A Meeting of “Repositorians” in the Revolutionary City

I had the opportunity to gather with fellow “repositorians” in Williamsburg, Virginia, last month. It was the first meeting held to discuss the development and maintenance of institutional repositories for law and legal resources. The event was called, “Law Repositories: Shaping the Future,” and was made possible through a grant from the AALL/Bloomberg Continuing Education Grants Program and the sponsorship of both bepress and the Legal Information Preservation Alliance (LIPA).

Jona Whipple, Digital Resources Librarian, Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology, has provided a nice report on the event and I refer you there for some of the additional details.

I thought I’d focus on the opening keynote address. However, before I do that, I would like to draw your attention to one of Whipple‘s observations, something that was evident throughout the meeting. That is a perceived shift in perspective; a change in the nature of what’s usually been collected in an institutional repository.

While repositorians are not necessarily shifting the focus from collections of scholarly work, they are definitely expanding the scope of what would traditionally be included in a law repository. This expansion not only energizes and excites those of us who work to make this content available, it also brings more focus to our repositories and our missions as champions of open access and protectors of information.”

Revolutionary CanonTo some extent this shift is evident in the work we’ve been doing at the Osgoode Digital Commons. For example, in addition to collecting the scholarly output of the Osgoode Law School faculty we have also included video recordings of guest seminars, provincial statures, a digitized copy of a rare handwritten manuscript and a selection of image galleries.

This term “repositorian” was introduced by Paul Royster, Coordinator of Scholarly Communications at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Libraries, and became very popular at the meeting. It’s a pretty good term but it makes me think I should slap my right fist against my chest when I say it.

In the opening keynote address Royster described the role of a repositorian as:

  • Giving scholars and researchers control over the intellectual property they create
  • And not regulating or stipulating or legislating what they do with it

He sees two main roles of the repository itself: collection and dissemination. And, he concludes that a repository should not be considered a “technology program or a collection development program.” Instead we should view this work as both a services program and a potential publishing operation.

These are the set of services that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries provides:

  • permissions and copyright clearance
  • hunting and gathering
  • scanning
  • typesetting
  • metadata‐ing
  • uploading and posting
  • usage reporting
  • promotion
  • print-on-demand publishing

In addition to these services they aim to: make it easy for content owners to add content to the repository; provide content owners with feedback through regular usage reports; maximize the uploading process to provide as much scholarship freely accessible online as possible.

One of the key points that Royster made, and something that we should keep in the foreground of our activities as repositorians, is that the institutional repository belongs to the depositors. The repository does not belong to the library, the university or the public. “We are not gatekeepers, arbiters, enforcers, approvers, censors, regulators, or judges.” Instead we are partners or “co-conspirators” who are there to manage and facilitate access to the content so that it can be discovered and disseminated as widely as possible.

There has been a notable decline in library usage, in funding and acquisitions, in circulation and visits to the reference desk. An institutional repository becomes an important collection of services that can reconnect the library to faculty and the overall activity of the school.

As Royster also stressed, the repository is critical because it supports our goals as librarians: “we want to share ideas and experience, especially our educational, legal, and political experience.” And it is our responsibility to “regain, liberate, occupy scholarly publishing” and “bring scholarship out of the commercial market.”

It was an inspiring event framed nicely by this opening keynote speech. The video recording is now available so you can hear Royster talk about their many successes including their “digital publishing operation” Zea E-Books.

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