[OAI-eprints] NYTimes.com Article: In DSpace, Ideas Are Forever

Gerry Mckiernan gerrymck at iastate.edu
Sun Aug 3 11:00:37 EDT 2003

DSpace Article in NY Times


Gerry McKiernan 
Spaced Librarian 
Iowa State University 
Amess IA 50011

gerrymck at iastate.edu 

In DSpace, Ideas Are Forever

August 3, 2003

A number of universities are creating "institutional
repositories" designed to harness their own intellectual

The libraries at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
are earnestly bookish (2.6 million volumes and 17,000
journals) but increasingly digital (275 databases and 3,800
electronic journals). And just as e-mail dealt a blow to
snail mail, digital archives are retooling scholarly
exchange. A number of universities, from the California
Institute of Technology to M.I.T., are creating
''institutional repositories'' designed to harness their
own intellectual output. M.I.T.'s archive, perhaps the most
ambitious, is called DSpace (www.dspace.org). 

Scholarly Storage Traditionally, journals make research
public after peer review, which can take months, sometimes
years. Archives like DSpace, however, collect unpublished
work -- documents of any length, lecture notes, photos,
videos, computer simulations, blueprints, software -- in
all disciplines and make most of it available to anyone as
soon as it's received. . 

Here to Eternity ''Loss'' is propelling the movement. When
a grant fizzles, when a professor resigns, retires or just
buys a new computer, work can get lost. University
libraries hope to preserve this material forever -- not
exactly a common time span in the digital fast lane, where
hardware and software sunset soon after reaching the
marketplace. And unlike library stacks or hard drives,
DSpace won't run out of storage space. 

''Everyone has lost something,'' says Ann Wolpert, director
of M.I.T. Libraries, which has designated two full-time
librarians to DSpace's dedicated computers. ''We have
already lost NASA data, Census data. Early digital work is
gone because tapes were corrupted or not maintained

Who Has It? Soon after DSpace was made public last
November, a federation of universities (M.I.T., Columbia,
Ohio State, Rochester, Washington and Toronto) formed to
further the system's evolution and see what it was capable
of -- for instance, the University of Toronto wants
bilingual searching. M.I.T. estimates that the free
software has been downloaded 3,400 times and is aware of
100 research institutions that are evaluating DSpace to
archive their own faculty's work. 

The Journal Backlash Institutional repositories are novel
in that much of their content sidesteps academic
publishers, which have come under attack from the so-called
open-access movement. Some scholars complain that journals
delay publication of research and limit the audience
because of their soaring costs. The Association of Research
Libraries says library costs on journals rose 210 percent
from 1986 to 2001 -- an average year's subscription might
cost $5,000, with some as high as $15,000. 

Out of frustration with journals' limitations, some
scientists have started their own archives. This fall, the
new Public Library of Science will begin making
peer-reviewed articles accessible free to all online.
Stevan Harnad, a cognitive scientist at the University of
Quebec, started a digital archive for his field in 1997. He
says that the subscription-based model ''holds
peer-reviewed articles hostage.'' He advocates that
scholars put their work in online archives first so it can
be available immediately and free. 

Jeffrey Drazen, editor in chief of The New England Journal
of Medicine, argues that his readers want information
''that is highly meritorious and rigorously reviewed so
that they don't make patient treatment decisions based on
premature findings.'' But he acknowledges the
self-archiving movement and says the journal is rethinking
its rules that prevent it from considering material that
has been made public in a digital archive. 

Archives like DSpace ''build on a growing grassroots
faculty practice of posting research online,'' says Rick
Johnson, a director of the Scholarly Publishing and
Academic Resources Coalition. He doesn't think they are a
substitute for journals but offer ''the best of both
worlds: you get the work certified by a journal and the
benefit that provides for promotion and tenure. At the same
time you get your work exposed more broadly than in a
journal alone.'' 

DSpace Sampler At M.I.T., each academic department
exercises quality control and determines what is to be sent
to DSpace. Among current offerings: working papers on
campaign contributions (from the Sloan School of
Management), on amphibious assault ships for the 21st
century (from the Department of Ocean Engineering) and on
traffic emissions (from the Center for Technology, Policy
and Industrial Development). M.I.T. expects to have 5,000
items archived by the fall, and will add 7,500 theses later
this year. And that, they promise, is just the beginning. 

Vivien Marx is a freelance writer in Boston.


Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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