What does “Open” mean in Open Repositories?

  1. Continuing the discussion on this blog Robin Rice Says:
    March 6th, 2008 at 3:08 pm eThanks for the response to my comments, Peter. Of course you’ve got a lot of issues in there, and I look forward to hearing the keynote, but on the openness question, yes I think it’s undeniable that not all data can or should be made open. I just couldn’t help but notice its absence in your abstract to a conference about Open Repositories, and have heard you credited as the originator of the term Open Data as well. [see March 6th, 2008 at 3:08 pm e for further comment]…

PMR: I suspect that “Open” is used in a variety of ways in “Open Repositories”. First from OR08:

Repositories play a pivotal role in the evolving scholarly information environment of open access research outputs and scholarly collections. With its theme of “Practice and Innovation”, OR08 will create an opportunity for practitioners and researchers to share experiences and to explore the challenges of the new scholarly communication.

During the four-day conference, Open Repositories 2008 will provide focused workshops and tutorials, followed by general conference sessions that cover cross-cutting and overarching issues and EPrints/DSPace and Fedora user group meetings.

The many repository platforms available today are changing the nature of scholarly communication. Institutions such as universities, research laboratories, publishers, libraries, and commercial organizations are creating innovative repository-based systems that address the entire lifecycle of information—from supporting the creation and management of digital content, to enabling use, re-use, and interconnection of information, to ultimately ensuring long-term preservation and archiving.

The conference program will cover the following themes:

  • transformational change in the knowledge workplace
  • professionalism and practice
  • sustainability
  • legal issues
  • successful interoperability
  • models, architectures and frameworks
  • value chains and scholarly communications
  • services built on repositories
  • use cases for repositories

PMR: The word “open” doesn’t actually occur here and the emphasis is on repositories.

From OR06:

The possibilities of internet -based collaboration have encouraged people to accept new levels of openness. In the current digital repository world that openness manifests itself in two ways:

  1. the desire to disseminate knowledge with a minimum of restrictions (open access)
  2. an open approach to developing the repository software tools (open source software development projects)

However in both cases that openness needs to be managed carefully. In both cases a variety of structures, licences and agreements are possible to enable openness.

Managing appropriate access to repository materials is key to the success of the repository. Researchers and analysts want some parts of their work openly available to the widest possible audience but want other parts only available to their collaborators. Protocols are needed to clarify this spectrum, and systems are needed to enable it. The boundaries of open access need to be expressed by formal agreements.

Open Source software development projects also require some structure to their openness. A variety of licences give form to the open source agreements, and governance structures are necessary for large projects. Higher education communities are taking responsibility for their own software development needs in collaborative “community source” projects. Commercial models also live harmoniously with open source projects.

PMR: This is clearer, but suggests that Open may refer both to Access and Source. It’s further complicated by the Open Archives Initiative which states:

The Open Archives Initiative develops and promotes interoperability standards that aim to facilitate the efficient dissemination of content. OAI has its roots in the open access and institutional repository movements. Continued support of this work remains a cornerstone of the Open Archives program. Over time, however, the work of OAI has expanded to promote broad access to digital resources for eScholarship, eLearning, and eScience.

PMR: “Open” can therefore refer to Standards and architecture. I’d be grateful for comment from others who have been to past ORnn meetings.

Moreover “Open” is often a political rather than an algorithmic term. Some proponents of “Open Access” maintain that access to human eyeballs (no price barriers) is sufficient – others (like me) require that it also removes permission barriers (i.e. the information can be re-used without hindrance). I have discussed my views of “Open Data” in Open Data in Science (preprint) (and, yes,  I was one of several people who independently started to use the term).

There are many aspects of data that I can discuss and the balance may change as a result of these discussions. At present what is foremost in my mind is that we have few effective data repositories in institutions.(There are several effective domain repositories).  Extending the practice of “Institutional Repositories” – designed to hold single copies of PDF manuscripts – will not address data – we need funadamentally different approaches.

Data are different from manuscripts. Data need managing from the start of the experimental process. It is most unlikely that they will be Open at this stage. (I am a great supporter of Jean-Claude Bradley’s Drexel CoAS E-Learning: Open Notebook Science – where the data is made open as soon as it is collected – and have tried to emulate it but it requires completely new approaches).  Therefore almost by definition data is initially hidden.

I shall argue that the conventional model where information is “put” into “repositories” is the wrong design – certainly for data.  Repositories have to be part of the scientific process – the key person is the scientist. This will actually make much more data open – and I’ll show how this can be nurtured.

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