Number 55 • January/February 2007
U.S. Institutional Repositories: A Census by Kathlin Smith
Redesigning Library Workflows by Kathlin Smith
404: Not Found by Barrie Howard
U.S. Institutional Repositories: A Census
by Kathlin Smith
MORE AND MORE academic institutions are creating institutional repositories (IRs) to manage the intellectual output of their faculty, students, and staff. As such output is increasingly both produced and consumed in unmediated digital form, IRs are emerging as a critical component of the scholarly information system.
Recent studies have told us something about where and how IRs are being established. For example, we know that most IRs have been created at research institutions, and that the library typically staffs and pays for them. But what do we know about the vast number of institutions that do not yet have IRs? How many are planning to develop an IR? Why or why not? What do we know about IRs at institutions that have a teaching focus?
A new report from CLIR, Census of Institutional Repositories in the United States, addresses these questions. The study, written by Karen Markey, Soo Young Rieh, Beth St. Jean, Jihyun Kim, and Elizabeth Yakel, of the University of Michigan School of Information, will be available in mid-February at https://www.clir.org/pubs/abstract/pub140abst.html. The study includes a foreword by Abby Smith.
The Census is the first step in a longer-term undertaking, called the MIRACLE (Making Institutional Repositories a Collaborative Learning Environment) Project. MIRACLE is looking at how colleges and universities are implementing IRs in order to identify models and best practices in the administration and technical infrastructure of IRs as well as policies governing access to repository collections. The main objective of the project is to identify factors contributing to the success of IRs and effective ways of accessing and using them.1
Rather than focusing exclusively on institutions that have operational IRs,2 the investigators cast their net broadly. They conducted a census of academic institutions in the United States about their involvement with such repositories. The authors believed that being more inclusive “would not only increase our confidence that we would be able to identify the wide range of practices, policies, and operations in effect at institutions where decision makers are contemplating planning, pilot testing, or implementing IRs but also enable us to learn why some institutions have ruled out IRs entirely.”
The MIRACLE Project team sent surveys to library directors at 2,147 institutions—representing all university main libraries and colleges, except for community colleges, in the United States. About 21% participated in the census. More than half of the responding institutions (53%) have done no IR planning. Twenty percent have begun to plan, 16% are actively planning and pilot testing IRs, and 11% have implemented an operational IR.
The MIRACLE study confirms a number of previous survey findings on operational IRs, such as the IR’s disproportionate representation at research institutions, its uncommon incidence at master’s or baccalaureate institutions, and the leading role of the library in planning, testing, implementing, and paying for IRs. Among the other findings confirmed is that that DSpace is the preferred IR-system software for both pilot testing and implementation, that faculty or graduate students are the major contributors to operational IRs, and that institutions with operational IRs guarantee in perpetuity few file formats other than PDFs.
At the same time, the census offers a wealth of new insights. For example, the main reasons institutions have not begun IR planning are that they are focused on other priorities, are concerned that they have no resources or expertise for IR planning, or want to assess what others are doing before initiating an IR. Few cite lack of interest in IRs as a top reason for failing to undertake IR planning; in fact, the survey reveals that half of those who have not begun planning intend to do so within 24 months. This finding leads the authors to conclude that there is a “sleeping beast of demand for IRs from master’s and baccalaureate institutions.”
Among other new findings emerging from the census are the following:
- Several people who are essential to starting an IR are outside the library: the provost, chief information officer, or faculty members. Gaining the support of these external decision makers depends on their understanding the basic concepts of IRs. Institutions in the early stages of planning should therefore be ready to demonstrate the workings and benefits of IRs.
- Archivists have a less prominent role than one might expect in the development of IRs. Archivists’ responsibility for IRs actually diminishes between the planning and the implementation phases. Nonetheless, archivists have a great deal to contribute to these efforts, and they should be actively engaged at all stages of repository development.
- Staff who are helping build IRs are hungry for information, especially information pertaining to successful implementations at institutions similar to their own.
- Respondents rated the needs assessment as less important than other investigative activities for IR planning. They rated learning about successful IR implementations at comparable institutions as most important.
- Very few institutions that have begun planning or are in advanced stages of planning and testing intend to terminate their IR projects.
- Some institutions that are interested in IR services may wait until they can join in consortial or partnership arrangements.
- About one-quarter of the institutions that are pilot testing or implementing an IR have two or more IRs available to their learning communities. This raises questions about the advantages and disadvantages of IR centralization. Will such institutions consolidate their IR efforts? Is it advantageous for multiple IRs at a single institution to prosper?
- The availability of additional commercial options for IR-system software may enable more institutions to get involved with IRs, especially at the many master’s and baccalaureate institutions where IR implementation is currently uncommon. Institutions that have not begun planning for IRs could benefit from commercial vendors who install the system and train on-site staff in system management and maintenance.
- Institutions with operational IRs judge system functionality to be satisfactory; however, they feel that the user interface, including controlled vocabulary searching and authority control, needs serious reworking. User-interface improvements should be made now, before too many users have negative experiences with IR systems and decide to abandon them.
- IRs’ preservation functionality must be improved. An IR should not only maintain the viability of the byte stream of its holdings but also support technologies that make a variety of file formats accessible over time. Today’s IR systems make few guarantees for access in perpetuity to digital file formats, except for PDFs. Nonetheless, the top reason census respondents offered for migrating to new IR-system software is greater capacity for handling preservation.
- Institutions do not need policies written in stone at the public launch of an IR. It may be more expedient to evaluate what happens after a period of time, then firm up existing policies and implement new ones as needed.
- The IR helps libraries build new relationships. Respondents with operational repositories acknowledged an increased role in the research enterprise.
- The relative extent to which faculty, staff, and students provide the impetus for IRs is unclear.
The report concludes with seven questions on long-term issues pertaining to IRs, which the MIRACLE Project staff will explore in follow-up activities.
1 More information about the MIRACLE project is available at http://miracle.si.umich.edu/about/overview.html.
2 Recent surveys of operational IRs in North America include efforts by Charles Bailey and his University of Houston associates, who analyzed data from an Association of Research Libraries (ARL)-sponsored survey of member institutions; and Clifford Lynch and Joan Lippincott’s 2005 survey of Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) members in the United States. Studies have also been done on IRs abroad. Lynch collaborated with Gerard van Westrienen in a 2005 survey of CNI members abroad; and Kathleen Shearer surveyed members of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries in 2004.
Redesigning Library Workflows
by Kathlin Smith
IN 2003, SMITH College Libraries faced both an opportunity and a crisis. The library had just completed a new strategic plan that called for staff to rethink library operations in order to work more effectively. At about the same time, a college-wide budget review concluded that the library would have to reduce its staffing level by about 10 percent by 2005.
The situation neatly sums up a growing dilemma for many libraries. While technology now makes it possible to deliver more content and services, libraries are often expected to do so with little or no increase in funding—or even with a reduced budget. The problem is especially acute at smaller institutions.
In 2002, a group of liberal arts college librarians approached CLIR for help. With support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, CLIR organized two workshops on workflow redesign and funded six libraries that were members of consortia to conduct workflow redesign projects. The results of these projects, which began in 2003 and ended late in 2005, are described in a new CLIR report entitled Library Workflow Redesign: Six Case Studies. The case studies are introduced by the report’s editor, Marilyn Mitchell, who was library director at the University of Puget Sound from 1990 until her retirement in 2003.
Projects Reflect Range of Needs
The projects of the participating libraries—The Appalachian College Association, the Libraries of the Claremont Colleges, Denison University in collaboration with Kenyon College, Smith College, the Tri-College Consortium, and the Robert W. Woodruff Library of Atlanta University Center—reflect a range of goals and tactics. For example:
- The Appalachian College Association, the largest consortium in the project, trained at least one staff member at 30 of its 32 member institutions in workflow design. Through the development of an ingenious token-voucher system, the consortium established an exchange program that enabled staff from its member schools to call on each other’s expertise. The schools implemented an impressive array of projects—from redesigning technical services workflow to improving the efficiency of document delivery and rare-book preservation.
- The libraries at Denison University and Kenyon College, members of the Five Colleges of Ohio consortium, identified the merger of their technical services operations as a logical extension of past cooperative ventures. Their merger entailed applying redesign techniques to their individual workflows and then combining those techniques into a single workflow.
The Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center engaged in a library-wide values clarification to improve service delivery, while the Libraries of The Claremont Colleges sought to improve service by redesigning reference and information services. Smith College Libraries, a member of the Five College Libraries of Western Massachusetts, focused on the redesign of all cataloging and materials workflow processes as well as all purchasing functions.
While admitting that budget reductions at Smith “forced change in a way that good times do not,” Smith Library Director Chris Loring counsels that “process improvement need not find its origins in such extremes.” Project staff at Kenyon College and Denison University echo his point, noting that the goal of their project was “to do more—not with less but with what they had.”
“Maintaining the momentum of change and accepting that change is the basis of continuous improvement are the goals of the redesign process,” writes report editor Mitchell. “The projects described in this report can stimulate libraries of different sizes and resources to investigate the tools described in the case studies and to look for opportunities to use them.” To this end, Mitchell synthesizes lessons learned from the six projects.
Motivation. Whether responding to crisis or opportunity, each participant had a compelling reason for redesigning workflows. The common motivation was the realization that they had an opportunity to make fundamental changes both in workflow and in library culture.
Change and risk. Change is often resisted and frequently undermined. These projects, which used broad-based team approaches to foster buy-in, developed change agents throughout their organizations. The elements of redesign—understanding a process in its entirety, identifying and then reassembling its component parts, and, most important, seeing one’s role in accomplishing new tasks—created process ownership and, by extension, created the needed change agents.
Leadership. Implementing work redesign requires leaders to build vision, provide resources to realize that vision, and build confidence. Champions in leadership positions in each of the libraries got their projects under way with the support of campus administrators as well as of library staff.
Outside assistance. All the projects used outside help to facilitate discussions and to train staff in workflow redesign. Consultants, who came from corporate consulting firms, library consulting organizations, libraries, and teaching faculties, were critical to project success.
Planning. Formal institutional planning processes provided an umbrella for several of the work-redesign efforts. A goal of strategic planning is to have such planning in place before a crisis arises. An environmental scan anticipates the crisis, and workflow redesign can then provide solutions.
Communication. Making change requires that all staff be informed and that as many people as possible participate in the redesign process. Although staff at the project institutions were aware of this, almost all participants felt in retrospect that they could have done better. Nearly all participants reported challenges with getting the message out, having it heard correctly, and acting on it in a positive and sustained manner.
Group decision making. All the projects reported that group decision making is essential. When several individuals contribute their unique experiences and expertise to solve a problem, solutions are superior to those of any single member.
Original thinking. There are many ways to accomplish a given goal. Adhering to data is important, but creative thinking is also essential. The effect is synergistic: one idea leads to another, and the resulting construct is bigger than its parts.
The team. Planning and implementation teams need to include all stakeholders. In many projects, users expressed wants and needs; at the same time, they communicated misunderstandings and a lack of awareness. Facilitators and consultants enhanced the dialog by articulating problems and processes, providing new perspectives, and promoting and focusing discussion.
Time and timing. Institutions have to be ready to participate, and timing is a part of the readiness equation. Not all libraries in the consortium partnerships were able to participate, and this limited the scope of their proposals. Many of the libraries found it difficult to complete their projects in the time allocated. Keeping communication open and productive took more time than they had anticipated. The more participants involved in the project—within the library, between libraries, and most particularly outside the library with vendors—the more difficult it was to meet deadlines.
American Institute for Conservation Offers Emergency Response Team Training
CANDIDATES ARE NOW being sought to participate in the American Institute for Conservation’s Collections Emergency Response Training (AIC-CERT) program. The four-and-a-half day workshop is open to conservators and allied professionals, such as registrars, archivists, librarians, and others responsible for collections.
Workshop participants will be selected competitively on the basis of their ability to bring to the training expertise in a variety of specialties. At the workshop, they will receive high-level training in a variety of emergency-response procedures, including damage-assessment methods, salvage techniques, and the organization and management of a recovery operation. In return for training, they will be expected to make a committed effort to respond to an emergency when requested by AIC. Training dates and places are:
- October 15–19 in Shepherdstown, West Virginia
- November 12–16 in Seattle, Washington
There is no registration fee for the training, and participants will receive support for travel, hotel, and meals.
The application deadline is May 15. For application forms, details on selection criteria, and additional information about the program, please visit the education section of the AIC Web site at http://aic.stanford.edu/education/workshops/index.html or contact Eric Pourchot, AIC Professional Development Director, at 202-452-9545, ext. 12; firstname.lastname@example.org.
CLIR Seeks Comments on Mid-Career Library Leadership Training
In November 2006, CLIR convened a meeting of leaders of mid-career library leadership training programs to discuss existing programs, identify outstanding needs, and consider how those needs could be met by modifying existing training programs, establishing new programs, or introducing changes into library school or continuing education programs. A brief report on the meeting was featured in CLIR Issues 54. A summary of the November discussions is now available at https://www.clir.org/activities/details/leader.html.
CLIR welcomes comments on the summary. Please respond to email@example.com.
404: Not Found
by Barrie Howard
UNFORTUNATELY, WE ARE all too familiar with the Internet status code 404. This error message, a standard HTTP response code, is a major roadblock on the information highway. It has halted many a research process. Finding a way to overcome it is fundamental to scholarly communication and digital preservation.
404 and other error messages are symptoms of a chronic problem: the lack of persistent identifiers for Web resources. The problem is ubiquitous to online publishing—from the vanity press content of blogs, MySpace, and YouTube to citations embedded in trend-setting articles in D-Lib Magazine1.
In November 2006, the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL) and the European Commission on Preservation and Access (ECPA) copublished a valuable report entitled Implementing Persistent Identifiers. In it, authors Hans-Werner Hilse and Jochen Kothe seek to help library decision makers better understand current solutions to the lack of persistent identification (PI) for digital objects. The report gives an overview of seven frameworks, protocols, schemes, and services—complete with background information, thorough descriptions, examples, and references—and offers recommendations on how to choose the best strategy to fit specific institutional environments, from local information technology architectures to interinstitutional networks.
The authors emphasize that the frameworks they describe are neither “killer app” nor silver bullet solutions. PI is an administrative issue that needs to be managed over time. It demands not only dedicated funding, collection management policies, education, and feasibility and risk assessments but also a long-term commitment to the stewardship of digital objects and the services that provide access to them. Ultimately, raising public awareness of the issue and educating authors, catalogers and metadata librarians, and users about the importance of unique and unambiguous naming conventions for digital objects and their impact on discovery and preservation of digital resources are as important as good content creation/management and housekeeping practices are.
Applications of the Uniform Resource Locator (URL)—a mechanism for linking to digital objects on the network based on their address—have proved to be part of the problem of persistent identification. When digital objects on Web servers are moved, removed, or renamed, URLs become broken or dead, or they rot. A similar concept, using a different approach, is the Uniform Resource Name (URN). The URN deals with the names, rather than the addresses, of digital objects. Focusing on naming rather than addressing places the issue of functionality on the thing itself and not on where it resides.
URLs are not always perfect, but when they work, they are actionable, linking users and content. URNs, on the other hand are not by themselves sufficient to connect users to content. Such functionality requires a system of mechanisms, protocols, resolvers (servers), services, additional specifications, and tools.
The CERL report introduces two schemes built on the URN concept: National Bibliographic Numbers (NBNs) and Persistent URLs (PURLs). Both use systems to provide network access to digital objects. NBN-based systems, which use URNs as a foundation, have been developed by several national libraries, and implementations vary by institution. OCLC has developed PURLs that bundle the URN specification with a service that is both a registry for names and locations of digital resources and a resolver, which is necessary to associate a digital object’s PURL name with its actual network address. PURL implementations use URLs and http for access.
There are other schemes for creating actionable persistent identifiers. The Handle System, developed by the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI), is a full-service implementation that provides everything from naming to resolution. Two notable appropriations of the Handle System are Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) and the DSpace digital repository system.
People who read the CERL report will discover that many of the PI schemes discussed have been around for a while. So why does the problem continue? If the problem turns out to be more persistent than the solutions, then there will always be room for innovation. A more recent innovation in PI discussed in the report is the Archival Resource Key (ARK). The ARK framework recommends that functional requirements for PI include access to descriptive metadata about digital objects and a statement from host institutions about their commitment to preserve the resources over time. ARKs raise the bar for PI by looking beyond naming and resolution toward adding value to these fundamental services. The OpenURL Framework—a standard protocol for transporting metadata—also focuses on value-added services and is discussed along with the other schemes because of its ability to make use of them.
At the end of the report is a checklist of questions to ask to decide which persistent identifiers best fit an institution’s requirements. Implementing Persistent Identifiers may not provide all the answers, but its contributions could help libraries move toward designing and building systems free of roadblocks and dead ends.
1 McCown, Frank, Sheffan Chan, Michael L. Nelson, and Johan Bollen. “The Availability and Persistence of Web References in D-Lib Magazine.” Presented at the 5th International Web Archiving Workshop (IWAW’05). September 22-23, 2005. Vienna, Austria. Available from http://arxiv.org/abs/cs.OH/0511077.