Perception of value in Institutional Repositories

June 13, 2007

I’ve been moving more of SPECTRa over to Sourceforge and finding things out about the service. Something that made me sit back and have a think was the sourceforge backup policy. In a nutshell this states that they take at least weekly backups, but won’t restore them unless there’s a catastrophe at their end. I’d say the #1 risk, with high hazard and probability, is me making a mistake. Sourceforge don’t protect you against yourself.

That’s fair enough, it’s just a bit more work to arrange backups. But I’m glad I noticed the policy (I got there from a reference in the login shell), other colleagues I spoke to have used Sourceforge for years, were unaware of it, and don’t backup, expecting sourceforge to do it. The only problem here was my own expectation. Sourceforge provide a generally great service, and I’ve never heard a tale of woe about data loss on Sourceforge, so I built an expectation that they take care of backup and restore.

Perhaps this effect works in favour of IRs? One of the values of an IR is in acting as a deposition, access and dissemination service (as especially espoused by OA evangelists). Another value is in the provision of good curation. The expectation is matched by the service. I think, though, that the expectation has been built in a large part by the increasingly recognized brands of repo software projects such as DSpace, ePrints, Fedora et al.

I think this lies at the heart of why I felt initially uncomfortable about the idea of repositories sitting wholly within the web architecture (Andy Powell on the subject): If the IR is presented as ‘just a website’ then there’s no expectation, and you have to work to convince the user that they’re getting value. If you buy in to the web architecture vision Andy and others have been describing for IRs (as I have!), and if you agree that IRs are going to need a whole range of softwares to satisfy their users’ needs, then the importance of the software brand is going to be less and less important to users’ perception of the value of the IR, which might diminish as a result.

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