IRs: Disruptors or the Disrupted


Apparently, we are “Rethinking” IRs already. By most accounts, IR have not fulfilled the promise they offered in the late 1990s and early 2000s. What started as a possible disruption to the vendor controlled scholarly publishing system, has become disrupted. IR’s are experiencing an “existential crisis (Poynder, 2016, p. 4)” and early advocates are disenchanted (Van de Velde, 2016; Tay, 2016; Poynder, 2016).

I spoke with Salwa Ismail, Department Head, Library Information Technology, Georgetown University Library about the issues surrounding Institutional Repositories (S. Ismail, personal communication, November 19, 2018). She participated in the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) Roundtable in 2017. I asked her first about the technical issues that might be making IRs less promising than they appeared to be at first. Technical issues like a “mishmash of formats” and “outdated formats” (Van de Velde, 2016) means they lack interoperability and can be less desirable than commercially run systems (Tay, 2016). Is this why, according to Lynch, “most IRs remain half empty (Poynder, 2016, p. 3).” For Ismail, the technical issues, though real, are not the main limitation. Lynch (in Poynder, p. 14) agrees; “a lot of the problem here isn’t technical.”

For Ismail, the main issue in the US is a lack of open access culture. She notices that European faculty come to the library and ask where and how to deposit their research output/papers but that after a few months, they fall in with the US culture and stop asking. Compliance is high in Europe, it is tied to evaluations and is enforced (CNI, 2017, p. 5). Van de Velde notes the lack of a culture that supports IRs. There is, he says, a “lack of enthusiasm, there is no grassroots support. Scholars submit papers to an IR because they have to, not because they want to (Van de Velde, 2016).” CNI found that “without continual marketing, it is hard to sustain faculty interest in depositing their materials in the repository (p. 80.” Ismail pointed to the requirements of the publishing industry (embargoes, publisher mandates) as a cause of the lack of an open access culture in the US. Publisher policies often mean that even when papers are added to an IR, they remain locked behind the logins and paywalls of universities (Poynder, 2016, p. 3).

So if IRs are not disrupting scholarly publishing, what is happening with IRs? Many argue that it is time to rethink the IR; to disrupt the path and forge a new direction. “It’s definitely time for a re-think about the real prospects and best approaches and roles (Lynch in Poynder, 2016, p. 13).  And rethinking the purpose is what is happening with IRs. “Libraries are still debating whether a repository should be focused on discovery, access, and/or preservation (CNI, 2017, p. 7).” Lynch says we have “conflated the needs and purposes of IRs (Poynder, 2016, p. 14). IRs don’t have a measure of success because they suffer from a “lack of clarity” about their purpose (CNI, 2017, p. 9). In fact, they have not been that successful. CNI found that librarians that worked with publishers to automate adding papers to the IR – that achieved a 2/3 rate of capture of faculty output (CNI, 2017, p. 9). I think that is still a disappointing number! But it shows that one new direction is collaboration with vendors and institutional partners. Another is helping to meet institutional goals (CNI, 2016, p. 8). Another new focus is capturing student created content (CNI, 2017, p. 9; S. Ismail, personal communication, 2018).

There is, Ismail concludes, nothing else that “captures the scholarly and intellectual output of a university – that makes them important.” We are putting, she says, a great deal of trust in vendors and the government to continue to make scholarly output available. Universities must stand up and take action to capture the output (S. Ismail, personal communication, 2018).


Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) (May 2017). Rethinking institutional repository strategies. Report of a CNI Executive Roundtable Held April 2 & 3, 2017. Retrieved from

Poynder, R. (2016, September, 22) Q&A with CNI’s Clifford Lynch: Time to re-think the institutional repository?

Tay, A. (2016, August 11). Are institutional repositories a dead end? [blog post]. Retrieved from

Van de Velde, E. F. (2016, July 24). Let IR RIP [blog post]. Retrieved from



Let’s Make Metadata Great Again: Or, Learning to Swipe right with Metadata


Amy An | Blog Post #2

I am reading an article for my research methods class about the state of the LIS field. I just read this sentence: “the literature of information science is characterized by conceptual chaos (Hjorland 2000).” That about sums up my experience of metadata schema; conceptual chaos. I have not ever before both understood something and not understood it at the same time – especially when I wanted to understand it. And I so want to understand it! I feel like metadata swiped left when I swiped right.

I am not alone in failing to grasp the details of metadata. In his article for Publishers Weekly, “Let’s Make Metadata Great Again,” Thad McIlroy points to the failure of book publishers to grasp the key value of metadata for online book sales.

“Metadata is left-brained, dry, and analytical, and publishing executives are mostly right-brained, creative, and sensitive. They don’t understand how metadata really works, and they’ll settle for the 30,000-foot view (McIlroy, 2000).”

I can empathize with the publishing executives looking down from on high. It is easier to step back and look from a distance instead of getting into the details. I get the big picture, I know there is value in metadata. I have all the puzzle pieces; I know about different schema and have a basic grasp of them. I know the pieces add up to a big picture (ways to make contents discoverable). But there is, for me, something missing. I don’t know the picture I am trying to form (how to do the thing). Like the image with this post, the picture seems unformed. I cannot seem to “think” in metadata. McIlroy says publishers don’t know what they need to know is metadata. I do know that is what I want to know but I don’t see the “down the road” implications of one schema over another. I do not (yet!) grasp both the big picture and rich details of metadata schema and planning. It remains an elusive puzzle I just cannot put together.

There is an argument that metadata about objects does not generate the data that can be the subject of future research in the same way that metadata about people will do. McIlroy has laid out a case for the opposite. He shows that publishing executives must use metadata and linked data if they want to remain competitive with (gasp!) Amazon. Scholarly research is beginning to show that there is room to study metadata about objects – specifically metadata about books for book sales (Esposito et al 2013; Warren, 2015). Esposito’s 2012 report (published in 2013, 63 pages!) traces the ways that publishers should be using metadata to counter the loss in sales driven by Patron-Driven Acquisition by universities. Essentially, better descriptions of books will lead to more patron demand and thus more sales. In Zen and the Art of Metadata Maintenance, John Warren makes the same point; metadata is the key to discovery. And the NISO E-Book Metadata Working Group published eBook metadata standards this year with the goal of supporting discovery and sales (

Publishers may not be as behind as McIlroy thinks. Ingram books has a course in metadata for books designed to increase book sales ( and there are innumerable blogs and articles online about SEO, metadata, and book sales. Publishers must put metadata analysis font and center and they need to hire people with the skills to do that. If McIlroy is right and current job announcements/descriptions do not require metadata skills, publishing executives may be the last key piece to using metadata for book sales.

The details that publishing executives ignore to their peril, I want to embrace. The details just seem to keep swiping left when I try to swipe right!


Esposito, J.J., Walker, K., & Ehling, T. (2013). PDA and the University Press. Journal of Scholarly Publishing, 44(3), 1-62.

Hjorland, B. (2000). Library and information science: Practice, theory, and philosophical basis. Information Processing and Management, 36, 501-531.

McIlroy, T. (October 5, 2018). Let’s make metadata great again. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from

Warren, J. (2015). Zen and the art of metadata maintenance. Journal of Electronic Publishing. 18(3). 10.3998/3336451.0018.305

Title borrowed from:

Shifting Gears or Caught in the Eddies?


Amy An | Shifting Gears or Caught in the Eddies?

In 2007, OCLC produced a report by Erway and Schaffner that summarized the results of a forum held by the Research Libraries Group of the Society of American Archivists. In it they made a deliberately “provocative” call for preferencing quantity over quality in digitizing special collections and offered eight steps to achieving this. After 20 years of focusing on quality in digitizing, fears that it must be done right the first time, and cumbersome decision-making about what to digitize first and to what level of granularity, the forum concluded that wide exposure and access trump “boutique curation of compelling collections (p. 6).” Google Books and other book digitization projects taught the lesson that scaling up digitization was a better way to meet user needs. “Special collections are stuck in an eddy, while the mass of digitized books drift by in the current of the mainstream. We need to jump into the flow or risk being left high and dry (p. 3).” The image with this post, from NASA (so in the public domain), shows circular eddies – Special Collections is being caught up away from the main current of digitization and is languishing in these spirals.

This report was eleven years ago. I wondered what might have changed since the call for changing policies was issued in 2007; has funding improved, are special collections changing their workflow and focusing on quantity over quality? OCLC revisited and reissued the report on its 10th anniversary. In the new report, Erway and Schaffner (2017) point out that much has changed since 2007. The second edition, however, did not really change. It added only a new forward and appendix. They did not update the eight main points. They reissued the report in the hope that it, and work they intend to produce in 2018, would contribute to a “framework for community action (p. 3).” OCLC does have a webpage on “Digitizing Special Collections” but the most recent report is from 2011; there is no 2018 work listed there.

One OCLC project listed on the Digitizing Special Collections page, Rapid Capture: Mass Digitization of Special Collections, does suggest that some Special Collections are making the changes Erway and Schaffner called for in 2007. In 2011, the OCLC Rapid Capture project produced a webinar and a report, Rapid Capture: Faster Throughput in Digitization of Special Collections. In the report, Erway (2011) asks if special collections have learned anything from Google’s success in “maximizing throughput for book digitization; have there been any similar innovations for the digitization of other formats? In hardware? In workflow? In attitude (p. 5)?” To answer those questions, Erway (2011) cataloged the efforts of nine libraries to develop rapid digitization procedures for their collections. The hope is that their processes can become models for other libraries to increase their throughput. Erway concludes that the increase in digitization is tied to lower costs for better equipment but that low cost/low tech options work too (undergrad staff and 2 photocopiers for scanning). The archives discussed in the report were able to achieve very rapid digitization. At one a single operator was able to digitize 500 images a day, at another 3 operators were able to digitize 500 images a day, and at one, student operators were able to scan and OCR 500 pages an hour! Bottlenecks for all of them centered primarily on non-routinized parts of the process; in other words, when humans needed to make decisions.

But I am still wondering if things really have changed as much as Erway and Schaffner said in 2017. The recent fire that destroyed the National Museum in Brazil makes the tensions between quantity and quality easier to resolve. Rapid or mass digitization could have saved records of lost cultures and hundreds of years of work. The loss is so devastating that any digitized record of any quality would only be a relief.


Erway, R. (2011). Rapid capture: Faster throughput in digitization of special collections. Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Research. 04.pdf

Erway, R. and Schaffner, J. (2007). Shifting gears: Gearing up to get into the flow. Report produced by OCLC programs and research.

Erway, R. and Schaffner, J. (2017). Shifting gears: Gearing up to get into the flow, 2nd ed. Dublin, OH: OCLC Research. doi:10.25333/C3159X