Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 8, Number 4: April 2008

Library Access to Scholarship

Harvard & Institutional Repositories

The biggest news since the last Library Access to Scholarship should have been formal passage of the NIH policy as a requirement for NIH-funded research—but that may be overshadowed by the actions of Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Harvard’s action may indeed be a “game-changer,” as the saying goes.

I’m not going to cover the NIH policy, which is now a mandate to deposit articles from NIH-funded research into PubMed. Unfortunately, it’s a mandate that allows for up to 12 months’ embargo, which weakens it considerably. To date, the voluntary NIH policy has had miserable results, apparently yielding about 4% compliance. You can find more than enough reporting and commentary on NIH elsewhere.

There’s always too much stuff to cover even at my lightweight level, so this time I’ll focus on two things: the Harvard mandate and institutional repositories.

The Harvard Vote

On February 12, 2008, Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences unanimously approved a motion that is, effectively, an open access mandate—the first such mandate in a U.S. university and, according to Peter Suber, “one of the first anywhere to be adopted by faculty themselves rather than by administrators.” It’s worth quoting the motion in full (from Suber’s Open access news, which has a wealth of links on the motion and reactions to it), given its likely significance:

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University is committed to disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible. In keeping with that commitment, the Faculty adopts the following policy: Each Faculty member grants to the President and Fellows of Harvard College permission to make available his or her scholarly articles and to exercise the copyright in those articles. In legal terms, the permission granted by each Faculty member is a nonexclusive, irrevocable, paid-up, worldwide license to exercise any and all rights under copyright relating to each of his or her scholarly articles, in any medium, and to authorize others to do the same, provided that the articles are not sold for a profit. The policy will apply to all scholarly articles written while the person is a member of the Faculty except for any articles completed before the adoption of this policy and any articles for which the Faculty member entered into an incompatible licensing or assignment agreement before the adoption of this policy. The Dean or the Dean’s designate will waive application of the policy for a particular article upon written request by a Faculty member explaining the need.

To assist the University in distributing the articles, each Faculty member will provide an electronic copy of the final version of the article at no charge to the appropriate representative of the Provost’s Office in an appropriate format (such as PDF) specified by the Provost’s Office. The Provost’s Office may make the article available to the public in an open-access repository.

The Office of the Dean will be responsible for interpreting this policy, resolving disputes concerning its interpretation and application, and recommending changes to the Faculty from time to time. The policy will be reviewed after three years and a report presented to the Faculty.

It strikes me as a fairly clear motion. The effect is that nearly all future scholarly articles from Harvard Arts and Sciences should become accessible through OAI repositories, with exceptions requiring explicit waivers. Here’s some of what Robert Darnton, Director of Harvard University Library, said about the motion in the Harvard Crimson for February 12, 2008:

The motion before the FAS [Faculty of Arts and Sciences] in support of open access to scholarly articles concerns openness in general. It is meant to promote the free communication of knowledge. By retaining rights for the widest possible dissemination of the faculty’s work, it would make scholarship by members of the FAS freely accessible everywhere in the world, and it would reinforce a new effort by Harvard to share its intellectual wealth.

The University Library has taken a leading role in that endeavor. Far from reserving its resources for the privileged few, it is digitizing its special collections, opening them to everyone online, and cooperating with Google in the attempt to make books in the public domain actually available to the public, a worldwide public, which extends everywhere that people have access to the Internet…

The motion also represents an opportunity to reshape the landscape of learning. A shift in the system for communicating knowledge has created a contradiction at the heart of academic life. We academics provide the content for scholarly journals. We evaluate articles as referees, we serve on editorial boards, we work as editors ourselves, yet the journals force us to buy back our work, in published form, at outrageous prices. Many journals now cost more than $20,000 for a year’s subscription.

The spiraling cost of journals has inflicted severe damage on research libraries, creating a ripple effect: in order to purchase the journals, libraries have had to reduce their acquisitions of monographs; the reduced demand among libraries for monographs has forced university presses to cut back on the publication of them; and the near impossibility of publishing their dissertations has jeopardized the careers of a whole generation of scholars in many fields. It would be naïve to assume that a positive vote by the FAS on February 12 would force publishers to slash their prices. But by passing the motion we can begin to resist the trends that have created so much damage....

The Harvard University Library will set up an Office for Scholarly Communication to make the open-access repository an instrument for access to research across all disciplines in the spirit of the “one-university” environment that the HOLLIS catalog now provides for holdings in all the libraries, more than 80 of them, throughout the University system… By mandating copyright retention and by placing those rights in the hands of the institution running the repository, the motion will create the conditions for a high deposit rate.

What further sets Harvard’s proposal apart from the others is its opt-out provision....Whereas other repositories depend on faculty opting in by volunteering to provide digitized copies of their work, the Harvard system would have all faculty members grant a non-exclusive permission to the President and Fellows of Harvard to distribute their articles. The system would be collective but not coercive. Anyone who wanted to retain exclusive rights to her- or himself could do so by obtaining a waiver…

Darnton notes that the deposit rate at the University of California under a voluntary system is about 14%—and it’s much lower elsewhere. UC is considering a similar proposal.

Suber calls this a “permission mandate rather than a deposit mandate”—instead of requiring faculty to deposit articles themselves, it requires that they give the university non-exclusive permission to host articles. Suber says this is the first permission mandate anywhere. He likes the model. As he notes, it’s usually the university library that handles the actual deposits—and who better? Suber’s February 12, 2008 post offers a number of other good points on the virtues of the Harvard approach.

Peter Suber’s final bullet, in the February 12, 2008 post, deserves quotation in full:

Publishers who dislike the idea could respond by refusing to publish work by Harvard faculty. But that will not happen. Harvard is inserting the wedge and making it easier for other universities to follow suit with similar policies.

There’s a term that can be applied to any scholarly journal that boycotts work by Harvard faculty: Suicidal. Can you image the effect on any journal’s reputation once it became known that it would reject Harvard articles because it couldn’t live with Harvard’s retention of copyright?

For UC to follow suit would be wonderful: The likelihood of serious journals rejecting work from UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego or any of the other campuses in their specialties is also nearly zero. Add, say, any three or four of Yale, MIT, Cornell, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford, Michigan, Penn, Duke, Chicago, Toronto, Wisconsin and the University of Texas (I could go on…), and you’d have a clear case for journal publishers: “Deal with OA…or die.”

Early reactions

I’m going to ignore the one-note advocate whose reaction was to tell Harvard how it should have written the motion. It’s too predictable: If it’s not 100% my way, it’s flawed, perhaps fatally flawed. I’m only offering tastes of a few of many reactions, mostly positive. As usual, Peter Suber is the go-to source at www.earlham. edu/~peters/fos/

Naturally, the AAP’s Allan Adler grumped about mandates. Gavin Baker noted the significance of this being a faculty vote. “This is the strongest indication yet: Yes, Virginia, scientists do want open access.” David Weinberger likes the mandate but isn’t wild about the opt-out provision. Mike Carroll called the Harvard policy “huge” and stressed its bottom-up nature.

T. Scott Plutchak posted “The Harvard vote” at T. Scott ( on February 13, 2008:

I’m inclined to think that the Harvard vote may be more significant than the passage of the NIH policy.  That it is driven by the faculty rather than being imposed from the outside is a very positive sign.  Most important, however, is that a major university is taking a significant step towards managing its own scholarly production.

He contrasts this with the NIH situation, where he’s hearing that commercial publishers are trying to buy up even more society-published journals, using as one selling point that they can handle the “headaches” of dealing with NIH’s policy. He notes Springer’s encouragement of scholars to write the high “Open Choice” fees into their grants as one way of accommodating NIH—and assuring lots of revenue for Springer. (As Suber notes later, Springer already allows archiving without fee or delay, which is all NIH requires.)

I don’t fault the commercial publishers at all—they’re being creative and taking advantage of the changing terrain as best they can. But I continue to worry about the small publishers and the societies and continue to believe that it was a grave error on the part of the open access movement not to seek alliances there… If the Harvard vote represents a movement on the part of faculty toward taking more control of their own scholarly production, then that’s a very good thing.

A number of people and newspapers called on their own universities to follow suit.

Stan Katz wrote a surprising post at The Chronicle Review’s Brainstorm blog. The key paragraph:

The point I want to make about the Harvard proposal is that it can be seen as a move to undercut nonprofit publishers as well as the commercial behemoths (if it is truly a proposal to post all Harvard faculty articles on the university Web site). Depending on the details, it might also be a proposal to bypass peer review, unless Harvard plans to set up its own peer-review process. What social science and humanities faculty have to debate is the merits of entering the world of preprint article circulation that has served the scientists so well. Our scholarship is, I think, significantly different than that of the scientists. Both copyright and publisher peer-review have a long and useful past in our world, and we would do well to think through the implications of abandoning them — though it is hard to imagine that this is what Harvard actually has in mind.

Sigh. There’s “endangered peer review” again, together with “abandoning” copyright. Comments on the post took issue with his assertions. On the other hand, one university press person claimed that resources to publish humanities journals open access “don’t exist, at least not yet”—which makes me wonder about the hundreds of humanities open-access journals already in existence.

Paul Courant at Michigan took issue with complaints that Harvard’s policy might endanger society publishers:

It is somewhat troubling that some academic publishers and academic societies have expressed concern that the Harvard mandate will put them at mortal risk, while merely trimming the profits of the big commercial publishers. Plainly, we in the academy have an interest in robust nonprofit scholarly publishing, but we should not fall for the idea that the only way for nonprofit publishing to survive is through policies that assure huge profits to the big players. (There is an analogy to agricultural policy here. In the name of preserving the “family farm,” governments around the world provide billions in subsidy to agribusiness.)

It’s enormously amusing that Patricia Schroeder, president of AAP, while saying “I don’t think anyone is quaking in their boots” because of the Harvard mandate, also said this: “publishers may not be quite as excited to take articles from Harvard.” Bwahahahah… oops, sorry.

Peter Suber devoted a solid eight pages to Harvard’s mandate in the March 2008 SPARC Open Access Newsletter (, including direct commentary and many links to other sources. It’s what you’d expect from Suber: comprehensive, fair, insightful and absolutely worth reading. Also essentially impossible to summarize. He points out details of the Harvard situation that I’ve omitted and offers extended commentary on the long-term meaning of Harvard’s action. He believes the policy will spread. Frankly, I can’t imagine it won’t—and I’d love to see the University of California act sooner rather than later.

Would you be surprised that ALPSP, AAP/PSP and STM issued a statement that appears to suggest mandates such as Harvard’s are unnecessary and possibly harmful? You shouldn’t be. Peter Suber deals with it nicely in a March 11, 2008 post at Open access news.

Dorothea Salo wrote two posts at Caveat lector relating to the Harvard situation, on February 13 and 14, 2008 ( Excerpts from both:

A friend of mine, wholly unconnected with academia or libraries or scholarly publishing, IMed me last night about Harvard’s bold faculty-governance move. “This will make waves, won’t it?” he asked.

I hope so. I surely do hope so. This could change the Great Game in repository managers’ favor. I am in complete agreement with T. Scott Plutchak that this could turn out bigger than the NIH public-access policy…

I am suddenly bullish on IRs, for the first time in quite some time. Mind you, I will turn bearish again if Harvard turns out to stand alone, as is quite possible—I don’t see a mad rush to copy MIT’s OpenCourseWare initiative. However, the policy spadework done by SPARC and John Ober’s crew and others has specifically been in a research rather than teaching context, so perhaps Harvard’s example will prove easier to follow than MIT’s.

While the AAP and certain of its members spent gobs of money in Washington futilely trying to stop the NIH policy from sprouting teeth, Harvard quietly flanked them. I didn’t know the Harvard permissions policy was even on the table until a few days before it passed. Judging from the lack of concerted response from scholarly publishing, they didn’t see it coming either.

I would be afraid, very afraid, right now if I were a journal publisher who believed my profits depended on preventing widespread self-archiving or playing dog-in-the-manger with copyright. The Harvard policy puts publishers in an extraordinarily weak position. They can’t denounce it; that’s tantamount to denouncing faculty, which would be utterly suicidal. (Publishers can and do slag librarians. They can and do slag government. They can’t slag faculty, and they know it.) I don’t think they can sue; even if they could win in court (which I rather doubt, though standard not-a-lawyer disclaimers apply), the hideous publicity from suing Harvard would stick like tar. They can’t prevent eager librarians at Harvard from setting up and filling a repository. Even their standard lines of FUD won’t work—they can’t seriously spin this as “a vote against peer review,” because really, is Harvard going to do anything that damages peer review? Of course not! All the publishers can realistically do is plead poverty, and a look at their lobbying budgets and profit margins scotches that argument.

At Harvard itself, publishers are impotent. The sly cleverness of Harvard’s strategy has me in awe. Since we know that arguments based on increased impact and altruism make no headway with faculty, Harvard went straight for the jugular: faculty’s sense of ownership over their work…

Stopping other institutions from following in Harvard’s footsteps is a completely different game from stopping legislation in Washington. There are no words for the fiasco that attempting to bribe faculty would create, as faculty are not lobbyists or legislators; the opprobrium the AAP faced over PRISM would be a wet firecracker by comparison…

Exacerbating the problem are consortia such as the CIC, and state university systems with a unified voice on these matters such as California. Not only need publishers keep their eye on individual institutions, they need to block policy and advocacy efforts coming from collections of institutions. I’m sorry, they just can’t, not with the worst will in the world.

No, I have a feeling the deafening silence coming from publishers right now is deliberate. Their only realistic hope is that the Harvard policy sinks like a stone in a vast sea of institutional indifference, and the best way for them to create that outcome is to keep their mouths shut so that the initial flurry of coverage and interest fades quicker.

The ball is in our court now, we open-access advocates. We can’t let Harvard’s fusillade go quiet. Come on, Cornell. Come on, California. Come on, MIT and Yale and (dare I say it?) Wisconsin. Let’s do this thing.

The University of California seems well on its way. For MIT, it would seem a natural progression from existing initiatives. In terms of world-class campuses—well, that would be four more right there. What publisher will say, “Sorry, but we’re not accepting papers from UC or Harvard”?

Faculty ignorance of open access

Is it possible to overstate the significance of Harvard’s vote being by the faculty, not an administrative fiat? I wonder. As I was finishing up the notes above and getting ready for the next section, I ran into some old items I’d saved but hadn’t used yet.

In an April 13, 2007 post at Open access news, Peter Suber points to a UK report “Researchers’ use of academic libraries and their services” ( researchers-use-libraries). Key paragraph:

Despite all the activity and progress on open access over the past couple of years…researchers remain largely unaware of the issues and arguments, and this was reflected in the focus groups and other discussions we carried out for this study. Of the researchers we consulted, only about 1 in 10 were able to show that they fully understood what is meant by open access....

Making this finding unsurprising: “Our survey shows a significant discrepancy between the proportion of librarians who say their institution has an open access institutional repository (52%) and the proportion of researchers who believe that their institution has such a repository (15%).” Peter Suber notes: “On the one hand, it’s very discouraging, especially after all this time. On the other hand, it supports our claim that the problem is ignorance, not opposition. My experience is that it only takes a couple of minutes to excite faculty about OA, once you get their attention. The hard part is—still—getting their attention.”

Here in the U.S., at least according to Dorothea Salo, even the librarians aren’t up to speed. As she says in a May 16, 2007 Caveat lector post, “Paying for OA” (excerpts):

I’ve said before that academic librarians are sadly ignorant about open access; our discipline’s research literature lags well behind others in progress toward OA…

In my experience, academic librarians have a strong, largely implicit, and (of course) completely erroneous belief that “you get what you pay for.” In the long run, it’s possible that making them set aside some of their budget to support OA will turn them into advocates—they’re paying for it, so it must be all right. But in the short run, open access smells funny to them, much as it does to many faculty….

But maybe that’s changing…at least if the Harvard vote, a similar Oregon vote and activities at UC and elsewhere mean anything.

The Green Road: Institutional Repositories

I keep repeating my general advice for library people who are interested in open access (and more of you should be!): Read Peter Suber’s Open access news blog and SPARC Open Access Newsletter, and maybe some other blogs related to OA—I’ve listed them before.

Here’s more specific advice, if you’re interested in institutional repositories from a library perspective: Read Caveat lector ( Dorothea Salo does this stuff for a living. She cares deeply about what she does. She’s a little discouraged at times. She’s forthright and honest all the time.

I rarely deal with IR issues; as far as I can tell, the most recent mention was in early 2006—and that discussed several of Salo’s posts. Meanwhile, I gathered printouts of a few items where I thought I could add value by noting them. That stack now includes 20 printouts—and, except for a D-Lib Magazine article from March/April 2007, all of them are Caveat lector posts.

Here’s this section in a nutshell. “A Cornell study showed that Cornell’s DSpace institutional repository wasn’t being used or populated very well and attempted to find out why. Dorothea Salo keeps on saying worthwhile and challenging things about IRs, how they do or don’t work, and how they can or should work.” Or you could just read “Innkeepers at the Roach Motel” (, but Salo says she’s going to do a major rewrite.

Tempting as it is to stop right there, I’m inclined to offer a few notes & observations along the way. We start in December 2006 and move forward from there. I won’t be adding much commentary. To do so would mostly display my own ignorance.

Google and journal backruns

In late 2006, Google offered to digitize journal backruns for free. Peter Suber wrote about it, finding Google’s offer considerably less than ideal, but possibly still a good thing. Dorothea Salo wasn’t as sanguine, in a December 17, 2006 post:

I see a ton of downside, so much downside that I don’t think any self-respecting journal should take this deal. I do agree with Suber that should Google’s offer be accepted by a lot of publishers, open access would benefit hugely, at least in the short term—and to be honest, knowledge of that immediate short-term benefit is making it very hard for me to write this post…

My stubborn objection to the shape of this deal stems from my ebook days, and boils down to this: never, ever, EVER agree to a digitization deal that doesn’t leave you in control of a copy of the bits

There’s a lot more to the post and if you’re interested in that issue you should go read it—but it’s not directly relevant to IR issues. Her key argument: Google wasn’t giving a copy of “the bits”—the digitized journal—back to the publisher, and she thinks the Google project could get in the way of proper preservation plans for journals. Those plans could easily involve institutional repositories, on their own and as part of LOCKSS or similar projects.

A day later (December 18, 2006), after Peter Suber noted that Salo hadn’t suggested an alternative route for journals lacking a digitized backrun, she posted “What to do?” Excerpts:

If I were in those shoes, here’s what I’d do: sit back and wait, at least for now. I think Suber is right that OCA or someone else will come up with a better deal. If enough publishers express their wariness to Google, Google itself may come up with a better deal! The opportunity cost of waiting is negligible, so why rush in?

Journal publishers will have figured this out already, but for those playing along at home: Google’s deal only works for journals who consider open digital access an acceptable publication and dissemination mechanism. Not all journals will agree with that, be it because of book-smeller bias or a perceived need to continue to charge rents on the backrun. Moreover, a Google deal makes only limited sense for a journal with no plans to publish current runs electronically. I don’t know how many journals that actually is, but it must be larger than zero.

If none of those concerns applied to my journal, however, I’d be looking for a better OA partner than Google while I waited. Not a few journals in this situation will have formal or informal affiliations with institutions. Those institutions have libraries. Do those libraries have publishing-services or conversion or scanning outfits? Do they have an institutional repository? How about an OJS installation? If they do, that’s assuredly where I would go first. (Would I, as a repository manager, welcome a newly-OA journal backrun? With open arms! And I can give it OAI-PMH exposure as well as Google juice. Can Google?)

The hard part is going to be funding. Library digitization arms are often cost-recovery outfits, though repository storage, bandwidth, and preservation are generally free to the storer. (We’re libraries. Storage and preservation are our job.) Still, for a journal that has no OA backrun, I would think grant funding could be had, or even institutional funding for a particularly interesting journal (or a particularly prominent faculty member, as many journal editors are). If this journal-digitization thing catches on, I wouldn’t be surprised to see funds earmarked at some grant agencies precisely to take digitized backruns OA…

I’m leaving out a lot. What’s here is what’s most directly relevant to the role of IRs in making open access work—and the relationship of most IRs to libraries.

Dancing with them what brung ya

That’s the title of a February 1, 2007 post in which Salo comments on one of Peter Suber’s predictions for OA in 2007. First, she quotes one of Suber’s predictions:

I’m tempted to predict a continuing tension between the narrow conception of institutional repositories (to provide OA for eprints) and the broad conception of IRs (to provide OA for all kinds of digital content, from eprints to courseware, conference webcasts, student work, digitized library collections, administrative records, and so on, with at least as much attention on preservation as access). But I have to predict that the broad conception will prevail. Universities that launch general-purpose archiving software will have active constituents urging them to take full advantage of it. The good news for OA is that many institutional interests, beyond the OA interests, will converge to fund and maintain the IR. The bad news for OA is that the project of filling the IR with the institution’s research output could, without vigilant stewardship, drift downward on the IR’s priority list.

She agrees with the prediction—but she’s annoyed that “he even had to raise the matter” and notes that there’s not even a shred of evidence for Suber’s “bad news” possibility. Excerpts of what else Salo has to say:

Just for a moment, imagine that academic libraries holding print resources were suddenly told that their sole priority—not top priority, mind you, but sole priority—was the acquisition and dissemination of the peer-reviewed journal literature.

I’ll wait for every single academic librarian who reads Caveat Lector to stop laughing uproariously. As a bonus, I’ll even talk down the government-documents and special-collections librarians who are readying their torches and pitchforks. The simple reality is that academic libraries are multiple-purpose organizations serving many and diverse constituencies with many and diverse materials…

What’s more, we wouldn’t have it any other way. So if the green road to OA wants to dance with academic libraries—and green-OA does want us on its dance card, because it would not exist and cannot at present survive without us—it will have to accept the other digital baggage we bring with us. Student papers. Digitized collections. Webcasts. Learning objects. Et cetera.

There are certainly discussions worth having about whether standard IR technology is the best tool for some of these things…These are different discussions, however, from “OA concerns the peer-reviewed literature and nothing else!”

I refuse to be defensive about archiving more than peer-reviewed journal literature in the repository I run. I have never considered the peer-reviewed journal literature the end-all of research anyway, and I do not agree that open access to it solves every single pressing problem in scholarly communication…

For my own part, I am quite convinced that IRs and their managers in academic libraries have a larger mission and many more opportunities than the peer-reviewed literature offers. That shouldn’t anger those whose sole or primary cause is OA to peer-reviewed literature. It should reassure them, because it is excellent evidence that academic librarians such as I will continue an active commitment to IR technology and to advancing OA, with support from the institutions we work for.

Assailing academic libraries and librarians gains narrowly-focused green-OA advocates nothing whatever. Instead, they should consider dancing with them what brung ‘em.

I remember vividly, some years back, a discussion about the future of academic libraries in which one self-assured non-librarian came very close to saying that the function of an academic library is to move peer-reviewed articles from their creators to their readers. It’s not quite as outlandish as Salo suggests.

Are they being used?

Stepping away from Caveat lector for the moment, we have a 22-page D-Lib article by Philip M. Davis and Matthew J.L. Connolly: “Evaluating the reasons for non-use of Cornell University’s installation of DSpace.” ( As described, Cornell’s institutional repository (DSpace, also what Salo’s running at Wisconsin) is “largely underpopulated and underused by its faculty. Many of its collections are empty, and most collections contain few items.”

The authors did a three-part evaluative study of institutional repositories, comparing seven other DSpace installations to Cornell’s and interviewing faculty members. They go through the study and results in considerable and somewhat depressing detail. Here’s the conclusion:

While some librarians perceive a crisis in scholarly communication as a crisis in access to the literature, Cornell faculty perceive this essentially as a non-issue. Each discipline has a normative culture, largely defined by their reward system and traditions. If the goal of institutional repositories is to capture and preserve the scholarship of one’s faculty, institutional repositories will need to address this cultural diversity.

Will the Harvard mandate increase understanding elsewhere? Time will tell.

Underuse and underpopulation are running themes with Salo, to be sure.

Disciplinary culture, libraries and IRs

On May 17, Salo considered an interesting disconnect: The area where the serials crisis is most acute, the area where IRs should find a natural constituency—namely, science, technology and medicine—is an area where scholars are not heavily invested in academic libraries. Excerpts:

E-journals and article databases are a transparent service to these researchers; surveys have shown that because the access technology is the same—that is, the web browser—they simply cannot distinguish between a resource on the free web and a resource that their libraries have paid dearly for. (OA, of course, is muddying the waters somewhat, which should not be construed as an argument against OA.) Books? They don’t use books…

These researchers do not see the library, do not go to the (physical) library, do not care about the library, do not think about the library. So insofar as institutional repositories are a library service (and as I have repeated ad infinitum, they are that nearly everywhere they exist, at least in the United States), they are just as invisible as every other library service. Small wonder I have an outreach problem! My key constituencies just never think to look in the library for me.

The arts and humanities tell a different tale. The library is a major locus of arts and humanities research, with librarians a major part of the faculty’s working lives, both as scholars and as teachers. This means in practice that librarians often play a key role in introducing arts and humanities faculty to technologies that can help them… In my nearly two years doing this work, I have actually had more contact with humanities scholars than STM researchers, and I am quite willing to believe that’s partly or wholly because the library impinges more often and more deeply on their consciousness.

That’s a sad analysis. I wonder if it’s true everywhere? One of her responses is to “market to STM departments’ local IT staff, who are both less contemptuous of the library than those they serve and more likely to see the IR as a solution to genuine problems they have.”

Broken repositories

Dorothea Salo has become the most vocal library voice talking about institutional repositories—and I don’t believe she set out to have that level of prominence. Salo runs a DSpace IR at the University of Wisconsin. She believes in IRs as part of open access and she believes in open access. “I’m still convinced, mind you, that open access is not a windmill—it’s viable, it’s necessary, and it will happen under various guises.”

She’s been vocally unhappy with the IR situation, as expressed over a number of posts. While she sums it all up in “Roach Motel,” there’s some virtue to glancing at the developing position. So, for example, portions of a September 5, 2007 post:

Institutional repositories as a class are in serious trouble. They are not producing the outcomes they promised—or, indeed, much of any outcome in many cases. They are sucking up library staff time and development muscle, and libraries haven’t enough of either commodity to waste on a non-productive service.

Fundamentally, the value proposition on which IRs were sold to libraries was in error. Voluntary self-archiving in institutional repositories simply does not happen in the absence of deposit mandates. From a library perspective, this changes the picture from the original “build it, step back, and they will come” to “make a tremendous ongoing investment in marketing and library-mediated deposit services that may never pay off if other libraries at other institutions don’t do likewise.” It’s only sensible that many libraries back away from the latter commitment.

If we in the open-access movement don’t confront our error head-on and make plans for routing around it, I predict with unhappy confidence that many if not most IRs will wither and die, and few more will open. As I said, that’s not necessarily a deathblow for open access, not at all. I do think it would be a sincere pity…

Perhaps if we had built repository systems that weren’t unusable lumbering dinosaurs, that were designed around daily faculty reality rather than the idealized vision of self-archiving, we might have earned some uptake on grounds of immediate practicality rather than hopes of changed attitudes. But we didn’t, so we’re stuck.

An example: mediated deposit. Repository systems blithely assume that the person pushing the buttons to make a deposit is the same person with authority to grant the repository’s license—that is, a person with intellectual-property rights over the content. This is wishful thinking. In most repositories, most deposits are done by a third party, be it a librarian, departmental staff, or a faculty member’s graduate-student assistants…

How much more uptake would we have if we could offer a service enabling departmental IT staff to batch-deposit papers which (once individual faculty have responded to the email requesting licensure) appear magically as prettily-formatted HTML citations on faculty and departmental web pages? It’s technically feasible. We haven’t done it because we’ve fixated far too strongly on the “self” in “self-archiving.”

How much more uptake would we have if we maintained a system that welcomes and cares for unfinished work as well as curating and displaying the finished products of that work? I can say with some authority that I’d have a great many more preprints and postprints if faculty could find their preprints and postprints in the first place!

Salo saw one hopeful sign in December 2007. She was one of the speakers at a NISO/PALINET workshop, “Getting the most out of your institutional repository”—and, as she says in a December 5, 2007 post, it “was sold out, packed to the gills. I was fair shocked, after hearing one librarian say at ASIST that her boss had said “No, I don’t want one of those institutional repositories—they all fail.”

In the same post, she offers some cautionary notes. First, she disagrees slightly with one of Peter Suber’s predictions (“more OA repositories, more deposits in OA repositories”) and adds a somewhat downbeat prediction:

I do not think that there will be significantly more open-access institutional repositories in the United States at the end of 2008 than there are today. This is only a slight disagreement with Peter Suber, because he didn’t specify IRs, just open-access repositories, and there likely will be a few more of those, especially outside the States. I also think that if, as Suber suggests, self-archiving hits the tipping point once we get an NIH mandate and a few mandates like it, institutional repositories will not be winners. Nothing will counteract scholars’ natural gravitation toward their disciplines.

I also predict that there will be at least one high-profile IR failure in the United States before the end of 2008… It could be an outright closure, which will touch off a furious debate about repository succession planning that we really should have had years ago. It could be a more graceful handoff, or a consolidation into a consortial repository. It could be a major defunding; the repository’s materials will remain accessible, but staff time and money thrown at the repository will be reduced significantly or eliminated…


Institutional repositories are money pits, and the returns are negligible. The cost-per-item-archived is absurd. Libraries may be idealistic, but they’re not stupid, and they do move on from failed experiments, especially when those experiments have a heavy technology component.

There’s much more, having to do with commitment and how current IRs actually work.

A December 11, 2007 post notes another part of the problem: “Repository software developers charge gaily into development work without understanding how libraries work, or how repositories work inside libraries.” A few bits from a five-page post:

First, the usual open-source “scratch own itch” development model doesn’t work as well in libraries. The reason for this is that with a few exceptions, librarians are not programmers and do not think like them

Second, the community-based development models that are so fashionable just at present in the repository community are equally if not more precarious. This just isn’t how libraries are accustomed to acquiring their software and having their needs met!...

What are libraries accustomed to? RFPs. Vendors. Hosted services. Black boxes. Fee-for-service, not fee-for-input…

Third, this is not a good time to be asking libraries for resources for repositories. Institutional repositories are in enough trouble as it is…

Fifth, most libraries don’t have any library technologists.

I’m skipping over some posts, including an interesting January 11, 2008 post (“Jeremiah, not a bullfrog”) that says a lot about why Salo’s been writing this stuff.

A persona approach

Here’s a case where there is just no way I can add value—and summarizing the posts could subtract value. Salo wrote a series of posts beginning January 24, 2008 (“Meet Dr. Troia”) and continuing through January 30, 2008 (“Solving Cassandra’s problems”). She describes several personas, then uses them to look at repository design in a different way. If you care about this stuff, go read the posts.

In Closing

What? I didn’t discuss “Innkeeper at the Roach Motel”? No, I didn’t. I read it but I’m not going to comment on it. Here’s what you need to know about the article, which is available through Wisconsin’s DSpace repository and will appear in Library Trends this year:

Ø  It’s moderately long—just under 10,000 words, or about 12-14 Cites & Insights pages.

Ø  It’s important and well written.

Ø  You’re better off reading it directly than getting my inadequate summary and comments.

There’s much more to talk about on OA, much less the broader issues of library access to scholarship. I think these two themes are related. You can draw the lines.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 8, Number 4, Whole Issue 101, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, Director and Managing Editor of the PALINET Leadership Network.

Cites & Insights is sponsored by YBP Library Services,

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