Institutional Repositories

Starting an IR from scratch: What’s it like? I had to ask.

Within the last year, our institutional repository (IR) work has increased greatly at the University of North Alabama. Over that time, we started an institutional repository with BePress hosting, and hired our first Scholarly Communications Librarian. Our new librarian splits her time and responsibilities with instruction expectations. However, she is the primary contact and sole manager of the IR.

I often wondered to myself what her experience was like in her first year. Not only was she starting in a new position at a new university, but she was also establishing an IR from nothing. I decided to sit with our new Scholarly Communications & Instruction Librarian, Jennifer (Jen) Pate, and conduct a mini-interview concerning her experiences. Below is a recap of the questions I asked, her answers, and her thoughts for moving forward.

I started by asking Jen, “Prior to starting your position at UNA, what was the extent of your scholarly communications and institutional repository experience?” She told me that her prior experience included predominantly reference and instruction work. This position includes half of its time dedicated to instruction, so that coupled with scholarly communications created an attractive opportunity. As she began preparing an application, then a presentation for her interview, Jen stated “the more I learned about it (scholarly communications work), the more I was fascinated by it.” She cites a driving force for her love of this work as helping students access resources.

Jen filled me in on the IR status upon her arrival. She said that she arrived with an understanding of a few important details. First, there was a new provost on-campus that was supportive of the IR. The IR had been discussed among library faculty and staff for some time, there was a desire to have a place where those on campus could collaborate and showcase their work, and was purchased immediately before her arrival. Additionally, the IR would immediately enter the “building phase” effective with our subscription start date (September 1). Jen arrived in August so this was an immediate and expansive project to start on.

Immediately, she investigated various avenues for content to place in the IR and began filling it up. The campus luckily had a plethora of IR content opportunities; archives, undergraduate research, Geography theses, and three on-campus journals. Jen began looking aspirationally at larger institutions to see how their IRs were organized and structured and began laying out the format of ours.

Jen was extremely resourceful during her first steps of setting up the IR. In addition to viewing other institutional repositories to get an idea of the organizational structure that would be introduced, she searched for scholarly communications information via Twitter, consulted with the vendor liaison, and scoured through scholarly communications LibGuides, webinars, etc.

The IR has blossomed substantially in the year since Jen started. It now has over 500 documents, including three journals. It includes both faculty and undergraduate research and archival material.

As for Jen, she identifies faculty buy-in as the biggest obstacle in her way right now (outside of library faculty). She said that “it’s still new” and “some just don’t understand the need or process.” She says some view it as publishing material again, which is an aversion. She’s determined to help them realize the value by showing the advantages of the IR and what it can do for them.

Moving forward, Jen has a few projects and next steps for the IR. First, she is working on getting more theses and capstone projects added. She wants to get SACS documentation in as well. She wishes to have student research submitted through the IR in the future, thus eliminating the process and difficulty of it having to be sent via email.

Lastly, I asked if she had any advice to people that were starting an IR from scratch, or possibly reinvigorating what they currently had. These are some of her tips:

  • Reach out to the scholarly communication community;
  • Find vendor specific or general webinars;
  • Find mentors;
  • Ask others who have done it.

We’re certainly thankful that Jen has followed her own advice over the last year and excited about what she has done to take our institutional repository from nothing to over 500 items. We are also excited to see where it goes in the future.