InfoIssues: April 2005 | Mansfield Library | The University of Montana-Missoula

The University of Montana Libraries—Missoula

A publication of the faculty of the Mansfield Library at the University of Montana

Previous Issues

Collection Development


Google Initiatives

ETD Project

Open Access


About InfoIssues



To comment on this issue or to suggest an issue, please contact Jennie Burroughs, Chair, Key Constituencies Committee.

Issue of the Month: April 2005

Digital Institutional Repositories

-Jennie Burroughs, Assistant Professor
Government Documents Librarian

Institutional repositories are archives of digital materials created by “a single or multi-university community.” These archives are notable in their ability to house a wide range of materials and formats: scholarly articles and essays, pre-prints, conference papers and presentations, university records, student works, curricular materials, data sets, departmental newsletters, electronic correspondence, and other forms of gray literature. Institutional repositories collect “born-digital” materials that are not commonly gathered in one place and are not part of existing efforts for long-term preservation. Clifford Lynch notes that institutional repositories are also about the services provided to scholars (including the migration of content, creation of metadata, management of technological changes, and commitment to long-term preservation), not just software or hardware.

Institutional repositories provide numerous potential benefits. Digital archives have the capacity to collect, store, and preserve materials that are ephemeral in nature. Placing pre-prints, working papers, or important correspondence in a digital archive takes the necessary first step toward preserving materials of lasting value that are not commonly preserved at present. Depositing digital materials in an archive also creates a single search point for content that is commonly housed in an unconnected set of systems. Creating a central archive makes searching for campus works much simpler and serves to showcase the intellectual output of the university.

Digital repositories have the potential to alter pathways of scholarly communication in ways that are beneficial to researchers. Institutional repositories could provide an alternate means of disseminating scholarly content that would be faster, more flexible, and generally more openly accessible (regardless of ability to pay). For example, depositing pre-prints of articles in a publicly accessible digital archive allows for broader and faster access to research—readership is not dependent on access to increasingly costly serials, and articles can be read and cited faster than the current model of publication allows. Institutional repositories also provide greater flexibility in content. In a digital environment, articles do not have to subscribe to page count limits or format constraints, and articles can be appended by necessary data sets or multimedia files.

There are also some common concerns regarding institutional repositories. Digital repositories require consistent support from the host institution. Failure to sustain funding and administrative support of an institutional repository will result in loss of information. Digital preservation issues are still being resolved and will most likely require ongoing and evolving maintenance. Scholars have an understandable concern about plagiarism. Presenting or archiving materials before they are published could seemingly put new ideas at risk of theft. However, metadata attached to digital submissions can establish a date of creation (serving as a sort of timestamp on the first expression of an idea), and repositories can have varying levels of access depending on content creator preferences. Scholars may be concerned about the reluctance of prestigious publishers to publish a work that has already appeared for free in an institutional repository. Given that promotion and tenure committees still favor traditional publishing models, this is certainly a legitimate concern. However, publishers are increasingly accepting the existence of institutional repositories and are adjusting contracts to allow for pre-print and post-print archiving of works. In addition, vendors like Thomson Scientific are developing methods of tracking citation of works housed in institutional repositories and other web-based publications; this will provide another means of assessing the impact of a scholar’s research.

Many universities have created or are in the process of designing and implementing institutional repositories (see below for examples). Libraries are interested in institutional repositories due to their long-standing commitment to preservation, organization, and dissemination of information. Institutional repositories show great promise for providing a robust means of preserving “at-risk” content and organizing ephemeral materials into a structure that provides easier access for users. Finally, by making scholarship as open as possible, institutional repositories have the potential to expand access to information, which is always a priority for libraries.

Examples of Digital Institutional Repositories:

ArXiv DSpace (MIT)
California Digital Library SHERPA
Digital Commons UR Research

To learn more about institutional repositories try these links:

The Case for Institutional Repositories: A SPARC Position Paper

DSpace: An Open Source Dynamic Digital Repository

Institutional Repositories: Essential Infrastructure for Scholarship in the Digital Age

Institutional Repositories: Partnering with Faculty to Enhance Scholarly Communication

To comment on this issue or to suggest an issue, please contact Jennie Burroughs, Chair, Key Constituencies Committee.