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academic libraries, Open Access

Institutional Repositories are great – but who came up with the name?

by Louise Morrison

I love Institutional Repositories and I’m a big Open Access supporter. I used to work as part of an Institutional Repository team and really appreciate the vital role they play in increasing access to academic publications for all.

But, my husband recently pointed out that ‘Institutional Repository’ is an awful name and the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that he is right. It’s not exactly catchy is it? In-sti-tu-tion-al re-po-si-to-ry. That’s ten whole syllables! Ten! Quite a mouthful.

Some people shorten it to ‘IR’ but unfortunately that’s already a fairly overused acronym. And ‘Institutional Repository’ would have to take its place in the queue behind a number of more established claimants. On Wikipedia, 46 possible meanings for ‘IR’ are given and in the Computing section alone ‘Information Retrieval’ definitely takes precedence over ‘Institutional Repository’.

To me, this sterile term doesn’t really capture the essence of these vast vaults of scholarly knowledge either. It doesn’t provide any description of the types of publications contained or its vital role in the promotion of Open Access.

Possibly as a result of this tongue-tangling and uninteresting term, a number of alternative terms have come into use. In Scotland alone, University ‘Institutional Repositories’ are currently also described as  ‘Digital Repositories’, ‘Research Archives’, ‘Open Access Repositories’ and even ‘Open Access Institutional Repositories’ (covering all the bases there).

Many individual institutions have also successfully branded their own repositories with catchy and inspiring names like Enlighten (University of Glasgow), AURA (University of Aberdeen). This clever marketing has worked well in increasing awareness of Institutional Repositories amongst academic staff in their home institutions and has helped to drive deposit policies.

But (outside of the Open Access community) I would doubt that recognition of these individual names would extend far beyond the institutions in question. So I wonder whether one unified, recognisable and catchy term would be better. Personally, I like Open Access Repository. It only saves one syllable in the pronunciation stakes but it more effectively conveys the essence of repositories. And the acronym forms an actual word, ‘OAR’. Bonus.

Maybe it’s not too late to rebrand. Open Access is still an evolving discipline. Could the Open Access community get together and agree on a better name? Finally put the dull term ‘Institutional Repository’ to rest? Just a thought…

What does everyone else think? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment!

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7 thoughts on “Institutional Repositories are great – but who came up with the name?

  1. My colleague calls it “the suppository” but I suppose that’s not really an option…

    Posted by Rachel Oldridge (@RachelOldridge) | May 29, 2012, 10:55 am
  2. I have had some initial experience with Institutional Repositories and read your post with interest. I’ve been wondering whether the term ‘repository’ is actually something of a misnomer given that only a percentage of material that could be stored in a repository is actually held there. In terms of providing a uniform, systematic and accessible means to record the research output of a given institution, particularly as a way to prove the depth, breadth and quality of research when it comes to funding allocation, it seems that Institutional Repositories have become almost a necessity.

    There is more of a grey area, though, when it comes to the value of an IR as a truly open access research tool in and of itself. Dr Peter Murray-Rust of Cambridge University’s Department of Chemistry has written frequently on the drawbacks of IRs to scientists and argues that they are primarily of benefit to the institution and not to the scientific user community (Institutional Repositories: are they valuable to scientists? He has also argued that repositories are not integrated or collaborative, particularly in comparison to open access projects such as Open Street Map (Mezey, Matthew. Metadata Ecology. Update, London: CILIP, July 2011. p.24)

    As things currently stand, however, open access can be elusive. I don’t doubt that it would be the ideal of every Institutional Repository to make the full text of all research openly available, yet in my experience copyright and licensing issues often conspire to prevent this. Some publishers will only permit an ‘author final version’ of their work to be deposited; others will not allow a full-text deposit of any kind; others still, such as the Wellcome Trust, positively require that research is made available through open access as a condition of funding. Such publishers may also stipulate a specific external repository to which the author must submit their work, however, necessitating links to that deposit from the home IR in place of a local copy. A repository is therefore at the mercy of a range of different publisher policies and in many cases it has no choice but to be something of a hybrid between a publications database and a true, fully-fledged repository.

    As other respondents to Dr Murray-Rust’s articles have pointed out, though, it’s perhaps premature to decide on the worth of Institutional Repositories, particularly as things continue to change in the digital environment and authors begin to put pressure on publishers to allow open access to their own research material. Indeed, IRs may be the catalyst to bring academics together in this very cause, in which case ‘OAR’ could eventually become the ideal acronym. It’s also the case that IRs don’t exist solely for the purposes of scientific collaboration, but rather they have much wider potential value across all disciplines in terms of digitally collecting, preserving, managing and making globally available the research produced by a given institution from within a centralised location.

    I think the question will be whether or not issues of open access and discovery (whether by man or machine) can be overcome in order to fully realise that potential, but this goes beyond the scope of my practical knowledge of IRs. It would be great to hear from others who have experience of IRs in their own institutions to get a better idea of the pros and cons encountered. It’s a fairly involved subject, so I’m interested to learn as much as I can!

    Posted by Leigh Bunton | June 6, 2012, 5:29 pm
  3. I don’t think they qualify for the adornment of the term ‘open access’. Most repositories I’ve looked at are:

    a) incomplete (there are items, by academics at that institution that even the metadata for isn’t there in the IR)

    b) of the items that *are* listed, most are _just_ metadata, no full-text object (varies, but still, very annoying)

    c) even when there is full-text, it may be restrictively licensed with an NC, ND or SA clause (not BOAI-compliant open access)

    i.e. they’re not even remotely anywhere near being ‘open access’ in terms of the original BOAI open access definition (

    Open access is a nice trendy buzzword atm, and I’m sure people would love to re-brand to associate with it, but if the core principles aren’t adhered to – it simply isn’t open access and therefore not an appropriate label.


    Posted by Ross Mounce (@rmounce) | June 7, 2012, 11:47 am
  4. Open Access Repository doesn’t specify that the collection is specifically research outputs though. I would assume that it is a repository of all kinds of university papers etc.

    Posted by S | July 17, 2012, 11:43 am

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