Of CRISs and IRs – the challenge of diverse systems

Here, Steve Byford, the newest member of the Jisc scholarly communications team, takes a look at the diverse repository and research management environment in UK institutions, drawing from recent discussions on the jisc-repositories list and elsewhere.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our systems for research information and scholarly communications could talk to each other across the entire university sector?

This could be helpful for all sorts of different reasons. For example, as a result of all of the various open access policies, institutions are even keener than before to capture their research outputs onto their repositories with as little fuss as possible.

The Holy Grail here would be to go as far as we can towards automating this process, so that repositories receive metadata and content somehow harvested from sources that already have them – ultimately originating from publishers, for example. This is something we’re actively exploring.

There are some significant challenges in trying to do anything like this. High on the list of obstacles to be overcome is the variety of systems that institutions use – and the differences in workflows they have implemented. Any shared services across research information and scholarly communications, such as our Repository Shared Services Projects, will face similar issues.

UK institutions use various different repository platforms. Whilst EPrints and DSpace are the most common, several have opted for alternatives – such as Pure, Fedora or Equella. Similarly, they use a range of current research information systems (CRISs), such as Pure, Converis and Symplectic. Others have yet to implement a CRIS.

Not only that, but the way their workflows use them also differ. Many capture information initially onto their CRIS, and then use the CRIS to populate the repository. But then there are also some that do it the other way around. For example, the University of St Andrews uses its Pure CRIS to ingest information about its research outputs, and then uses this to populate its DSpace repository. A similar workflow is used at the University of Portsmouth, which also uses Pure, this time in conjunction with an EPrints repository, and at Oxford Brookes University, which is working to integrate its systems so that its Converis CRIS populates its Equella repository.

Some institutions have abandoned separate repository platforms altogether, instead using their CRISs effectively as repositories. Examples include the University of Bristol, Kings College London and Queens University Belfast. Others, such as the University of East Anglia, are considering going down this route.

It looks as though this picture may have been influenced by the rise of Pure in particular. Universities that implemented it early as a CRIS were not at that time confident that it could function effectively as a repository, an assessment that has changed as that system has developed.

The University of Glasgow, on the other hand, enters the metadata and full text onto its EPrints repository, and this is the place where they manage copyright, licensing, embargo periods and metadata quality. It also has a research system that links to the university’s other administrative systems.

It is also worth noting that management responsibility for CRIS systems seems to rest with different functional services within different institutions – in some cases within the library, in others by research management and admin. This may have coloured their varying priorities in adopting and implementing them, and consequently the workflows that worked best for them.

Understanding this complex landscape will be crucial in building digital infrastructure that enables machine-to-machine communication that will help universities track and capture their research outputs as efficiently as possible. This mixed, complex ecology of systems is perhaps likely to be with us for some time, so there will be a continuing need to understand it as it evolves.

At Jisc we are already some way along the path of gathering and documenting these details. In particular, our authoritative directory of repositories, OpenDOAR, already catalogues a global list of repositories and a host of information about them, including what software they use. We are looking at ways this might be extended and developed further to support changing requirements.

This will position us well to help universities take the next steps forward in the new scholarly communications environment.

By Neil Jacobs

JISC Programme Director, Digital Infrastructure (Information Environment)

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