Institutional Repositories and the Costs Of Doing It Right
Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 29 September 2008
There’s an interesting discussion taking place on the JISC-Repositories JISCMail list, following a post from Jenny Delasalle who asked:
Do any of you know how long it takes you to process a single item, before it is available as a live record in your repository? Please can you share that information with the list?
Jenny provided details of her experiences:
Here at Warwick it takes at least 2 hours to process a single item. We are adding to our repository at a rate of about 15 items per week. I’m desperate to try to speed this up as we are receiving items faster than we can process them.
My colleague Pete Cliff somewhat tentatively suggested “why not put the items in the repository with minimal metadata“.
Pete and others seemed to feel that such compromises may be needed “in the current climate where quantity seems to have more impact than quality“. But this is where I would disagree. This argument seems to be simply a cry for more resources in an area of interest to those making such a plea. But people will always be asking for more resources for their areas of interest – and, as there will always be limited resources, others will argue that their areas are more worthy of being allocated more resources. And it strikes me as being somewhat disingenuous to have developed an approach which is known to be resource-intensive and then to make a plea for additional resources in order for the particular approach to be effective. A more honest approach would have been to develop a solution which was better suited for the available resources.
This was an argument I made last week in my talk on “Web Accessibility 3.0: Learning From The Past, Planning For The Future“. As I described in my talk (and note a 30 minute video of the talk is available). I pointed out that evidence suggests that Web accessibility policies based on conformance with WCAG AA have clearly failed, except in a small number of cases. And rather than calling for additional resources to be allocated to changing this we need to acknowledge that this won’t happen, and to explore alternative approaches.
And it is interesting to note that apprarent lack of interest on the JISC-Repositiories list in discussing the accessibility of resources in the repositories rather than the metadata requirements for aiding resource discover. Indeed when this topic was discussed a couple of year’s ago Les Carr, with a openness which I appreciated, argued that:
If accessibility is currently out of reach for journal articles, then it is another potential hindrance for OA. I think that if you go for OA first (get the literature online, change researchers’ working practices and expectations so that maximum dissemination is the normal state of affairs) THEN people will find they have a good reason to start to adapt their information dissemination behaviours towards better accessibility.
Here Les is arguing that the costs of providing accessibility resources in Institutional Repositories is too great, and can act as a barrier to maximising open access to institutional research activities. I would very much agree with Les that we need to argue priorities – as opposed to simply asking that someone (our institutions, the government – it’s never clear who) should give us more money to do the many good things we would like to do in our institutions.
In the case of Institutional Repositories we then have competing pressures for resources for metadata creation and management and for enhancing the accessibility of the resources. In this context It should be noted that the WCAG 2.0 guidelines have reached the status of Candidate Recommendation, and that WAI Web site states quite clearly “We encourage you to start using WCAG 2.0 now“. And note that, unlike the WCAG 1.0 guidelines, WCAG 2.0 is format neutral. So you can provide resources on your Web site in a variety of formats, but such resources need to conform with the guidelines if it is your institutional policy to do so.
So shouldn’t institutions who have made public commitment to comply with WCAG guidelines ensure that this applies to content in their institutional repositories, even if this will require a redeployment of effort from other activities, such as metadata creation?
Or, alternatively, you may feel that complying with a set of rules, such as WCAG, without doing the cost-benefit analysis or exploring other approaches to achieving the intended goals is mis-guided. In which case perhaps Pete’s suggestion that you might wish to consider “put[ting] the items in the repository with minimal metadata” might actually be a sensible approach rather than an unfortunate compromise? And in response to Philip Hunter’s comment that “achieving interoperability through dumbing-down the metadata has a strange attractiveness in a world not overly crazy for quality” perhaps we should be arguing that “achieving interoperability and accessibility through labour-intensive manual efforts is a perverse solution in a public sector environment in which should be demonstrating that we can provide cost effective solutions“?