Institutional Repositories and Research Priorities

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2006 17:28:48 +0000

On Wed, 18 Jan 2006, Melanie Bates wrote in JISC-REPOSITORIES:

> The Learning Technology world discovers the Digital Library world and
> it makes an enormous discovery. That the librarians are storing,
> cataloguing and managing research content in one place using FREE
> software. Not only is this software FREE but it is being adopted by
> almost simultaneously by many Institutions in the UK and around the
> world - hey even Google are doing it, ... it must be the next big
> thing! And so the 'Institutional Repository' is born.

If anyone is interested in the history, provenance and motivation of
all this free software, hence of the "IR" movement itself, they will
find it here:

This is not by way of touting Southampton's causal role, but by way of
suggesting that the fact that OA and OAI were the source of IRs might
just have something to do with what IRs should be used for (as a matter
of first and urgent priority).

It is not that storing and preserving every digitised object under
the sun is not a good idea. It is just a question of priorities. For
universities and research institutions, the immediate priority is this:
Scholarly and scientific research usage and impact have been needlessly
lost, cumulatively, since paper publication first began, because paper
costs and distribution necessarily meant that many would-be users could
not afford to access and use most research output. This has always meant
a great loss of potential research impact and progress to researchers,
their institutions, and to research itself.

Ever since the creation of the Internet, however, with FTP, the Web, and
now OAI-compliant OA IR software and IRs, this annual research-impact
bleed can in fact be stanched. Yet the bleed is still being stanched
spontaneously for only about 15% of the planet's annual research output
today; 85% of it is still being lost, daily, and cumulatively. This
continuing bleed is hence a needless loss to the planet's research
institutions, the primary consumers of research findings, whose daily
bread (pardon the messy, mixed metaphor!) is research impact and progress
(and funding), as well as to the planet's teaching/learning institutions,
the secondary consumers of research knowledge and progess, and of course
each nation's tax-payers, the tertiary consumers of research applications
and benefits, who also happen to be the funders of much of the research.

So, to repeat, whereas there is no doubt a worthy and worthwhile agenda
to be pursued in ensuring the long-term storage and preservation of all
institutional digital output (and input), there is still some acute and
chronic bleeding to be stanched (85%) as a matter of urgent priority.

Until the digital era, the intrinsic limitations of paper itself were the
cause of the unstoppable hemorrhaging of daily research usage, impact
and progress. Please let us not now make diffuse digital conservationism
(a worthy and worthwhile pursuit) into its digital-era cause, through
neglect or distraction. Let us stanch the bleeding immediately, as a
matter of priority, and then get on with the generic digital preservation

Stevan Harnad
Received on Wed Jan 18 2006 - 17:33:19 GMT

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