Tag Archives: repository

Exploring OER repositories

I’ve been doing a very introductory exploration of what people are doing out there in terms of repository software/platforms for OER (Open Educational Resources). These are my preliminary notes-to-self, which I’m posting primarily in the hopes that someone more knowledgeable will come along and correct any fundamental misunderstandings / point me to useful resources.

So, after a very brief scan of a few sites, I get the impression that:

  • Where the aim is to just put up course outlines, lecture slides, handouts, and the like – maybe the occasional multimedia file but no wholesale recordings of lectures etc – something like a prettified dSpace would be quite suitable. For example this is used by Jorum (a JISC-funded service).
  • However another factor would be the intended audience for the resources. Jorum seems primarily aimed at educators sharing resources with each other. By contrast, sites aimed at prospective students tend to be more complex, often based on Drupal (an open-source content management system) eg Open University (Drupal/Moodle) or Michigan’s OERbit (open-source software based on Drupal). Of course these also tend to include a lot of multimedia content, especially lectures.
  • A third option would be to put material directly into an existing repository – www.oercommons.org, lemill.net, www.curriki.org, cnx.org and many others curate OER. This gets the material out there without having to maintain a platform yourself. But a lot of educational material might make best sense in a national rather than international context (cf OERAfrica)

I came across mention of Equella; this is digital repository software designed such that “faculty and instructional designers can search and find the best learning content for the desired outcome or activity at hand, whether that content is OER, licensed (paid-for) content, or user-generated content“. That is, it seems focused on internal users, not prospective students, and OER is only one part of the intended content, hence a prominent feature in the sites using it being that they require a login (or the workaround of “guest access”). From a glance over the highlighted example, I don’t see its offerings as an outwards-focused repository for OER being substantially superior to (open source) dSpace’s.

Really useful resources:

Getting further along, licensing and following standards that would allow harvesting are really important. But thinking for now just about platforms, what else should I be looking at and thinking about?

Institutional repositories and the problem of versions

One of the (many) problems I see our institutional repository running into with busy academics is the utter confusion about what they’re allowed to upload into it.

We promise them we’ll check all the copyright for them (at Sherpa/Romeo) and won’t put anything live that shouldn’t be live. Which solves half the problem.

But the other half of the problem is that even when the journal does allow some version to go up, it’s always a different version. Some say the preprint is okay but nothing else; some say only the postprint; some say the final publisher’s version. So when the author is dutifully filling out the details in the repository submission form, unless they go and do their research (something which we’re telling them they don’t have to do) they don’t know what version to upload. Even if they do know the difference between a preprint and a postprint or that something labelled “author’s copy” is nevertheless the publisher’s version.

So, what we need is some magic DSpace (etc) plugin which, once the author’s filled out the journal field, goes to look that up on Sherpa/Romeo and pops up a wee box that says “Cool, you can upload your preprint – by which we mean [insert clear and concise definition here].”

Of course I use the word “magic” advisedly: from what I hear of DSpace this’d be difficult to impossible, and I don’t imagine other repository management software is light years better. Ideas are easy, implementation is hard.

(The third half of the problem is that it seems some academics don’t actually save these previous versions. A solution to this is probably even harder to centrally automate.)

How US intellectual property laws affect the rest of us, and what we can do about it

How can it affect us?
Imagine a New Zealand website which sells (eg Fishpond) or gives away (eg NZETC – Eric Hellman discusses Project Gutenberg Australia) ebooks of material in the public domain. Now imagine that a law in the US allows for this site not only to be blocked from the US, but also to be removed from search engine results (search engines widely used throughout the world) and blocked from receiving any revenue from the US (including revenue for legitimate sales of in-copyright books).

Wait, what?
New Zealand’s copyright law puts books in the public domain 50 years after the death of the author (which is bad enough – I’m a fan of our original copyright period of 28 years OR life, whichever was longest); US copyright law currently means any book published after 1923 won’t get into the public domain until 2019, if ever (see also the Mickey Mouse Protection Act). The difference between the two means there’s a whole bunch of books which are legal for anyone to freely distribute in New Zealand, but illegal to distribute without permission from the rights-holder in the US. Currently we just cope with the disparity. I mean, the authors have been dead for at least 50 years anyway. However…

What are the proposed US laws?
The proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is written such that if any foreign site that is “US-directed” (defined as any site that doesn’t actively prevent people in the US from accessing it) distributes anything against US law, then the US can hit it with a bunch of sanctions. Theoretically these sanctions are probably intended to just prevent the site trading with people in the US; in practice, they’d prevent people in most of the world being able to easily access or use the site.

I’m not sure of the relationship of SOPA to the proposed Protect IP Act (PIPA), but that seems to have similar intentions. “Don’t Break the Internet” at the Stanford Law Review Online discusses the potential effects of these two bills.

If that’s not bad enough, there’s the proposed Research Works Act (RWA) which is designed to make open access mandates illegal – and thereby cut down on the amount of open access material available to researchers worldwide. (The rationale is that private publishers publish it, so it shouldn’t be free to the public. But if the public is funding the research grants and paying the salaries of the researchers and the peer reviewers then why it shouldn’t be locked behind a paywall benefitting only the private publisher, either.) Here’s a thorough roundup of blogposts on RWA.

Who would want to do such a thing?
The Association of American Publishers’ Professional and Scholarly Publishing put out a press release in support of the RWA; here’s a list of AAP/PSP members. One of the sponsors of RWA has received campaign contributions from Elsevier. So has the other.

Elsevier is also on the List of SOPA supporters (pdf) along with quite a lot of other publishers (academic and fiction).

What can we do about it?
If we voted in the US we could contact our representatives and ask them to vote against these bills. But they probably don’t care much what foreigners think.

If this were really a free market we libraries could say “Nah, we’re not going to buy from [Elsevier] this year, we’ll give our money to some other science-publishing company.” But publishers have a monopoly on their titles, and academics would generally have words to say if we didn’t provide access to the Journal of Important Research in My Field.

But publishers don’t only rely on libraries’ purchasing money. They also rely on researchers (including non-US researchers, and including library researchers) providing them free articles to publish and providing them free labour in the form of peer review. So what any researcher can do is withdraw that free labour. And while we librarians are encouraging other researchers to take a stand, we can put our money where our mouth is.

For the record, I personally am not going to publish anything unless either a) I get to CC-license it or at least put a copy in my institution’s open access repository; or b) I get paid for it (unlikely in the scholarly publishing world, but relevant for fiction). Tenure’s not an issue for me so I demand either fame or fortune before I give my work away.

(I’ll create it for fun. But to give it away I require something more.)

Links of interest 2/2/10

Not a chain of convenience stores – this Foursquare is a website/application that lets you use your cellphone etc to “check in” when you reach locations like cafes, movie theatres, libraries, etc. At its worst this floods your friends with endless notifications: “Now I’m at the dairy! Now I’m at home! Now I’m at the busstop! Now I’m at work! Now…!” But at best you walk into your favourite cafe and:

  • read tips from other customers about what to order or avoid;
  • win a prize from the cafe itself;
  • discover that your friend is in the area and arrange for them to meet you for a quick cuppa.

Some recent blogposts discussing the value of Foursquare for libraries (read the comments as well!) include:

Publishing scandals du jour
EBSCO buys up exclusive electronic access to a number of popular periodicals which will be removed from other databases that used to provide them. Reactions:

During negotiations between Amazon and “big 6” publisher Macmillan over pricing of ebooks, Amazon removed all Macmillan titles (electronic and print) from its database. Reactions:

In case you’re curious about non-Amazon options, there’s a number of online bookstores in New Zealand and I’ve recently discovered The Book Depository in the UK with free international shipping.

Bookcovers in LibGuides
Springshare have announced a partnership with Syndetics so we can now use Syndetics bookcover images in our LibGuides. This is just like using the images from Amazon before – when adding a featured book just insert ISBN, click icon, and voila a cover image – but click the “S” (Syndetics) icon instead of the Amazon icon. An added advantage is that Syndetics works with ISBN-13 as well as ISBN-10 (Amazon is limited to ISBN-10).

European theses
The DART-Europe E-theses Portal gathers and provides “access to 123327 full-text research theses from 210 universities sourced from 16 European countries”.

Libraries and sharing

In December last year Dale Askey wrote a Code4Lib column, We Love Open Source Software. No, You Can’t Have Our Code which raised some discussion for a while.

But of course it’s not just software.

Oh, I haven’t personally experienced libraries refusing to share information. In fact when I was researching our “Library on Location” project, everyone I contacted was more than happy to give me stories, photos, even survey data. But… I did have to track them down from oblique references in old blogs and newsletters and email them, one by one.

And we put our own Library on Location reports online, which I’m glad we could do. But… we had to ask if we could do it, and only our conference paper is in any kind of official repository sort of space.

Is this consistent with our profession’s attempts to convince academics to put their research papers and data into institutional repositories?

And is it an efficient, librarian-like way of organising the accumulated knowledge within the profession?

User surveys.
Projects that work.
Projects that don’t work.
Projects that might work but we ran out of funding.
Projects that would work if we could share the workload with another institution.

This might have been why the Library Success wiki was created. It’s a great idea, but its contributors are individuals, not libraries, so it just doesn’t have the kind of oomph I’m thinking about.

What if…

What if every library in the world brought their anonymised circulation data, their IM reference statistics, their anonymised usability testing and survey results, their project reports, their lesson plans and handouts, and their iPhone applications out from their hard drives and their intranets and made them publically accessible?

What if they all licensed this stuff (and photos and podcasts and vidcasts and…) with a Creative Commons or GPL license?

What if they all created a single website where this stuff could be stored and searched in one place?

What if that website allowed space for libraries and librarians to comment and collaborate on and add to each other’s work?

No, seriously, I mean it

At the end of the month my library’s delegates to LIANZA2008 are going to report back to the rest of the staff about what we got out of the conference. I got 4 things out of conference, 3 of which were:

  1. Leadership – future taking vs future making
  2. Innovation – just do it
  3. Why are they presenting on this topic when we’ve gone further in our analogous project and have more experience of how it works in practice? Oh yes: because it never occurred to us to share.

So in my allotted 5 minutes of the reporting back, I plan to pitch the idea that we should move all our (sanitised if need be) project work from the intranet to open webspace.

What about the rest of the world?