Monday, October 24, 2005

Digitial Repositories versus Virtual "Junk in the Basement"

I am a faculty member and my department, Economics, used to be in the then College of Business Administration. (Now Econ is in Liberal Arts and Sciences and the the former home is called the College of Business.) As a matter of course, CBA gave out Web space to college faculty members and adopted a no quota policy. You can see some of my old stuff still there: the class homepage for my Intermediate microeconomics class from 5 years ago and my personal home page that is from even further back. Most of this was published with FrontPage, but I believe I also used WS_FTP to get content onto the site. I want to make no claims for this stuff in terms of layout or good use of the technology other than that after a period of time, it's still there (though not all the links work).

However, and I realize that those who read this post are looking for ed tech ideas not economics, I'd like to consider my paper "Wage Policies" which is available in pdf format on my personal home page. At the time of the authoring, I thought it was an interesting paper, with a clever idea behind it. I tried submitting it to some of the better Econ Journals, but no luck. Since at that point in my life I was getting involved with ed tech administration, eventually I stopped shopping it around. I note now that neither Google Scholar nor the regular Google search engine can find that paper. So if it is to be archived, the burden is on me (or the College of Business).

Last Thursday night at Educasue, I went to dinner with some of my Frye Institute classmates. One of them is Susan Gibbons from the University of Rochester. We talked about Institutional Repositories. Susan reported that theirs was now going quite well. They had tough going at first and hired an anthropologist to study the research and deposit habits of faculty. One of their "findings" was to make the repository all about "me" from the point of view of the faculty member. In other words, Rochester is using the D-Space application in a way not unlike my homepage on the College of Business site, without the jokes and with more references to scholarly output and with file formats to accomodate the discipline (e.g., audio formats for those in linguistics) . And Susan reported that their "download counter" which gave faculty info about how often their research had been accessed has been very popular.

Susan also reported that many faculty at Rochester had inadequate home pages provided by their department or college and so there was a latent demand for the IR to satisfy this need. Those faculty that did have good support would continue to use that rather than to rely on the IR. My sense is that there is no vetting process for the IR, but perhaps some workflow so that items that are contributed may appear only with a lag. There are still a lot of details about the process that I would like to understand, particularly on what faculty must do with respect to metadata.

If the Rochester experience is replicated elsewhere for the time being we'll end up with a bifurcated approach where some faculty use their department as the host and put up "virtual junk" along with their research on those pages, while other faculty will use the IR. This sounds like a social scientist's dreamworld, to have such a division that invites comparison. Just what is it that we want to know about these spaces? For starters, where do all those paper downloads come from? Are they getting the info from Google or the IR search engine?

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