Institutional repositories and access to research

In her review of academic publishing (discussed in this Just Do It blog post), Dame Janet Finch considered the role of institutional repositories: databases containing reports of research either before they are submitted for publication in a journal or at some point after they have been published.  Co-incidentally, we have just completed an ESRC funded project to investigate the potential of repositories to provide free access to research relevant to social services.  At present, anyone working in the social services in Scotland may obtain a free Athens password to the digital journal collection on SSKS.  Useful as this is, the cost of subscriptions restricts the number of journals available.

Our report – Improving access to research for the social services - finds that, despite earnest attempts by repository managers and others,  repositories are not delivering open access to all, or even most, research outputs at any of the universities studied, a finding that concurs with Finch’s view that ‘the rate at which published papers have been deposited in repositories has been disappointing’.  Finch recommended action

…to develop the infrastructure of repositories and enhance their interoperability so that they provide effective routes to access for research publications including reports, working papers and other grey literature…

The key word in the above quotation is ‘interoperability’.  In a recent post on his excellent UK Web Focus blog, Brian Kelly reviewed his own university’s Current Research Information System (Pure) which is ‘designed to make it as easy as possible to keep information about research up-to-date, providing ongoing visibility of research activities at the University’.  Kelly highlights what seems to be a vital shortcoming with institutional efforts to provide the kind of interoperability necessary to provide effective access to research publications:

If a key aim is to enhance access to one’s research papers I am still convinced that use of social media services such as LinkedIn and Academia.edu will provide benefits which aren’t provided by a Current Research Information System.

In other words, institutional repositories are rather too inward looking in a world where social networks are encouraging, and enabling, us to be more outward looking, or networked.  Final word to Brian Kelly:

 it seems unlikely that a researcher profiling service which is co-located on the same institutional domain as the institutional repository will provide the ‘Google juice’ to one’s research papers

Ah, is Google the answer?