Canadian database to archive global research work

A Canadian organization is building an archive infrastructure to allow researchers and educators in developing countries a better chance of sharing their work with the world.

The International Development Research Centre, a Canadian Crown corporation, is following the model established by MIT and Canadian universities like U of T by setting up an open source database of articles.

In the case of those universities, the database is designed to hold content written by local faculty and scholars. The IRDC’s Open Archive project will provide a venue for researchers who may, in the past, have found it difficult to get their work published.

These researchers live in what the IRDC deems “southern countries,” mostly in Africa, South America and parts of Asia.

“Southern researchers are pretty much cut off from northern scholarly channels, so the whole idea is to break down all those mainly geographic, social and economic barriers to getting your work out there,” said Marjorie Whalen, director of research information management service for Ottawa-based IRDC.

The IRDC is halfway through a six-month planning stage for the Open Archive, said Whalen. “The idea is to come up with what we plan to do. We have a vision as to what it’s going to look like, and by the end of the six-month period we hope to have constructed a model with the actual content in it.”

IRDC is looking at two alternatives for the Open Archive, both open source: DSpace, developed by HP and MIT, and Eprint, developed by the University of Southampton in the U.K. These two applications have emerged as the front runners for numerous scholarly archiving projects.

The University of Toronto, for example, is currently using DSpace for its own archive, dubbed “T-Space,” which was initially set up two and a half years ago. The IDRC has consulted with the U of T to give it an idea of the infrastructure requirements and challenges.

U of T’s implementation of DSpace needed some customization, said T-Space coordinator Rea Devakos, but the software is relatively easy to use.

“We’re very fortunate in that we have a very skilled programmer. She told me it was quite simple to use and she was surprised,” said Devakos.

“I would say (the software) is pretty robust and lightweight. Some people run it off their laptops. We don’t, but some people do.” U of T was the first university to run DSpace on an AIX server and has since helped other institutions host the software in the same way.

The biggest challenges around institutional archives aren’t technical but cultural, said Kathleen Shearer, a research associate with the Canadian Association of Research Libraries, whose members include more than two dozen universities.

“It’s quite a new role for libraries, because libraries are usually bringing in new content for researchers rather than collecting content that’s created at the institution,” said Shearer. “The biggest challenge with these types of projects is actually getting the researchers to deposit their content.”

Devakos agrees. “The problem with many repositories is getting submissions. That is the main stumbling block. I think it’s a combination of academics and researchers getting overworked,” she said.

Some university scholars may be concerned with the copyright issues around open publishing, said Devakos, but most journals already contain a clause that allows for content to be published online in an archival context.

Generating international submissions for the IDRC’s Open Archive won’t be a problem, said Whelan. There is already a huge demand for this type of service in nations that lack publishing resources. Political restrictions are also becoming less a problem, she added.

“For the most part, those barriers are coming down. The problems are not so much government monopolies and government barriers, but there are definitely problems with bandwidth. That’s sort of the last frontier,” she said.

The IDRC’s current research database makes reports available in PDF. That file format is fine for developed nations, said Whelan, but still too large for other countries.

“I was recently talking to a university librarian in Kenya. I made a point of asking, ‘Can you open those files?’ She said, ‘Oh, no.’ It really gives you pause.”

Whalen said it could be several years before the Open Archive reaches its potential and, while there is certainly enthusiasm for its creation, not enough people are aware of its existence.

“It will require marketing and really trying to promote visibility,” she said. “I think you’re going to need a lot of face to face contact explaining the concept and getting their material up.”

But the profile of open source archives in general has been raised by the participation of universities like the U of T, she said.

Google is also devoting resources to these types of archives through Google Scholar, a search engine expressly for academic works. U of T is one of Google’s partners for the project, which is still in its beta stage.

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