Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A New Approach to Institutional Repositories

Yesterday the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University adopted a policy that requires faculty members to make their scholarly articles available online in the library’s institutional repository. While most institutional repositories currently depend on faculty opting in, Harvard’s approach allows faculty members to opt out of prescribed participation.

In the Harvard Crimson, Library Director Robert Darnton wrote that this is part of the library’s effort to share Harvard’s intellectual wealth:
Far from reserving its resources for the privileged few, it is digitizing its special collections, opening them to everyone online, and cooperating with Google in the attempt to make books in the public domain actually available to the public, a worldwide public, which extends everywhere that people have access to the Internet. If the FAS votes in favor of the motion on February 12, Harvard will make the latest work of its scholars accessible, just as it is creating accessibility to the store of knowledge that it has accumulated in its libraries since 1638.
In Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information, Infrastructure, and the Internet (MIT Press, 2007), Christine Borgman observes that “Content for which an institution chooses to take responsibility is the most likely to be preserved” (95). She also states that “Universities have continuity and are endowed with public trust, so they would seem to be the obvious institutions to maintain access to the scholarly products of their faculty, research staff, and staff” (250).

In addition to expanding access to scholarly communication, institutional repositories hold much promise for preserving the record of scholarship for future scholars, students, and other readers. Further, at a local level, an institutional repository can be used for documenting the activities of an institution by capturing, providing access to, and preserving born-digital objects of enduring value. (The persistence of such objects depends, of course, on a broader infrastructure that supports storage, data integrity, and migration issues.)

Link to the full text of the Harvard FAS motion:

Links to Darnton’s “The Case for Open Access” in the Harvard Crimson:

Image: Detail from DSpace Diagram, available from