The Future of
Institutional
Repositories

Research is most valuable
when it’s most available

MOVE BEYOND THE TRADITIONAL IR: READ THE PAPER
An institutional repository is a powerful vehicle for hosting and sharing accumulated knowledge, showcasing a university’s accomplishments in academic research, and earning peer recognition. It can play a critical role in research information management, as well as supporting compliance with open access policies and funder requirements.

However, as technology, research workflows, and scholarly needs are evolving rapidly, the collection of research outputs and data must keep pace to remain valuable. The library – with its recognized expertise in handling collections - may be the right place to start addressing this challenge. Ex Libris Esploro does that, and more, with a next-generation research repository that is cloud-based, centralized, comprehensive and easy-to-use.
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Esploro repository asset

The Value of Institutional Repositories and Their Weaknesses

Institutional repositories, usually managed by a university’s library, are where the research work of faculty members can be collected and collated for future reference and dissemination. Researchers and the broader academic community, as well as the general public in some cases, can benefit from the research of others.

A repository makes it easier to fulfill one of the core missions of any serious researcher and every research university – to share knowledge gained and discoveries made. With access to an up-to-date, comprehensive research repository, valuable information on experiment results, gathered data, and specialist analysis can all be found, used and built upon.

A centralized collection of research outputs and auditable records of their use make it easier to demonstrate the impact of such research to institutional decision-makers. They similarly help universities comply with regulations requiring the publication of research funded with public taxes.

As valuable as repositories have been, today they are failing to effectively meet the needs of researchers, libraries and their institutions. A growing complexity among research funding and grant opportunities, more robust compliance rules, new institutional demands, and dynamic technological advances are contributing to this situation. As institutions of higher education find themselves under increasing pressure, they are potentially risking their ability to maintain or improve their academic reputation.

Universities therefore need a new approach to storing and managing their research assets. Esploro’s centralized, comprehensive, easy-to-use, and cloud-based next-generation research repository makes it much easier to collect, manage and promote a university’s research output, as well as to track its real-world impact; not least of all because the research is easily and comprehensibly discoverable.

How do most repositories currently in use differ from the next-generation Esploro alternative and what are the effects of this gap?

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One key problem with most modern institutional repositories is unclear, siloed structures, making them hard to search and cumbersome to maintain. As a result, the workflows for depositing new research outputs, linking publications with their related data sets, and adding comprehensive metadata (to make assets discoverable) are very inefficient. University research is not being shared or showcased as it could be, and staff are spending too much time on labor-intensive tasks necessary to manually manage the clunky repositories.

The effect on researchers of an inefficient or incomplete repository include potentially missing opportunities for professional recognition, for connecting with colleagues doing similar research, and for complying with funder’s mandates. Moreover, the entire research community and even the general public suffer when a university’s research output is not easily discoverable, as the entire sum of knowledge is less rich as a result.

For universities, research assets missing from a repository mean the picture of their research output is incomplete. This can have an effect on potential students, donors, administrators, and faculty, aside from the risk of failing to meet open research requirements.

For librarians assisting researchers, countless hours are spent manually updating institutional repositories and adding or enriching metadata. This takes away from time they could be spending on more strategically important work.

Institutional repository challenges

On Patchwork Structures and Disparate Systems

Institutional repositories are often an incomplete collection of materials, inconsistently updated, difficult to maintain and use, and with different workflows for depositing new research, data sets, and metadata.

In some cases, a single institution will have multiple partial repositories, with their own quirks of development and processes, for different kinds of materials. This can be because of repositories designed to handle only specific types of assets (publications, data sets, clinical data, unpublished research, etc.) or because of systems added separately over time for different resource types or fields of research.

In other cases, even an institution with a single central repository can find itself with an undifferentiated or poorly organized collection of content, due to a research asset management strategy that is lacking or absent entirely. To find any value in such a repository, a researcher searching for relevant outputs has to engage in slow, manual sifting – and even then, the results are often incomplete.

Whether a patchwork of disparate systems or a mixed bag, such repositories make it challenging to link data and publications, to standardize the collection of research assets, and to consistently apply metadata to these assets. The discoverability of research done at the university is thus far from what it should be, causing both the institution and the original researcher to lose opportunities to fully showcase their contributions to the field – or at times to even know what they are.

How can the systemic and structural problems of most current research repositories be overcome?

Managers of research repositories should strive for comprehensiveness of asset types and connectedness throughout research information management. With Esploro, for example, a single repository is used to collect, manage, and showcase all research faculty output and data types across a full range of academic disciplines.

Institutional repository challenges

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That means being be able to centrally handle and provide access to publications, pre-prints, data sets, audiovisual media, creative works, computer code, blog posts, and other kinds of materials.

Connectedness across various research outputs, and between outputs and data sets, presentations, blog posts, press coverage, social media mentions, awards, and other materials is a powerful tool for gaining a fuller understanding of available scholarship. Opening a faculty member’s research paper, for example, would include instant and direct navigation to a wide range of information that could help a researcher make better use of the original paper, assist a librarian in identifying thematically linked materials, or ensure a course reading list is robust and complete.

Applying advanced analytics to such a connected and comprehensive research repository provides deep insight into the impact of an institution’s research. Provosts, deans, research office staff, and others can learn far more than just how many papers their faculty have published in academic journals and how often these papers have been cited. Faculty citations and activity in non-academic channels and media, for example, also appear in the data. In Esploro, impact metrics can also be broken down according to relevant KPIs and benchmarking for individual projects, for the organization as a whole, and across institutions.

Institutional Repository

Automation and Changing Behaviors

Another of the challenges in maintaining a useful institutional research repository is motivating faculty researchers to deposit their outputs and data, and to do so consistently.

Generally, populating an institutional repository is accomplished by researchers filling out an online form. This takes time, patience, and an understanding of its value. Unfortunately, many faculty members do not have one or all of these things and infrequently follow through on that step in their research process. Moreover, in most cases, the deposit process is so cumbersome it is largely ignored even by those researchers who would otherwise want to add their material to the repository.

Even if faculty faithfully deposit their research output in an institutional repository, they often do so with incomplete metadata or with none at all. For the uploaded material to be discoverable, library staff must add or enrich the metadata associated with these entries manually. This can consume a significant amount of time and sometimes requires a back-and-forth with the faculty member to sufficiently understand the material.

What is an effective way to ensure research outputs, data, metadata and related materials are actually deposited in a repository?

The next-generation Esploro research repository accomplishes that with extensive automated processes, making the capture and deposit of research assets consistent, coherent, and methodically accurate wherever possible.

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While improving the value of the repository itself, the workload on librarians and faculty is also significantly reduced. They are free to then focus on more value-added services benefitting their colleagues at the university.

On the technological side, an Esploro repository can integrate seamlessly with a university’s existing workflows and management systems through application programming interfaces (APIs) and common standards. Application of the FAIR Data Principles make data findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable by other researchers and institutions, as well.

Institutional repository - scale

The Challenges of Change and Scale

Without an institutional long-term strategy for storing and managing research assets, a university can find its repository unprepared to adapt to changes in technology for capturing or creating assets. Without flexible technology to meet these strategic needs, as one research article notes, the result is often the creation of multiple repositories within the same institution and across the same disciplines.

Another challenge of adaptability for the research repository is scalability. This arises when an institution grows in size or expands to include new fields of research, while the processes and protocols for deposit, management and storage were perhaps appropriate for a smaller institution, but can no longer efficiently handle the increasing workflow. In other cases, the goals for the institutional repository may have evolved over time, while the processes have not been revised accordingly. A related issue, common in many organizations, is tribal knowledge lost to the university when a repository manager leaves.

On the other hand, a repository requires consistency and predictability for discoverability and ease of use. How can this tension be resolved?

Esploro leverages could-based technology to ensure every research repository is able to grow with the institution.

Institutional repository - scale

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Any next-generation repository has to meet changing technological needs and quickly incorporate them into existing workflows or adapt processes accordingly. It must be easy to scale and seamless to support.

The most effective, easiest and most streamlined solution is adopting a cloud-based system for maintaining the repository. In this way, universities are always automatically updated with the latest version of the system and need not repeatedly add or overhaul repositories as they grow, or as new technologies come online. An additional benefit is that the library, research office and IT staff are all able to work more efficiently, supporting researchers instead of struggling with the repository technology.

The Role of the Library

Library support for academic research is largely focused on the publication side, such as managing article processing charges, finding relevant journals for publication, deposits to institutional repositories, and ensuring compliance with Open Access policies. This is confirmed by a study commissioned by Ex Libris to assess the experience of researchers and senior members of university research offices in conducting, and supporting the production of, research at institutions of higher education.

Alterline, the independent research agency that conducted the study, identified several notable results related to the relationship between institutional research repositories and academic libraries. For example, when asked about which research management systems were used at their institution, senior members of university research offices did not usually reference those related to content, publications and data repositories. Analysts assess that this may be due to a perception that such activities are strictly under the library’s purview.

In what other ways do libraries play a role in research asset management in the context of institutional repositories?

Additional findings, based on data from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia gathered in 2019, include:

  • 45% of researchers deposit to an institutional repository independently.
  • 39% sometimes do so with assistance.
  • 16% say that someone else always does it for them.

For more details, read the full Ex Libris study here.

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When asked to whom they turn for help depositing to an institutional repository, 22% of those researchers said it was the library (45% said the research office and the balance cited research assistants or an unnamed resource). At the same time, however, 42% of researchers said they expected the library to help them deposit publications and datasets.

As for the ease of linking publication of their research and research data sets – a key element of effective repository protocol – only 38% of researchers said it was “easy” or “very easy”.

The statistics from the Ex Libris study reveal several opportunities for libraries to offer more support for researcher use of institutional repositories, as one of the library’s clear areas of expertise. As noted, the library is expected to help with depositing publications and datasets by about four out of ten researchers; yet, in practice only a fraction of researchers actually turn to the library for assistance. The library can work to close this gap, in large part by adopting a next-generation repository.

In addition, with Esploro, the library can introduce greater consolidation, consistency and automation to the deposit process. In this way, the library will turn the difficulty of linking researcher outputs and their data sets essentially into a non-issue for faculty.