Digital repositories in the Chronicle of Higher Ed

The Chronicle of Higher Education provides an update on the state of institutional repositories in US higher education in the article “Digital Repositories Foment a Quiet Revolution in Scholarship.”

The article chronicles some of the disappointments of IRs, but also highlights some successes — focusing attention on instances where deposit in the IR has made otherwise invisible or forgotten scholarship available to the public through Google searches and the like.

Among others, the article quotes TDL friend Sarah Shreeves, manager of the University of Illinois’ IDEALS repository. (Shreeves spoke recently at ETD 2010 in Austin about UI’s work setting up an ETD program using TDL’s Vireo software.) According to Shreeves, the repository has made “unique materials” more visible to “unexpected users”:

Repositories’ contents are visible to search engines, which means that people far removed from academe can explore the literature and download what interests them. (Authors can opt to keep their material “dark,” meaning that it cannot be viewed or downloaded without permission.) “I would say we get the majority of our downloads from elsewhere,” meaning off the campus, Ms. Shreeves says. “Right now, approximately 70 percent of our downloads are being directed from Google searches.” A user taken directly from a Google search to a PDF in the repository might not even realize that he or she is tapping into Ideals.

The article profiles several other universities’ repository programs as well, including the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (which boasts that 35-40% of its faculty has deposited into the IR!), the University of Missouri, and Harvard. At UNL, scholarly communications coordinator Paul Royster is ambitious about the prospects of repositories to achieve a revolutionary effect on the dissemination of scholarship:

If Mr. Royster has his way, repositories like Digital Commons will eventually help create what amounts to a revolution in the scholarly communications system—the original promise of repositories. “I envision the day when the universities take back scholarly communications from the publishers, and we don’t have to ransom our content back from for-profit companies,” he says. “And that’s our long-range goal here. That’s probably not going to happen until well after I retire, but we see ourselves moving that way.”

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