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Scholarly activity: Dana McFarland: -- former blog platform

Notes from Where Next for Repositories? An open national forum sponsored by the CARL in association with COAR

by Dana McFarland on 2016-11-16T11:27:51-08:00

With a weekend cup of coffee and the night owls of the family slumbering well into the day, with anxious, post-separation dogs settled for the moment, I'm taking a moment to draft a first-ever blog post. This is a new long-form attempt for me, a colleague more than once having characterized me of being most at home with the koan as a medium.

Nothing innovative in trying this format, at least not yet, but I have been watching the use of blogs to reach a broader audience and to achieve immediacy in communication about scholarly activity, and more lately thinking about how academics who are not necessarily compelled to immerse themselves in traditional scholarly publishing can contribute to change in scholarly communication by pushing the potential of alternate modes, including exploring what might be required to have those serve as credible alternatives. I mean to write more about these possibilities to support my panel participation in the upcoming Keeping it ReAL: Research in Academic Libraries event to be held at UBC on November 18, 2016. A few points that I might consider in that planned post (as a teaser, or perhaps more so that I remember until then): What is the nature of this freedom to explore that I think I see? How can a blog effectively be a venue for inquiry? What of review? What about the discovery that is necessary to facilitate discourse?

In advance of the Keeping it ReAL event, I noticed that our library guides service provider at some point added blog functionality to the platform. Fortuitous. Also, in the past week I had the opportunity to attend a national meeting of institutional repository (IR) managers, together with the CARL/ABRC-sponsored Where Next for Repositories? event in Ottawa. These things taken together, it seems a good time for a post that starts to set up the uses of the platform that I want to explore. Enough preamble? Almost.

Where Next for Repositories? might be the first CARL/ABRC event that I've attended, and I thank the organizers for extending the invitation to libraries outside of their membership. Mostly, my work has been in smaller academic libraries and in the organizations through which we collaborate; much as I like to think I see the big picture, this is the background that tinges my perspective. Also, I've always lived in BC, a western westerner privileged to live most of my life in unceded Coast Salish territory. Of course all of these things came along in my baggage on my visit to Ottawa. One last bit of context: in libraries, contributing to work on the IR is an important aspect of what I do, but I do other things as well.

Part of my motivation in reflecting here on the two days focused on IRs is to organize some thoughts to offer to the organizers in their follow up survey. To that end I'll borrow from those survey questions to frame some thoughts.

IR Managers Meeting, 2016 November 9

"What would you say was the top aspect of the day?"

"What do you think was the top priority raised on this day that we should follow up on?"

Happily there are slides that summarize this meeting posted on the CARL/ABRC website. I'm looking forward to sharing those with colleagues because organizers Leah Vanderjagt (UAlberta) and Jeanette Hatherill (UOttawa) did an excellent job of pulling themes and highlights from a day of wide-ranging discussion that included participants from institutions diverse in place, size, and mandate.

The day was structured as a series of discussions in which groups cycled through key issues of IR management, including outreach, service models, workflow, and technology. I found this really helpful, both to affirm some perceptions that I came with (it can be really hard to get scholar post-prints, even when scholars are keen to work with the IR) and to challenge other perceptions (every other IR is highly organized and working elegantly with organizational partners to deliver well-integrated research and repository services). I may have suspected that last one wasn't true, but I did learn that the general state of integration of IR with other services within our libraries and institutions is more uneven than I expected. No doubt this was a motivating factor in getting the day together.

Attendees, who may tend to find themselves isolated in doing IR work depending on their setting, the culture of their place, and their other responsibilities, got busy right away, comparing challenges, issues, and solutions. These were energetic and productive conversations that addressed policy, relationship-building, content recruitment, resources, and workflow. To paraphrase some of the questions that emerged:

  • To what extent should the IR focus on scholarly material, and to what extent should other content be a focus? How is content nominated?
  • What is the relationship with the Research Office; what do they do and what do we do?
  • What role/s should liaison or collections librarians have with respect to IR activity?
  • How much can submission workflow be with content providers? How can we create on-ramps from places where researchers are already engaged and see value, so as to increase uptake, reduce duplication of effort, and smooth workflow (e.g. CCV, research information systems, ORCID...)
  • How much supporting work related to submission is reasonable and possible to do in the library? How can we access and develop capacity in our staff to support IR activity?

As all of this was going on, I was watching email with one eye like you aren't supposed to do, and so was treated to the synchronicity of an author response to our now-routine invitation to self-archive on publication of a new work: "Cool service! Sure - let's go ahead: what information do you need?" And it came with promise of a post-print! Sharing success stories, little and bigger, was an important part of the IR managers' meeting. Someone noted that many favourite stories seem to hinge less on the journal archiving activity that occupies so much of our attention, but rather on work with digital collections of other kinds that may be local or unique. In fact, happy as I am with the success of our university library's recent efforts to recruit faculty work, it's true that it's been rewarding to work with digital special collections: surfacing a collection of sturgeon images that generates inquiries and requests for re-use from all over the world, working with university communications to showcase faculty work and research material, making oral history recordings and transcripts accessible and the site of meaningful undergrad student scholarly work. For example:

Perhaps because I saved it for late in the afternoon, I did struggle to make something from the table discussion on the theme of interoperability. I think this was intended as a venue to think about technologies of the IR, and we began with a census of the platforms used in the group. However, in the instance of this conversation that I attended, talk turned to Google Scholar and other commercial tools and how these overlap, or don't, with functions of IRs or discipline-based repositories, ultimately leading us to recount the ways in which mechanisms of the commercial environment and scholarly communication are not well-suited to our projects. All true, but kind of demoralizing and paralyzing if considered from within the IR as a silo; this is absolutely the case for situating the IR among other initiatives that work in a complementary way toward transformation in scholarly communication.

Throughout the day, a recurring theme was the accountability, even anxiousness, that some who work in IRs feel about how to demonstrate value, particularly to decision makers such as those who would be present the following day. Here and there I heard this expressed in attempts to discern how background reading for the day might be applied to measure progress in IR activity, and also in reference to articles and posts, especially recent ones, that eulogize the institutional repository or accent its limitations: Aaron Tay, Richard Poynder, and others. There are well-articulated, balancing views (I particularly like the perspective offered by George Macgregor) but at the end of this day of conversations, even with the productive exchange of common issues and helpful strategies, I was feeling the need to shake off the "failure" hyperbole, to affirm a larger vision for the collaborative work of IRs. Clearly this was intended to be the purpose of the next day, and it was great to see this borne out.

Where Next for Repositories? 2016 November 10

"How well did you think this day was structured in terms of balance between presentations and group discussion?"

Opening remarks from Leslie Chan, Senior Lecturer, University of Toronto, Scarborough immediately established a constructive tone for an event where managers and library senior administrators would be discussing issues and opportunities for IRs together (his slides here).This was a friendly audience to the proposition that reimagining the IR requires reimagining scholarship and its products in light of the key missions of the university, including teaching and learning. Acknowledging that measures of scholarly success and reputation can be traditional and problematic and limited in scope, Leslie Chan suggested a way forward, envisioning IRs not (only?) as serving institutional interests, but as the collaborative infrastructure of knowledge commons for the public good. To illustrate this, and using the work of Ernest Boyer as a reference point, he advocated for a "scholarship of engagement and open access" where IRs and open dissemination are key to facilitating innovative and collaborative scholarly, teaching, and learning activity. 

Further developing the notion of repositories that repositories might be nodes in a global knowledge commons, Kathleen Shearer of COAR (her slides here) described the current state this way:

In presenting a vision of "What Next?" she offered these potential features and benefits of networked IRs to regional and global communities:

Leslie's and Kathleen's remarks reinforced my understanding that the day to come would be an opportunity to perhaps take stock, but more importantly to consult about the way/s forward, and what leadership and action will be required to make change.

Further valuable context was presented by Jeanette Hatherill who compared results of a pre-event survey of participants with results of a 2004 CARL/ABRC survey on institutional repositories. In quantitative terms, this comparison indicated substantial growth in the number of IRs in Canada over the past twelve years, and highlighted the remarkable number of items added -- and consequently made Open Access -- increasing from a few thousand to well over 900,000 in that span of time.

Presentations that followed offered specific cases, surfacing and elaborating on themes that in many cases had emerged in IR manager work on the previous day. These included:

  • Supporting local OA policy (Concordia and Windsor – Guylaine Beaudry and Pascal Calarco) where presenters gave examples where Senate policies and resolutions have been used together with supporting strategies to promote researcher participation in Open Access. Beaudry slides / Calarco slides
  • Usage statistics and visibility of work (McMaster – Dale Askey) where flaws in commonly used IR metrics were highlighted, including under reporting of usage by Google analytics. Askey slides.
    This was entirely consistent with the previous day discussion among IR managers, where we noted that metrics and indicators are important to demonstrating value in various ways, but remain problematic and need a lot of context.
  • Integration with CRIS systems (Queen’s – Rosarie Coughlan) which seeks to establish an intuitive entry point to the IR for authors by integrating submission process with updating CV and publication information. Slides
  • Discoverability of IR content – integration with other collections (UBC – Bronwen Sprout) offering a large scale example of where digital collections of all kinds are included along with scholarly work in the repository. Slides

These discussions were followed by Leah Vanderjagt's summary of themes from the November 9 IR managers meeting, setting us up with plenty to consider in structured table discussions that followed. In those discussions, tables were asked to focus on two of four questions. These were:

  1. What would a Canadian network of repositories look like?  What are the mechanisms that would connect the network? And, how would we go about connecting internationally?
  2. How do we develop a strategic vision for repositories in Canada? Building on ideas arising today or emerging in other settings, what do we need to do collectively to develop our vision and who will lead?
  3. Should we expand the scope of repository operations to include a broader range of content? If so, how can we do this so that we develop collections of real value to research community? What should be our priorities, and how do we tackle these?
  4. How do we ensure that our repositories are not isolated within our institutions, and that they are integrated with other systems such as CRIS, researcher profiling systems, research data repositories, etc.

"Were the questions and topics raised relevant to you and to your institution?"

"Is it helpful to have library directors and repository managers together in a room for this type of meeting?"

I found it extremely useful to have service managers and senior administrators together in this conversation and throughout the day. Opportunities to look at purpose, strategy, and necessary resources and relationships with so many knowledgeable people and decision makers in the room are rare. In my view this was an excellent example of such a meeting, making the most of the work and discussions of the previous day.

When it came to discussion, at my table we were largely from universities in BC. This was productive in that we could start ahead in our common understanding of elements in our particular environment. However it was very helpful to learn from and share information with the representative from an Ontario university at our table, and I regret that when it came time for discussion we lost our sole francophone representative because the table was not sufficiently bilingue.

In discussion we chose to focus on the first two questions, and really mostly on the first one, as those that seemed most relevant in having the greatest potential for collaborative action. Discussion visited questions of standards and platforms, of course, but focused very much on what the useful functions of repository networks could be at national and international levels, and how nodes in a distributed network could be identified, ideally using existing or planned infrastructure and relationships. Notes were captured from all table discussions, and highlights reported out in plenary. In closing, CARL/ABRC Chair, Martha Whitehead, incorporated these into perceptive reflections on the day as a whole. I hope that some report or summary of the event may be communicated, perhaps as CARL/ABRC takes the outcomes of the day forward to shape their strategy with respect to IRs.


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