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Hilde Colenbrander: institutional repository increases UBC’s contribution to the public sphere of knowledge - photo by Martin Dee
Hilde Colenbrander: institutional repository increases UBC’s contribution to the public sphere of knowledge - photo by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 54 | No. 2 | Feb. 7, 2008

How Information Gets to be Free

By Glenn Drexhage

Scholarly publishing is starting to come full cIRcle at UBC thanks to the development of an online storehouse known as an institutional repository (IR).

Dubbed cIRcle (circle.ubc.ca), the site is designed to help store the vast array of UBC’s research output. It’s currently in pilot mode but an official launch is planned for spring 2008.

“It’s a digital archive of a university’s intellectual output,” including peer-reviewed research, teaching and learning materials, and administrative items, explains Hilde Colenbrander, UBC Library’s IR Coordinator.

“I think it increases UBC’s contribution to the public sphere of knowledge, to a greater openness of knowledge, both locally and globally,” adds John Willinsky from UBC’s Department of Language and Literacy Education (he also has an appointment at Stanford University).

Dean Giustini, a Reference Librarian at UBC Library’s Biomedical Branch, has a similar view. “It means that UBC can begin to build its own free digital resources that reflect research excellence,” he says.

cIRcle is based on an open access model, which means the site’s contents are freely available to users anywhere. Embargoes may need to be placed on certain types of material depending on aspects such as publication dates and publisher permissions, but access for all remains a crucial underlying concept.

Indeed, many studies have shown that open access articles are cited more frequently than those in restricted journals. Also, by making their work openly accessible, authors contribute to the world’s knowledge without copyright or financial restrictions. Nor do cIRcle contributors assign their copyright to the IR. Instead, they give cIRcle a non-exclusive licence to make their work openly available. Authors retain the moral rights in their works, so they must be properly attributed and cited when used by others.

Close to 1,000 IRs from around the world are registered with the Registry of Open Access Repositories. The U.S. leads with 222; Canada features 42. Yet as IRs have become more prevalent in recent years, so too have debates about access.

More than two decades ago, technology sage Stewart Brand wrote: “Information wants to be free. Information also wants to be expensive.” Today, these competing interests are defining publishing and other media sectors that have been transformed by the Internet. Subscription costs of scholarly journals have surged, and so have efforts to distribute such information in more accessible, affordable ways.

Some critics question the economic feasibility of the open access approach, and worry that IRs will erode the quality of scholarly publishing.

Willinsky acknowledges such issues, but notes that during the past decade, publishers whose content has been heavily archived in IRs have not seen a corresponding decline in journal subscriptions.

However, he does have other concerns, such as the difficulty of convincing faculty members to submit peer-reviewed material to an IR. “They’re so focused on publishing, they think their job is done when the work gets in the journal,” Willinsky says.

Currently, cIRcle features two “communities” – the Faculty of Graduate Studies and UBC Library – that are submitting work to the site. A content recruitment group is busy pitching cIRcle to departments across campus. Although Colenbrander says it’s too early to list adopters, she’s encouraged by the feedback. “I’m actually overwhelmed by the amount of interest,” she says, adding that many unsolicited inquiries have come her way.

In the meantime, Willinsky and Giustini – both long-time advocates of using technology to further education and research – plan on submitting materials to cIRcle.

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Last reviewed 19-Feb-2008

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