This past spring, the Washington University Libraries launched its new digital repository, Open Scholarship supported by Digital Library Services.
In contrast to the Digital Gateway site, which hosts and links to digital projects created at the University, the Open Scholarship site hosts more traditional academic output of the University, such as journal articles, theses and dissertations, and undergraduate honors theses that authors wish to make available to the wider public. In the library world, this kind of site is referred to as an "institutional repository" (or "IR"). Effectively, the Open Scholarship site is an institutional repository. But we try to avoid the label because it carries a history we don't want to repeat here.
"Institutional repositories" were originally conceived over ten years ago primarily to make quality scholarly content freely available, while at the same time exerting pressure on for-profit academic journals, which had been raising journal prices at increasingly higher percentages for years. The idea was that making articles freely available in institutional repositories could chip away at publishers' status as exclusive content providers, thus providing leverage with publishers to lower prices (or at least moderate the rate of price increase).
While numerous institutional repositories were created across the nation (and over the globe) they have clearly had no impact on journal prices whatsoever. At the same time, the first wave of institutional repositories had—with few exceptions—mixed results. One major reason for this is that many repositories, relying as they initially did on a faculty self-submission model, languished with limited quality content. It was Dorothea Salo who pointed this out in her influential article of 2008, "Innkeeper at the Roach Motel," writing, "The open-access movement initially promised libraries that eager faculty would speedily fill institutional repositories with their own work... [but] faculty stayed away from institutional repositories in droves…" Salo further noted that in response to the lack of faculty-contributed submissions, repository managers in some cases attempted to fill the virtual shelves with lower-quality material, which further undermined the credibility of the repository as a resource.
Given the mis-steps of institutional repositories in the past, why have the Washington University Libraries launched what is effectively an institutional repositories, in the Open Scholarship site? What has changed to make the institutional repository relevant, or what we do we expect to do differently?
First, there have been notable exceptions of success stories with repositories. The PubMed Central and arXiv repositories have had tremendous impact. Second, another movement across universities to mandate (or otherwise encourage) open access to scholarship produced at universities—most notably at Harvard—has provided faculty incentive to make their work available to open access repositories. Finally, the transition at many universities in this period from print to electronic submission of theses and dissertations provided many institutions a continuing source of quality scholarly materials to populate their repositories.
Locally, the most significant change was the adoption of an open access resolution by the Washington University in St. Louis Faculty Senate. The text of the resolution is here and the story from the Record is here. While the ultimate aim to make quality scholarly material freely available remains, the proximate goal is to provide a platform for making available scholarly materials that faculty wish to make publicly accessible. We also depart from the original "institutional repository" model by not relying on faculty to submit their content themselves. We recognize that, while many faculty support the aims of the open access movement, demands on their time have only increased over the years. If libraries expect faculty to support open access aims, they must in turn assist faculty with the logistics of adding these materials to repositories. Subject librarians at Washington University in all cases can research when and in what form journal publishers allow the re-posting of journal articles in repositories, and in general, assist faculty members in making their materials available through the Open Scholarship site.
At the same time, much attention in the open access community has shifted from its focus from the end of the process of scholarly publication, in the re-posting of articles previously published in for-profit scholarly journals, to the beginning of the process, through supporting locally created online open access journals. The University Libraries, along with partners such as the Humanities Digital Workshop, are prepared to support the development and hosting of journals and other new publications. And focusing on the beginning of the scholarly communications cycle is more likely to ultimately impact the scholarly publishing industry than the original strategy of the "IR."
While the Open Scholarship site has not been launched in hopes of single-handedly transforming scholarly communications, it is a step in supporting scholars who want to support open access. And loftier aims of the open access movement aside, the Open Scholarship site now serves as a showcase for the valuable contributions to scholarship from this exceptional academic community.