Dorothea Salo is the Digital Repository Librarian for the University of Wisconsin. She claims that, “[The institutional repository] is like a roach motel. Data goes in, but it doesn’t come out.” This description is much more derogatory than Geoffrey Bilder’s description of the Institutional Repositories (IR) as a silo. So what exactly is the problem with IRs that produces such critics?
There are many concerns but one of the basic underlying problems for IRs is a lack of funding to make them an outstanding operational unit. Surveys from the Census of Institutional Repositories in the United States indicate that “funding comes or will come [for IRs] from the library… They also agree that funding is not coming from academic units.” This means that institutional libraries will have to balance an already strained budget to incorporate a new cost entity.
Another challenge that IRs face is the numerous different IR software that is available. These many software systems are not always interoperable with each other. In an Evaluation of Digital Repository Software at the National Library of Medicine (NLM), at least ten different IR software systems were evaluated in order to identify the system that will eventually be used by the NLM. Although all IRs must be OAI compliant – this compliance only guarantees that IRs will have interoperable harvesting of metadata. For a repository to be truly functional and highly valuable to researchers, the digital objects that they are storing (full text documents, etc.) need to be accessible and exchangeable. OAI has recently developed the Object Reuse and Exchange (ORE) specifications to address this issue. But most of the available IR software was developed prior to the development of these specifications. Therefore, once an IR has begun to use such software, “… migrating existing items from any system or service to another – when migration is even possible… locks libraries into an initial decision that in hindsight may have been a poor one.” (Salo, 2007)
Unfortunately, due to these and other issues the IRs are largely empty and presently not for use or reuse to the general public. In a recent study done by Peter A. Zuber, out of 17 universities that had an IR, only 7 of them had over 1,000 holdings, the other 10 all had less than 1,000 holdings. And the amount of holdings is not correlated to the age of the IR. (Markey, et. al., 2007)
Since most IRs do not have the critical mass to be a viable solution for sharing open access content, what are the alternatives? A solution that Salo proposed takes advantage of the success of disciplinary repositories:
Moreover, as funder mandates such as that of the National Institutes of Health become more numerous and cumbersome, a campus service automating the deposit process into disciplinary repositories (and incidentally snagging a copy for the institutional repository) should make friends quickly among beleaguered faculty. (Salo, 2007)
This combination approach seems to be the path that Columbia University has decided to take. Columbia University’s Economics Department joined NEEO and will be submitting their research to their repository too. Deputy University Librarian’s, Patricia Renfro, comment about this was:
Columbia has already found it very rewarding to be part of this innovative initiative and to have an opportunity to work with European colleagues who are exploring the harvesting of local institutional repositories into a subject-based resource.
A combination approach certainly allows the content to serve both disciplinary and institutional masters.