An institutional repository can be viewed as "a set of services that a university offers to members of its community for the management and dissemination of digital materials created by the institution and its community members." For a university, this includes materials such as monographs, eprints of academic journal articles—both before (preprints) and after (postprints) undergoing peer review—as well as electronic theses and dissertations. An institutional repository might also include other digital assets generated by academics, such as datasets, administrative documents, course notes, learning objects, or conference proceedings. Deposit of material in an institutional repository is sometimes mandated by that institution.
Some of the main objectives for having an institutional repository are to provide open access to institutional research output by self-archiving in an open access repository, to create global visibility for an institution's scholarly research, and to store and preserve other institutional digital assets, including unpublished or otherwise easily lost ("grey") literature such as theses, working papers or technical reports.
Digital institutional repositories are document servers enabling researchers to archive their research output. Worldwide institutions are starting to implement digital institutional repositories for digital formats of research. Scholarly output can be born-digital, in which no digitalisation is necessary before the research is included in a digital repository. A digital institutional repository accessible through the Internet can improve the visibility, usage and impact of research conducted at an institution.
The origin of the notion of an institutional repository are twofold:
In 2003 the function of an institutional repository was coined by Clifford Lynch in relation to universities. He argued that:
"... a university-based institutional repository is a set of services that a university offers to the members of its community for the management and dissemination of digital materials created by the institution and its community members. It is most essentially an organizational commitment to the stewardship of these digital materials, including long-term preservation where appropriate, as well as organization and access or distribution."
The content of an institutional repository depends on the focus of the institution. Higher education institutions conduct research across multiple disciplines, thus research from a variety of academic subjects. Examples of such digital institutional repositories include the MIT Institutional Repository. A disciplinary repository is subject specific. It holds and provides access to scholarly research in a particular discipline. While there can be disciplinary repositories for one institution, disciplinary repositories are frequently not tied to a specific institution. The PsyDok digital repository for example holds German language research in psychology. SSOAR is an international social science full text-server.
Institutional repositories that provide access to research to users outside the institutional community are one of the recommended ways to achieve the open access vision described in the Budapest Open Access Initiative definition of open access. This is sometimes referred to as the self-archiving or "green" route to open access.
An institutional repository has been understood as a means to ensure that the published work of scholars is available to the academic community even after increases in subscription fees or budget cuts within libraries. The majority of research scholars do not provide free access to their research output to their colleagues in an organization. Institutional repositories provide scholars with a common platform so that everyone in the institution can contribute scholarly material to promote cross-campus interdisciplinary research. The development of an institutional repository redefines the production and dissemination of scholarly material within an academic community. The contents available on the institute’s website usually are removed after a few weeks. An institutional repository can provide a platform to manage institutional information, including web content. Institutional repositories have a number of benefits, including access to resources, visibility of research, and presentations of the contents.
If an institution has decided to invest in a repository numerous resources exist to help librarians and other repository managers frame and answer such questions, including "A Librarian's Process for Building an Institutional Repository",
The major institutional repository software platforms use a common open standard called OAI-PMH. This standard makes it not just possible to collect and move research output from one platform to another.
While a majority of the institutions run institutional repository software on local servers, among new adopters, there is a strong preference towards cloud-based services. A survey commissioned by Duraspace found that 72% of respondents indicated that their institutional repository is a hosted service. Institutions are choosing cloud-based solutions because such providers "enable institutions to easily get started with a hosted software service, with no need to provision local hardware, software, staff, or other infrastructure nor is there any specific technical skill or expertise required". Also important to the decision to go hosted may be the understanding that a hosted institutional repository solution "frees a library from both hardware and software support, allowing staff resources to be directed to other publishing service functions such as consulting and workflow design."
The Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR) states in its manifesto that "Each individual repository is of limited value for research: the real power of Open Access lies in the possibility of connecting and tying together repositories, which is why we need interoperability. In order to create a seamless layer of content through connected repositories from around the world, open access relies on interoperability, the ability for systems to communicate with each other and pass information back and forth in a usable format. Interoperability allows us to exploit today's computational power so that we can aggregate, data mine, create new tools and services, and generate new knowledge from repository content."
Interoperability is achieved in the world of institutional repositories using protocols to which repositories should conform, such as OAI-PMH. This allows search engines and open access aggregators, such as BASE, CORE and Unpaywall, to index repository metadata and content and provide value-added services on top of this content.
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