Second RSP Briefing Day Looks at Complex Issues

14th November 2007, by

Briefing event tackles tough repository issues

Higher-level repository topics such as institutional embedding, requirements analysis and digital discovery were considered in a collaborative workshop environment at the second of the RSP's series of briefing and networking events, held on a bright then stormy day at Brunel's campus in outer west London (8th November 2007).

Each of these events aims to offer local experience and this was provided by John Murtagh, repository manager at Brunel. John described the Brunel University Research Archive (BURA). Currently BURA has over 800 records from over 300 researchers registered with the service, and a mandate for deposit of e-theses begins for students starting in October 2008. As part of its embedding process, BURA provides updates on download statistics to heads of schools and school boards, and is trying to devolve control of collections within the schools. What came across strongly is the sheer scale of the ongoing embedding process required across a whole institution.

Pete Cliff from the RSP team explored some live examples of discovery tools, including OAIster and Google, to find selected BURA papers. He showed that different results for the same query are due to the respective databases, with OAIster offering a more structured search but less predictable results unless you have a librarian's grasp of searching. Hidden within this is an important idea that shows the essence of the digital switch: in print, quality assurance is done on the input side; digitally, this happens on the output side. So on the Web, as in repositories, the aim is to get as much content as possible, and allow digital services to act as quality filters. This can be summarised for your repository, Peter said, as Act local: Think global.

The implications of this QA switch could be hard for librarians and editors to recognise and embrace, as became evident in the speed dating session. This is based on the idea of, well, speed dating, where people are given a short time to find out about each other's intimate details. In this case the aim was for groups of four to find out about each other's repository. Switching people between groups keeps the interest and energy levels high as daters realise they have to be focussed to get the answers they want in the time available.

The workshop theme continued as three teams explored repository requirements, including those of institutional stakeholders and users, as well as system requirements. Coordinated by RSP's Steve Hitchcock, each team focussed on one requirements analysis, reporting back to the others. The aim was to try and see the bigger picture: how these different analyses fit together. It became clear that you don't always get an easy mesh between the three types of requirements. The benefits of the workshop accrued to the participants. It's hard to report any generalisable outcomes from this exercise because teams were invited to play roles rather than represent their repositories.

Brief discussion of real cases afterwards indicated, however, that perhaps few repositories have the chance to develop formal requirements before pilot or launch, and that such analyses are therefore typically reactive to repository use. The importance of getting senior stakeholder backing for the repository, and as a result of that an indication of their requirements, that is, what the repository is expected to achieve for the institution, cannot be overstated.

Role-playing scenarios will be a common feature of these briefing events, and Jackie Knowles from RSP invited delegates to consider the impact of various stakeholder roles - including academics, and university administrators - on the repository. It was suggested that we may not always identify distinct roles and motivations for different stakeholders, and when we do we may bring preconceptions and misconceptions about those roles. Unless we are careful, this can reduce the effectiveness of working with stakeholders and of promoting the repository.

Whether role playing or for real, being a repository manager is not easy, but it is clear from events such as these that managers can be energised and enthused by working on these common issues with their repository peers.

For more information regarding this event please contact Steve Hitchcock.

More details on the event, including presentations, can be found on the event page.


For further information contact RSP.

Alternatively, email RSP Support or phone 0845 257 6860.