Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, February 06, 2009

Against the primacy of IRs

Gavin Baker, Authors: I don’t care where you deposit, just do it, A Journal of Insignificant Inquiry, February 5, 2009.

... The advocates of institutional repositories usually frame themselves as being advocates of decentralization, but this isn’t terribly accurate. A recent blog post by Bernard Rentier, rector of the University of Liège, captures the arguments well: [Note: omitting excerpt.] ...

But we might as well say this instead:

If requiring deposit is left to universities, their repositories will only contain publications by their researchers. Since some researchers have multiple institutional affiliations, and since any given publication may be authored by researchers across multiple institutions, it is easy to see that researchers will ultimately have to deposit their publications in as many repositories as there are institutions involved in their research.

This trend seems to rest on the naive notion that, in the Internet era, it is somehow still necessary for researchers to conduct their work solely through the channels of a university.

It is understandable that universities may wish to host a complete collection of the research published by their faculty, but nowadays that can easily be accomplished by importing it automatically from the more complete collections of the distributed Web.

Recall also that universities are not the universal providers of all research output. There will always be independent scholars, as well as publications by authors in government, non-profits and think tanks, and corporations.

The OA philosophy is global. It cannot be reduced to a single university.

To be clear, I am not saying “just put it on the Web”. Appropriate metadata, interoperability, and preservation for long-term access matter; repositories (whether organized around research institutions, research funders, or research topics) provide these. But arguing for the primacy of institutional over funder repositories is little less naive than arguing the opposite. Maximum effectiveness requires coordination by all parties. ...

Update (2/6/09).  [Peter Suber:] For my views, see points #3 and #13 in my article from last week on OA policy options.

Update (2/7/09).  Also see Stevan Harnad's comments:

...Gavin Baker suggests that it does not matter where authors deposit their papers to make them Open Access (OA): in an Institutional Repository (IR) or a Central Repository (CR). Nor, more importantly, does it matter where authors' funders mandate that they should deposit them, because IR deposits can be harvested to CRs and vice versa. I point out that this apparent symmetry between IRs and CRs with respect to the harvestability from one to the other (in either direction) is irrelevant today because most of the target content for OA is not yet even being deposited at all, anywhere: In other words, authors are decidedly not "just doing it." Nor are institutions -- the universal providers of OA's target output, both funded and unfunded, across all fields -- "just mandating that authors do it." Apart from the tiny number (about 30) that have already mandated deposit, institutions are the "slumbering giant" of OA, until they wake up and mandate the deposit of their own research output in their own IRs. Not all research output is funded, but all research output is institutional: Hence institutions are the universal providers of all OA's target content. Although not many funders mandate deposit either, the few that already do (about 30) can help wake the slumbering giant, because one funder mandate impinges on the research output of fundees at many different institutions. But there is a fundamental underlying asymmetry governing where funders should mandate deposit: As Prof. Bernard Rentier (founder of EuropenScholar and Rector of U. Liège, one of the first universities to adopt an institutional deposit mandate) has recently stressed, convergent funder mandates that require deposit in the fundee's own IR will facilitate the adoption of deposit mandates by institutions (the slumbering giant), whereas divergent funder mandates that require CR deposit (or are indifferent between CR and IR deposit) will only capture the research they fund, while needlessly handicapping (or missing the opportunity to facilitate) efforts to get institutional deposit mandates adopted and complied with too. The optimal solution for both institutions and funders is therefore: "Deposit institutionally, harvest centrally".

Update (2/8/09).  Also see Heather Morrison's comments:

...For the searcher, the optimum will almost always be the disciplinary / subject archives....

Institutional archives are also necessary, for a number of reasons, two of which are listed here. First, the majority of disciplines do not have disciplinary archives, so this is necessary. More will likely be developed, but given that many institutions now have archives, future disciplinary archives may well be developed within institutional archives. Second, institutional archives will provide functions and services to institutions beyond what disciplinary archives can do, such as showcasing the work of the university, its departments and faculty to potential donors, including the public and politicians for publicly funded institution, and potential students....

Update. (2/10/09) [Gavin Baker:] See also my response to the responses.