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March 28, 2005

New Digital Repository To Make
Research More Accessible

A new electronic approach to academic publishing is coming to UConn, and it’s being billed as a major step forward in solving the crisis in scholarly communications.

The University Libraries are working with a commercial company to establish an institutional repository – a digital collection that preserves and provides access to the intellectual products of an institution, including reports, monographs, papers presented, seminar series, conference materials, and other products, such as sound and video clips and PowerPoint presentations.

The platform, Digital Commons, was launched at UConn last week on a pilot basis, and it is expected that an institution-wide repository will be established in 2006. The website is: DigitalCommons@UConn. The University joins about a dozen institutions that have adopted Digital Commons, a product of Berkeley Electronic Press and ProQuest.

During a public forum on the topic at Konover Auditorium on March 22, Greg Tananbaum, president of the Berkeley Electronic Press, said the repository will save time and money, reduce hassle, and raise faculty members’ profiles as researchers.

Soaring prices in the academic publishing industry have meant that academic libraries have had to reduce their subscriptions, limiting the choices available to researchers. At the same time, high printing costs have constrained the production of monographs, making it harder for researchers to get their work published.

“Conceptually, we currently have a system where universities supply the labor for peer-reviewed journals, as authors, editors, readers … then have to pay to get it back,” said Tananbaum. Digital Commons is “an alternative to commercial publishers and homegrown sites,” he added.

A University Senate resolution passed at UConn last year called on researchers to take concrete steps to contribute to a solution to these and other problems of scholarly publishing.

Digital Commons will be launched at UConn through University Libraries to ensure ongoing access to the materials posted there, offering greater permanence than individual websites.

“DigitalCommons@UConn will help increase the reach and visibility of UConn’s intellectual output,” said Jonathan Nabe, head of the pilot UConn repository.

Posting materials to the repository is both simple and quick, and requires little technical know-how. All materials must be in digital form. Documents in Microsoft Word, Word Perfect, or Rich Text Format are automatically converted to PDF files.

Tanenbaum said that at some institutions, each department or institute has a designated administrator responsible for collecting faculty members’ papers and posting them. At others, individuals can post their own items, but a staff person in the department or at the library is responsible for ensuring that the materials meet basic guidelines before they are made available electronically.

The repository can be subdivided by schools and colleges, departments, or programs, with materials arranged in hierarchies tailored to the needs of a particular unit. And the site where the material is posted can be customized with items such as a logo, departmental policies, or introductory text. But while the structure and layout are flexible, the url where each document resides is fixed to ensure its permanence, even if the material is later removed.

Materials in the repository, which offers full text searching, can be searched by keyword, author, or date, and is linked to Google and other major search engines.

Digital Commons offers several features designed to make it easier for researchers to gain access to relevant information, and for authors to disseminate their work.

A researcher who’s interested in a specific topic can set up a profile in Digital Commons to receive an e-mail alert whenever a new paper in that field is posted.

Each month, Digital Commons sends e-mail to authors who have a paper in the repository, informing them how many times the paper has been downloaded. It also offers to “harvest” citations from databases and e-mail them to authors so they can see how their work is being used.

“We want to help authors connect with their audience,” Tananbaum said.

Nabe said “statistics show that institutional repositories work. Any given object reaches a vastly expanded audience when it’s available in a repository.”

The pilot project is working with five UConn “communities,” including the Connecticut Institute of Water Resources; the Honors Program, which is posting senior honors theses; and three more volunteers. In addition, graduate students’ theses and dissertations are being posted from ProQuest.

The service is offered at no cost to the contributor and user, but contributors are responsible for obtaining copyright where necessary.

For more information, or to participate in the pilot project, contact Nabe at 860.486.6688 or jonathan.nabe@, or the appropriate subject liaison in the library.