Unconnected incidents are making me ponder questions of sustainability. I don’t have any answers, but I can at least unburden myself of some frustrations!
I learned from a colleague that arXiv is looking for a new funding model, as Cornell is wearying of picking up the entire tab. Various options are on the table, and I’m not competent to opine on their feasibility. I’m more interested in the larger question: how are we, we libraries and we researchers, organizing to shoulder the burden of electronic archives, especially open-access ones?
Historically, the answer has been “not effectively.” I can name scads of dead digital projects without having to think hard, and I daresay you can too. This is no longer an acceptable answer, if indeed it ever was. I’m just a little bemused and worried about the models that seem to be emerging?again, especially for open-access archives. If Cornell can’t underwrite arXiv, arguably the most successful preprint archive ever, what does that mean for disciplinary repositories generally? (See also the move of OAIster from the University of Michigan to OCLC.) What does it mean for library support of open access, to data as well as documents?
There’s more in those questions than I can unpack in a single post, so suffice it to say I think librarianship’s stance on this question is a bellwether. Are we tethered to the past or working for the future? Are we really memory organizations, or are we only memory organizations for print? Will we pay for human access to knowledge, or only institutional access?
So that was one thing. Here’s another.
In the course of my regular work, I had occasion to look for a long-term home for an item originating outside my institution. This, you see, is one peril of running an institutional repository; the mission is strictly constrained to materials originating (in some fashion) inside the institution. No matter how amazing that item was, I can’t make an easy case for accepting it, and I may not be able to make any case at all.
So, all right, there may be an appropriate disciplinary repository somewhere. I went looking (ROAR, OAD, and the Goog) and found two possibilities. One restricted depositors by geographic origin; I sent it back to my correspondent, as I didn’t know the origin of the ultimate requester.
The other? well, the other is the reason I’m being cagey around identifying the requester and the discipline. The other appears to have been hacked up by two people in their spare time. The two people got a couple of publications out of the attempt?and then they abandoned the repository; it hasn’t seen any action in well over a year.
I have no words for this irresponsibility that are printable. The word “repository” gets kicked around a lot?it’s not my favorite word either?but responsibility and sustainability are, I believe, two concepts commonly associated with it. Whomping up a repository on a lark and then leaving it to die is a betrayal of trust. I don’t approve. Worst of all, this so-called repository is essentially cybersquatting; no one else will take another stab at making a home for materials in this discipline while the repository is still (however marginally) extant.
This is nothing I haven’t said before:
When even scholars wanting to do the right thing and hand off their work to a responsible party cannot find anywhere to go, when enabling digital communication and the preservation of its results is an altruistic act in libraries instead of the bedrock of our mission, when worthy digital projects die because we in libraries do not notice and reach out to them, when we ourselves can’t see our way clear to sustaining digital materials? we have a serious systemic problem.