are a number of services such as OAISTER, ROAR, INTUTE and OPEN- DOAR that bring together data from multiple repositories, thus allowing repository users to search across repositories and indeed to allow repository managers to share knowledge about improving the infrastructure.

Interspersed through the presentations was a great deal of useful discussion about promoting repositories among colleagues, develop statistical analyses to show researchers who was accessing their work, how we could promote open access as a public good.

I’m afraid time and pressure of work has prevented this being a very long post, but I’d welcome additional comments from those who were present if they feel I’ve missed anything.

Even More Repository Advocacy

Today, along with Paul Stainthorp from the library I attended another Repository Advocacy meeting, this time at the University of Northampton. Regular readers might begin to think I don’t do anything other than travel to exotic locations as my last post was on the same theme. In fact that’s all I have done about advocating our repository, and today’s session was really useful in that it convinced me that we really ought to get moving on this. We’ve spent a lot of time (and quite a lot of JISC and the University’s money) on establishing the Lincoln Repository, and we need to do a lot more about getting it on to people’s radar.

The first two presentations were slightly technical in nature. Firstly we had Les Carr from the University of Southampton talking about repository statistics, and how they can be used to illustrate the success of an e-print once it’s in the repository. While I won’t reproduce the whole talk here, (essentially he reviewed a number of statistical services including Google Analytics and IR stats) I do want to note the point he made that once people start to link to an e-print, the number of hits it gets can grow exponentially, especially if it becomes an external reference on a wikipedia page. And of course if bibliometrics are going to be used in the next Research Assessment exercise, that becomes a very good reason to deposit your paper in the repository, as you’re likely to get lots of citations. (And no, you can’t just edit Wikipedia pages to add your links. That would be spamming and Wikipedia has ways of preventing that.)

Les was followed by Stuart Lewis from the University of Aberystwyth who talked about ways of making your repository useful to search engines. There were some things that really ought to be obvious, such as ensuring that your title is spelled correctly, and that your title contains the words people will use to search for it. I was also interested to note that “funny” titles tended to get lower hit rates. He also drew our attention to sitemaps which is a useful tool to help webmasters get search engines to pay more attention to their sites.

Something else that is recommended is to make full use of the infrastructure surrounding repositories, such as OAISter which is a sort of union repository and Ethos Again, I don’t want to write an overly long post, but if anyone wants more details of either of these presentations, I can supply some notes I took in the session, and as I did with the Bradford day, if the slides and notes are made available I will add a link to the site here.

As far as presentations were concerned that was practically it. We then had a lengthy discussion about what constituted a successful repository, from the point of view of a researcher, a repository administrator and a university manager, and of course there were as many points of view as there were people present. The general feeling was that a successful repository was a tool that enhanced a researchers’ career by making their work available, but without requiring too much work on the part of the researcher, that did not require huge amounts of the time of repository staff to be spent either on training colleagues, or on depositing material, and that a senior manager could show off as a sort of “shop window” for the university.

While all of this is true, and very relevant, it brings me to the point of this blog post. None of this will happen if people don’t know about the repository. We must make a huge effort raise awareness of the repository among colleagues. I came away convinced that we do have to produce some high quality publicity material, and have a high profile launch. (Northampton had had a very successful launch party, even featuring a “repository cake” Click here for more information on the party!)

We then spent an interesting hour reviewing the various advocacy materials people had brought with them. Some of these were professionally produced, others done in house and a variety of tools were used – newsletters (we really MUST get something in Contact), posters, photographs, web sites, Flyers, Frequently Asked Questions lists and so on.

Of course, these things in themselves won’t bring about a vibrant community of repository users. On the other hand, not doing them, seems a guaranteed way of condemning the repository to a quiet existence on the sidelines of the university’s information environment. They are a first step to making the repository a sustainable part of the academic process, and they are high on the “to do” list that I made as part of the last exercise. The day being a very practical sort of day we all had to do this, and it was quite interesting to compare mine with Paul’s. One thing we both had on our lists was to create a presentation on the repository for use in staff development sessions. So that’s another thing I’ve got to do. But I’ve also got lots of other things to do, including finding some money for a few brochures and so on. But there’s also things like finding out what’s happening with installing our own IR stats package, seeing what is happening in relation to the repository at the Research Policy Steering Committee, looking at what if anything, I can do with the CERD web page and portal sites to promote the repository, and seeing what we can do to get more involved with the national infrastructure.

But, a very good and useful day, and thanks to JISC and the organisers (Miggie Pickton from Northampton, and Jenny Delasalle from Warwick)

Repository Advocacy

Just returned from an interesting day about repository advocacy hosted by Bradford University. This is relevant to us, because having set up a repository, (at considerable time and effort and expense) we want people to use it. I’m not going to regale readers with a long account of the day, rather to pick up on some useful themes that emerged.

If you want more details the slides from the presentations and notes from the breakout session are now available.

Firstly, what constitutes a successful repository? Well, one with a lot of stuff in it, obviously, but it also needs to meet user requirements which will of course vary according to who is using the repository. One of the presentations was from Julie Allinson and described how the repository software in use at York was meeting a very specific need, in this case, effectively digitising their slide library. Not every repository meets a specific need and one measure of success might be that there are more people using it and in doing so generating more funding. The challenge here is that researchers may be using content in the repository to generate bids, but not really acknowledging it, or even understanding that’s what they are doing. Ideally a successful repository should be deeply embedded in university structure. Another presentation from Shirley Yearwood Jackman explained how Liverpool University had created a role of repository editor and given this to fairly senior academic staff in the various departments. She admitted that this hadn’t worked everywhere, but where it had it had certainly raised the profile of the repository.

We will return to what constitutes effective advocacy later, but there was quite an interesting theme running throughout the day about what the barriers to a successful repository might be. Most of those present thought the very word “repository” itself was unhelpful, and were changing the name of their repository to something like “digital library” Personally I’m not totally convinced by this argument. I think pretending something is something other than it is can be counter productive in the long term. I do agree that the word repository isn’t all that familiar to many users (and sounds slightly medical) but “digital library” can have lots of other meanings, and in any case Lincoln already has an E-library. So if anyone’s got a better name, I’m listening. I suppose the main difference is that the repository is more a library of material produced by the University, whereas the e-library (at least at Lincoln) is mostly made up of things we’ve bought in.

But, that’s perhaps the least important barrier. Rather more to the point is the perennial lack of time, money and staff. There is a continuing need for the repository team to ramp up its efforts, be more structured for example be realistic about the resource that is likely to be required. Rachel Proudfoot from the White Rose Project (a collaboration between three Yorkshire Universities) reminded us that advocacy is much bigger than the project. So, what can we do to get started. One common approach is to mandate deposit, which essentially means that the University makes it a condition of research that material is deposited in the Repository. Rachel thought that this might have some benefit but a there was a danger in setting up a mandate before the university was ready for it. Mandates needs foundations or as she put it you have to have a mandate ready landscape. And you can expect some harrumphing. (At Leeds university about only about 70% of academic staff agreed that they would comply willingly, but equally only 8.5% said they would flatly refuse. A mandate might not lead to a huge rush of deposits, but she gave the example of Glasgow university where it has led to more demand for advocacy work – explaining what it’s all about.

The recommended strategy is to develop as many allies as possible, continue to use multiple routes, be clear about the benefits the repository will bring. Having some sort of demonstration package is worth a great deal. The key seems to be to finding evidence of the repository’s potential and using that to sell it to stakeholders (e.g. the repository as a marketing tool) Find out what pushes the stakeholders buttons. For example, it’s widely accepted that departments within a university have different needs, but so do researchers themselves. End of career researchers might be expected to be less interested than beginning researchers although there is some evidence that some see the repository as an excellent place for storing their academic legacy! But it is a good idea to work on the research students, and find ways to embed the repository into the research management process, even if this does fall short of a full mandate.

Finally there are some technical issues to consider. Metadata is essential to a successful repository but is not something that grabs the attention of many researchers. As Julie said, many academics believe they don’t need or want it but THEY DO! There was some discussion of commercial products such as Symplectic, but nobody present had actually implemented them (I have to admit I hadn’t actually heard of them before, but their web site does look interesting).Another issue that few of those present had been able to address was interoperability with other Campus systems. Ideally, a researcher should be able to add something to the repository from Blackboard with a single click but we are some way away from that yet. Finally, there is the issue of preservation. Most of us are happily using PDFs for our documents but there’s no guarantee that this format will last any longer than any other digital format has done, so although we claim that the repository is a permanent home, for research materials we need to ensure that we have addressed this issue if our advocacy is going to be credible. There was some inconclusive discussion about whether we should adopt the PDF/A format which is designed for longer term archiving.

A very useful day, which if it didn’t provide any instant solutions, probably on account of there not being any, did focus my mind on the fact that while we might have completed the JISC project, the work is really only just beginning.

Required reading for repository rats.

I like the title “repository rat” Sadly I can’t claim the title as my own – it was coined by Dorothea Salo, whose blog ought to be required reading for all those involved with repositories.

Anyway a couple of useful looking posts popped up on my Google Alerts this morning. I mention them just to remind us all that having built the  Lincoln Repository our work is far from finished. The build it and they will come model doesn’t really work – we have to identify the problem that the repository can solve (and it has to be a real problem that users have, not one we think they might have. Anyway, more here and here.