Saturday, October 27, 2007

Digital Repositories Offer Opportunities for Publishers

The exponential growth in digital scholarship is driving the creation of more and more institutional and disciplinary repositories. Publishers are rarely involved in the formative stages of developing these projects, but it is increasingly clear that our skills are needed. A forthcoming SSP seminar explores recent developments in the repository movement, and shows how some innovative publishers are benefiting from collaboration.

As debate over the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) reaches fever pitch, the opportunities for publishers that collaboration with repository projects offer tend to be obscured. A seminar organized by Mark Kurtz of BioOne, Madeleine Donachie of the American Journal of Archaeology, and myself on behalf of the SSP Education Committee aims to restore balance to the discussion.

Held in Washington, D.C., the heartland of the political discussion about mandated open access, the full-day session on Monday, November 12, takes a positive view of the repository movement, emphasizing the organizational benefits of collaboration between publishers and librarians and the new possibilities for scholarship that a sustainable digital infrastructure affords.

Chuck Henry, president of the Council on Library and Information Resources, will open the session by exploring the current state of play. Many institutional repositories established at large expense by academic libraries are underutilized. The lack of mechanisms for quality assurance and effective dissemination make deposit unattractive for time-constrained scholars who require formal recognition for academic advancement. Technological barriers to formatting various file types and general uncertainty over copyright rules and obligations make the act of depositing content even less tempting.

Publishers are experts at targeting cross-institutional disciplinary communities and tactfully intervening to develop author content, and innovative librarians are starting to recognize the value a publisher’s involvement can add. As Amy Friedlander (CLIR) will reveal for the Sciences, and John Unsworth (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) for the Arts and Humanities, experimental collaborations are yielding some particularly exciting results.

Kate Wittenberg, director of electronic publishing at Columbia University, has a long track record of developing and then sustaining discipline-based digital repositories, such as Columbia International Affairs Online. She will discuss effective strategies for identifying the disciplinary areas in which repositories can become self-supporting, acquiring content for these resources, and assessing the organizational and staffing requirements for successful development. Her presentation will lead into a series of case studies exploring the challenge of sustainability.

Involvement in digital repository projects poses many challenges for publishers brave enough to make the leap. Beyond the obvious problem of financing these expensive projects, there are decisions to be made about information structuring (as discussed by Thornton Staples, a pioneer in the development of digital library software) and archiving (important concerns will be raised by Amy Friedlander). With complex datasets linked to published materials, the responsibility for permanent preservation becomes particularly frightening and difficult for library and publisher neighbors not traditionally accustomed to maintaining shared resources.

However, as evidenced by an increasing number of practical examples, publishers and librarians who are willing to engage in debate and explore new paradigms are finding new excitement and relevance in their daily work and gaining welcome respect from the scholarly communities they serve. In any case, with an ever-increasing quantity of scholarship digitally generated, can we afford not to collaborate in developing the system to support it?

Registration for the November 12 seminar, “Opportunities for Publishers in a World of Institutional Repositories” is still open at the SSP website.