- Closing the Repository Gap at Small Institutions
Institutional repositories have surged out of disciplinary obscurity to become a heavily hyped scholarly communication tool. Information users' increasing reliance on the open Web to fulfill information needs has transformed repositories into viable modes of scholarly communication and information dissemination. The open source availability of several broadly adopted software platforms has made repository implementation possible for any institution with a server and a bit of technology know-how, and advocates have touted the repository as "a very powerful idea that can serve as an engine of change for our institutions of higher education."1
However, that position is true for only a portion of information users and producers in higher education. Despite the hype, deployment data show that there is an expanding digital divide in academic libraries—whereas doctorate-granting and research institutions are consistently implementing repositories for their campuses, the thousands of smaller colleges and universities across the country are lagging behind. In 2005, Clifford Lynch reported that 40 percent of United States doctorate-granting institutions surveyed by the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) had an operating institutional repository, and 88 percent of the respondents were planning a future implementation. In stark contrast to that 88 percent planned utilization rate, only 6 percent of respondents from non-doctoral institutions indicated planned utilization.2 The 2007 "Census of Institutional Repositories in the United States: MIRACLE Project Research Findings" complemented the data gathered by CNI, highlighting that of the 289 baccalaureate and master's institutions surveyed, only 14 (4.8 percent) had implemented a repository, and an additional 182 (63 percent) had done no planning for a repository.3
Why have so few repositories been implemented at smaller institutions? There are quick responses such as "technology barriers" and "limited resources," but those facile answers (which could apply equally easily to any institution of higher education in this [End Page 91] era of reduced resources and increased expectations) overlook causes specific to non-research institutions. A brief look at the prominent arguments for repository adoption clearly illuminates the problem.
First, institutional repositories have been aggressively promoted as a part of the open access movement. Second, institutional repositories have been lauded as important tools in ongoing digital preservation initiatives. Third, repositories have been marketed to researchers as a means to build their professional reputation and marketed to the universities themselves as a way to raise the research profile of the institution. These three foci for promoting repositories are important issues for information professionals and are excellent reasons for institutions to implement repositories. However, in general terms, they most closely match the core mission and priorities of libraries at research institutions. This three-pronged call to action does not speak as clearly to smaller libraries across the country, whose missions differ from those of their larger counterparts. As a result, repositories have not gained the support and interest of these smaller institutions.
Low deployment is not about ignorance. All librarians are aware of the problems inherent in the current scholarly communications model. Smaller institutions have been hit particularly hard as prices for journal content have skyrocketed; and, just as all librarians are aware of the potential for change inherent in the open access movement, we in smaller institutions are also aware of the difficulty of continuing our tradition of preserving information in this increasingly dynamic digital age. Additionally, any institution of higher education is proud of the work done by its faculty, but many lack an emphasis on reputation, focusing instead on teaching, learning, and service. In the recent MIRACLE study of repository deployment, respondents without a repository plan "give high ratings to almost all IR-related activities, [and so] they are surprisingly very favorably inclined to IRs."4 Rather than assume ignorance or technology barriers, it is more productive to infer that librarians who are working at small colleges have not found an institutional mandate or resources to engage in repository work if its primary purpose is to change the scholarly communication system, to preserve non-core materials, or to improve the research reputation of the institution.
If librarians give high ratings to IR-related activities but are...