Imagining the future of repositories

Jisc recently held a national OpenAIRE workshop in Birmingham to explore the changing role of institutional repositories in Open Science – and how OpenAIRE and Jisc (can) support this (presentations can be found here). With the transition to Open Science, research, its management, and life cycle are changing radically. Beyond publications, interest is growing in research outputs such as data, software, and detailed methodology or workflow descriptions. The openness of these outputs is also a crucial requirement on which institutions must report increasingly often in accordance with many funder policies. For OpenAIRE and Jisc it is a crucial task to uncover the new service needs emerging from this change and start imagining solutions with the community. We therefore discussed with librarians, repository and research managers which challenges Open Science creates in their daily work – and imagined some “killer apps” to address them. Here are three themes and solutions:

  1. Fixing metadata with the “Intermediating App”

In the daily work of those present at the workshop, creating and managing metadata remains riddled with complexity – even if it’s just for publications. Far too often data needs to be rekeyed and re-entered e.g. into CRISs, journal submission, and other reporting systems with differing metadata requirements. With Open Science, metadata on more diverse outputs needs to be preserved and structured to a level of detail which was previously only required for literature. Therefore, the laborious, time consuming, and error-prone task of metadata management is an urgent, natural candidate for fixing.

To deal with this, our workshop participants imagined an intelligent app which would intermediate metadata transfers between different system. The “Intermediating App” would be an easy to use service to facilitate and harmonise any scholarly communications activity. In its backend, the app would align various metadata standards, enabling it to feed data automatically to different publishers, funder, and institutional systems, throughout different stages of the research lifecycle. Users of the system would therefore be able to create authoritative records, having to enter data only once. After this, the app would align the data automatically with the format used by the receiving system.

  1. Engaging researchers with “Re:proof” and “RepLab”

Much of the discussion about Open Science focuses on the question of how researchers can be incentivised to publish research outputs more openly. Our workshop participants found that while there is a niche group of principled repository supporters at many institutions, general frictions exist between the workflows, incentives and priorities of researchers and repository or research managers. As a result, repository managers feel that many researchers need to be pushed to upload publications data to repositories, even for REF reporting. In an ideal world, instead, repositories would be the institutional centre points for Open Science and “go to places” for researchers. For this, repositories need to evolve from dead-ending, static preservation silos into more collaborative spaces, which are useful not only for preservation purposes.

In our workshop Re:Proof and RepLab were two solutions proposed to align the workflows of repository managers and researchers better. Re:Proof would provide a back-end integration to connect and partly integrate repositories with research environments, services, and tools. By enabling the (meta-)data exchange between systems, the app would not only make it easier for researchers to import data into their institutional repositories, but also facilitate research activities. Linked to this, the RepLab (Repository-Laboratory) app could further enhance these functions: RepLab would serve as a generic research workspace on top of institutional repositories, providing researchers with the tools to interrogate and analyse repository contents as part of their own research. Domain-specific communities could build RepLab extensions to conduct their research. Eventually, this would also help to build communities of researchers around repository content, turning repositories into centrepieces for active and evolving research collaborations.

  1. Maximising reuse with the “Open Knowledge Bot”

Maximising the reuse and impact of repository content turned out to be a third concern at the workshop. Ironically, repositories are nowadays used as resources to report on research outputs, activities, and impact. But as vast knowledge resources they could themselves help to make knowledge and information accessible to a wider public – and therefore be key drivers for Open Science. The challenge is to find the right levers to maximise the reuse of repository content.

One proposed solution was the “Open Knowledge Bot”. This service would automatically funnel Open Access content to Wikipedia by searching and replacing links to paywalled content in Wikipedia’s references with links to equivalent open access content in institutional repositories. By this, it could enhance the usage of open repository content and advance Wikipedia’s mission of making knowledge openly accessible. It would also lead to more traffic being directed to participating institutional repositories, potentially raising the public profile of repositories as sources of open knowledge. As a valuable lateral benefit, the linkage of more repository content in Wikipedia would also lead to linkages in the DBpedia linked database.

 

The great discussions and ideas we had with the participants of our workshop show that the transition to Open Science is well under way – and the lines of what were previously “just repositories” are increasingly blurring: Systems which were originally preservation backends are now becoming the hinges of an increasingly interconnected, interoperable scholarly communications ecosystem. Just as the EC points out in its recently updated Recommendations on Access to and Preservation of Scientific Information, the community members at our workshop highlighted that this requires more connected systems as part of a more developed infrastructure.

OpenAIRE as well as Jisc are working on a number of services to support this evolution. OpenAIRE-Connect and Jisc’s Research Data Shared Service are two prominent examples. Research Data Shared service is an integrated solution for the publication, discovery, safe storage, long term archiving, and preservation of research data. It will provide UK institutions with a service to open research data, promoting its reuse by a wider public, and therefore also raising the profile of repositories as go-to-places for researchers and scientists.

OpenAIRE-Connect develops services which will facilitate the linking and sharing of metadata on diverse research outputs, such as literature, data, software, and other research outputs. It significantly expands the existing OpenAIRE graph, which until now only covers literature publications. For the Open Science community, the new knowledge graph could serve in the future as a valuable community resource, particularly because it presents a comprehensive source of harmonised metadata, linking many different types of research outputs. Essential services of OpenAIRE-Connect will be the Catch-All-Broker for content providers and the Research Community Dashboard for researchers and research managers. Jisc is leading a pilot to test the interoperability between the Catch-All-Broker and Jisc’s Publications Router, to establish how different systems can interoperate to share and disseminate metadata more effectively.

There is no doubt that in the wake of Open Science, the future of repositories will be as exciting as challenging. We would like to hear your views: Where do you see the biggest challenges, how can we improve interoperability, and which ideas for solutions do you have? Let us know about your views in the comments below – or send an email directly to leo.mack@jisc.ac.uk

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