Repositories follow-up - global vs. institutional
There have been a number of responses to my my VALA 2008 keynote on the future of repositories, which Brian Kelly has helpfully summarised to a large extent in a post on his blog. There are several themes here, which probably need to be separated out for further discussion. One such is my emphasis on building 'global' (as opposed to 'institutional') repository services.
Before I do that however, I just want to clarify one thing. Mike Ellis suggests that he is "bemused as to *why* repositories (at all)". I'll leave others to answer that. Suffice to say that I was not intending to argue that the management of scholarly stuff (and the workflows around that stuff) is unimportant. Of course it is. Just that our emphasis should not be on the particular kinds of systems that we choose to use to undertake that management, but on the bigger objective of open access and how whatever systems we put in place surface content on the Web and support the construction of compelling scholarly social networks. I am perfectly happy that some people will build systems that they choose to call repositories. Others will build content management systems. Still others something else. The labeling is almost irrelevant (except insofar that it doesn't get in the way of communicating the broader 'open access' message).
OK, back to the issue of global vs. institutional services. Rachel Heery says:
I don’t really see that there is conflict between encouraging more content going into institutional repositories and ambitions to provide more Web 2.0 type services on top of aggregated IR content. Surely these things go together?
Paul Walk makes a similar point in his blogged response:
The half sentence I don’t quite buy is the “global repository services”. Why can’t we “focus on building and/or using global scholarly social networks” (which I support) based on institutional repository services? We don’t have a problem with institutional web sites do we? Or institutional library OPACs? We have certainly managed to network the latter on a global scale, and built interesting services around this...
Yes, point(s) taken... though I think that the institutional Web site and the OPAC are not primarily 'social networks' (and even if they are, the network they are serving is largely institutionally focussed) so there is a difference. As I argued in the original blog entry, scholarly social networks are global in nature (or at least extra-institutional).
Of course, the blogosphere is a good example of a global social network being layered on top of a distributed base of content. On the face of it this seems to argue against my 'global repository' view. So what is different? Well, to be honest I'm not sure. Clearly, the blogosphere is not built out of 'institutional' blog services and my strong suspicion is that if we approached academic blogging in the same way we approach academic repositories we would rapidly kill off its future as a means of scholarly communication :-) . Long live an open, free market approach to the provision of blogs! God help us if institutions start trying to lay down the law about when and where its members can blog. There is a role for institutional blogging services but only as part of a wider landscape of options where individuals can pick and choose a solution that is most appropriate to them.
And that is one of my fundamental points about repositories I guess... when institutional repositories stop being an option that individuals can choose to make use of and instead become the only option on the table because that is what mandates and policies say must be used, we have a problem. Instead we need to focus on making scholarly content available on the Web in whatever form makes sense to individual scholars. My strong suspicion is that if someone came along and built a global research repository, let's call it ResearchShare for the sake of argument (though I'm aware that name is taken), and styled its features after the likes of Slideshare, we would end up with something far more compelling to individual scholars than current institutional offerings.
Note that I'm not being overly dogmatic here. In my view there are as many routes to open access as there are ways of surfacing content on the Web. If individual scholars want to do their own thing that's fine by me, provided they do it in a way that ensures their content is at a reasonably persistent URI and is indexed by Google and the like.
This leaves institutions with the problem of picking up the pieces of the multiple ways in which individual scholars choose to surface their scholarly content on the Web. Well sorry guys... get used to it!
Overall, I don't disagree much with Stu Weibel's take on this. It's a complex area with lots of competing interests, some rather entrenched. As Stu notes:
It is still possible that another entirely different model will emerge... more in-the-cloud. A distributed model does seem to complicate curation, (and that institutional reputation thing), but I wouldn't count it out just yet. Still, some institution has to take care of this stuff... responsibility involves the attachement to artifacts, even if they are bitstreams.