Sunday, 11 May 2008

Institutional Policies and Institutional Managers

It's not often you get to high-five your institution's chief librarian, but the moment seemed to demand it on Friday morning.

Attending the Repository Steering Group meeting was Bernadette Kelly, the Service Manager of the business unit (ISS) that is responsible for all computing, data and communications facilities for the University. Her responsibility is the delivery and sustainability of core information services that are required for the University's business - particularly the finance and management administration systems. She has been responsible for the repository for a while, but it has rather been eclipsed by other more mainstream applications. In fact, there was supposed to be a technical support team being built up for the repository, but several years ago all bar one of it members were assigned to the rollout of an important Management Information System, and they have never been assigned back! (This singular and wonderful trooper is Adam White who joined the EPrints Southampton team straight from graduating from a degree in Computing.)

Bernadette came along because of the tension between the use and the resourcing of the repository. It has gained a very high profile internally because of its role in generating the University's submission in the national Research Assessment Exercise, and it looks increasingly likely that the repository will form a platform for the University's ongoing management of research intelligence. The trouble is that this role is just not in keeping with a 1-man support team and we have all been worried about what would happen if Adam fell under a bus, or worse, got a better paid job with a competitor institution!

I think that it's fair to say that ISS have been supportive of the repository from the get-go and in fact the initial rollout was commended by the Vice Chancellor as an excellent example of inter-service collaboration between ISS, the Library and my school ECS. But even so, their natural and professional instincts are not in favour of home-grown, open source solutions. So there has tended to be somewhat less than a wholehearted enthusiasm for its future.

I think that a historical problem has been that ISS have listened to us talking about Open Access, scholarly communications and research quality assessment to other audiences, and they have never seen our ambitions as part of their core mission. So on this occasion we had the opportunity to talk business to them. We talked about the role that the repository has been adopting in gathering and marshalling intelligence about the University's main business products (research outputs and teaching interactions) and about our vision for addressing key current business concerns by enhancing our international profile (Google), increasing revenue (by advertising courses to potential Masters and Postgrad students on repository pages), addressing engagement with industry (similarly by focused advertising in the repository) and delivering research intelligence on citation impact and Pagerank) to staff and their managers.

There was definitely a lot more enthusiasm as we talked and I think that ISS have moved from seeing the repository as Yet Another Service That Needs Resourcing From Their Overburdened Budget to An Important and Productive Business System That is A Nett Contributor to the University. This is definitely a good result, so as the meeting broke up I took the opportunity to register my excitement with the aforementioned high five.

And it's another example of the need to be able to talk different languages to different people if you really want to offer "a set of services" to the whole institution. Management and admin are a hard-to-ignore part of an institution, but there's a certain amount of worry in the repository community that we will lose our way if we become a "tool of the management" rather than focusing exclusively on supporting grassroots researchers. I take the opposite view - an institutional repository will never be more than a localized library contrivance unless it seeks to serve the concerns of the institutional managers as well as the institutional researchers.

I believe that this position is supported by the experience of a handful of repositories that have participated in research assessment in the UK. All the presenters at the OR08 discussion on Research Assessment Experience came to the conclusion that the hard work involved was more than compensated for by the increase in profile and respect that the repository and the library achieved. I gave the same message in a recent talk on using a repository for research assessment at the Beyond the RAE 2008 meeting at Kings College, London in April 2008.

We will explore these issues further at the forthcoming ELPub workshop on Repositories that Support Research Management at ELPub 2008 in June. Part of the workshop will be commenting on the checklist for serving institutional management that came out of the OR08 discussions.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo!

    As for grassroots vs. top-down -- we tried grassroots. It failed. Next?