COAR counters reports of repositories’ demise

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Guest post by Kathleen Shearer, Executive Director, COAR

“The reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated” (to paraphrase Mark Twain)

Last week COAR published a response to an article written by Richard Poynder on September 22, 2016. Although some of Richard Poynder’s comments definitely reflect the current reality, he made a number of other somewhat questionable assertions, in particular that institutional repositories (IRs) have failed.

coar-logoPoynder’s comments reflect a creeping narrative entering into the dialogue about Open Access. This narrative portrays repositories as obsolete, dead, and with very little support from the community. Yet this picture, propagated by a few loud voices in the community, is in contradiction with my experiences. In the last several months I have been traveling extensively in Europe, Latin America and China. All of these regions are investing in repository infrastructure to support open access, are working actively to improve interoperability across regions, and are establishing regional and/or national networks for repositories. Now that funders’ Open Access policies are really coming into effect around the world, I’m sure that we will see repository networks further flourish.

It is true that repositories have not yet completely fulfilled their potential and there are efforts to shift the transition to open access through APC-based gold OA. However, this is a critical time for IRs. The global network is now at a point where we have an international mechanism to communicate with each other (via COAR) and we are consolidating around a common vision and strategy for repositories.

Recognizing the current challenges and opportunities for repositories, COAR launched a working group in April 2016 to identify priority functionalities for the next generation of repositories. In this activity, our vision is clearly articulated:

“To position distributed repositories as the foundation of a globally networked infrastructure for scholarly communication that is collectively managed by the scholarly community. The resulting global repository network should have the potential to help transform the scholarly communication system by emphasizing the benefits of collective, open and distributed management, open content, uniform behaviors, real-time dissemination, and collective innovation.”

integration-1364673_960_720The aim of the working group is to better integrate repositories into the research process and make them truly ‘of the web, not just on the web’. We also aim to ensure that local repositories are plugged into a global network, becoming part of a comprehensive and interoperable infrastructure for research and education.

Ultimately, we are promoting a new model for scholarly communication, not a technology. Technologies will and must change over time, including repository technologies. We are calling for the scholarly community to take back control of knowledge production process via a distributed network based at scholarly institutions around the world.

In his comments, Poynder also talked about the lack of full text content in repositories and cited one example, the University of Florida, which is working with Elsevier to add metadata records. However, one repository does not make a trend and COAR does not support this type of model. The vast majority of repositories focus on collecting full text content and the primary raison d’etre of repositories has always been, and remains, to provide access to full text articles, and other valuable research outputs, so they can be re-used and maximize the value and impact of research.

While highly centralized systems are far easier to launch and promote, there are some very powerful arguments to be made in moving towards a more decentralized approach. A distributed system is much less vulnerable to buy-out, manipulation, or failure. It ensures backup and overlap, which is critical for long term preservation and access. And finally, a global network, managed collectively by the university and research community around the world, can be more attuned to local values, regional issues and a variety of perspectives.

And so, there is an African proverb that I often quote in my presentations about the future of repositories, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’. Indeed, it has taken longer than we had anticipated to coalesce around a common vision in a distributed, global environment, but we are now well positioned to offer a viable alternative for an open and community led scholarly communication system.

Repositories do have the potential to change scholarly communication, but there is some urgency that we start to build momentum now. Let’s work together to realize this vision.

Kathleen Shearer, Executive Director, COAR

NOTE: If you want to find out more about the Next Generation Repositories initiative, sign up for COAR’s free webinar on Tuesday, October 25, 2016:

Webinar: Next Generation Repositories, October 25

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