Sunday, January 3, 2010

A New Class of Guests at the Roach Motel: Three Proven Strategies for Populating Digital Repositories with Content that Matters

As we turn the corner on a decade of investment in digital repositories, strategies for making what many critics have regarded as white elephants "work" are finally emerging. Dorothea Salo's beautifully titled article "Innkeeper at the Roach Motel" (Library Trends, 57.2, 2008) defined the problem that many libraries faced in the first decade of their existence -- that the IRs that were meant to provide an alternative scholarly communications channel to over-expensive journals were simply not attracting the scholarly participation that might make them a success. The "guests" at the expensively-built, shiny hostelries were (in general) post-prints of less important articles, extracted from journals that had already extracted the value from them. In short, not the sort that pays . . . in any currency!

As librarians have gradually become more embedded with scholars ("liaison 2.0," in Kara Whatley's words), working hand-in-hand with faculty in more decentralized, subject-focused collections, they have come to realize that talk of "improving access" or "solving the periodicals price crisis" has limited resonance. Certainly, they may value the idea of improving access as readers (although surveys in most disciplines do not reveal dissatisfaction with access), but as authors, scholars have other things on their minds. "Not surprisingly, authors are driven by personal egotistical desires, career advancement, and improved funding for their research," as Michael Mabe and Mayur Amin have pointed out in their classic article, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Author-Reader Asymmetries in Scholarly Publishing" (ASLIB Proceedings, 54.3, 2002).

Although the characterization is unflattering, any author will recognize the motivators identified by Mabe and Amin in themselves (why else would I be writing this?). And it is noticeable that the proven strategies for successfully recruiting content into IRs tie directly to Dr. Jekyll's three motivators:

1. Flattery gets you everywhere, so facilitate the expression of "personal egotistical desires" with individually-branded pages. A breakthrough in encouraging faculty to deposit their post-prints into IRs came when repository managers marketed the opportunities for scholars to link published papers within the repository to their own online presences. As Nancy Fried Foster and Susan Gibbons found in their innovative ethnographic studies at the University of Rochester, the creation of "Researcher Pages" was influential in building support for the repository. Not only could scholars easily find their own past papers, but the "individual branded presence" offered easy discoverability for everyone from hiring committees to media companies looking for their next pundit.

2. "Publishing" matters to "career advancement" so use the magic word. For most faculty, at least while tenure committee practices remain archaic, career advancement equates with one's publication record. Marketing the IR as a "publishing channel" has proven an increasingly successful way of marketing the service, especially when the promise can be backed up with value-added services such as copyediting, design, and (maybe most importantly) regular feedback about quantity and quality of usage. The University of California's move toward offering library publishing services through repositories with value-added adjuncts provided by the university press looks promising. Publishing original content instead of only focusing on the final products of scholarship was seen as crucial by Carole Palmer and her colleagues in their final (2008) report on "Identifying Factors of Success in CIC Institutional Repository Development."And this makes sense! After all, it may not be ISI ranked, but who cares when half the population of China appears to have downloaded one's article?

3. Gear up for data and the "improved funding for research" will follow. The gradual introduction of the requirement that grant applicants have a "data management plan" by NSF and other funding agencies offers great opportunity to libraries whose repositories are sophisticated enough to cope with complex data sets. The NSF Cyberinfrastructure Vision for 21st Century Discovery requires, for example, that "science and engineering data generated with NSF funding will be readily accessible and easily usable, and will be appropriately, responsibly, and reliably preserved." The harried researcher, overdue on their grant proposal, will agree to almost anything if the library can help her fill in the dreaded "data management plan" box on the submission form, especially if similar help can be given in "dissemination" (see point 2 above).

Whether it starts in 2010 or 2011, the "Teenies" (as one hopes it will not be called) may well be the decade when the digital repository comes of age. The secret, as we are starting to learn, is in aligning the services that repositories offer with the motivators that drive the scholars libraries serve. So, be of good cheer, innkeepers! Sure, some roaches are still going to be hanging out in your motels, but a few paying guests have started to arrive.


3 comments:

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Clark Adams said...

As we're going further into the digital age, we have to take advantage of every single digital feature we can exploit for the benefit of all. As cheesy and corny as it may sound, that's what we have to do, right? The resources are there, so use them well. These digital data can help you in a lot of stuff, I think. I can enumerate a few:

1. Digital data is compact and can be accessed by using a computer.
2. Backup copies of digital data can be made without wasting any additional physical (tangible) space.
3. It can help you in accreditation management without you having to look for folders in steel cabinets.

As we progress, we have to use the resources that we can get so that they won't be put to waste. Sure, there are old stuff, but the conversion can be done, right?

ISO Certification 9001 said...

There's nothing cheesy or corny about what you said. It is the digital age, and we have to keep up with the times. Leveraging on things that happen is just second nature to us. We've adapted enough that a drop out now owns one of the largest software company in the world, by just thinking back and remembering a BASIC program that he saw a few months from his defining moment.

Well, anyway Clark, I like your points.

My final note, don't throw anything that could be possibly put to good use in the future. A simple handshake with someone can be your ticket to success.