Not so long ago, a sense of order existed in the system of scholarly repositories and preservation. Scholars wrote articles and books, publishers published them, and libraries provided long-term access and preservation.

This concept has been severely challenged in recent years by a landscape of information flow that has evolved to become increasingly complex. Today there are thousands of isolated repositories, susceptible to multiple points of failure, ranging from technological breakdowns to organizational issues, as well as potential geographic and institutional catastrophes. There are countless new roles and stakeholders. Multiple new forms of scholarly artifacts are being enabled by digital technologies. Technologies have proliferated along with development communities and commercial players. There are islands of best practice, often unidentified by the repository community. Although efforts toward coordination have been attempted (e.g., the Distributed Digital Preservation Framework Working Group and the Digital Preservation Network), sustained, continued coordination across these efforts has been lacking. Criteria for the curation of content and collections hosting varies among institutions and may not even include preservation as a priority. Terminology is inconsistent and used in different ways by different constituencies: the very terms “repository,” “preservation,” “access,” and even “publishing,” cannot be assumed to have a common point of reference in the many relevant discussions and applications.

What’s at risk from this chaos? Everything. Without better organization in and between repositories, we risk entering a world where our ever-increasing flood of information is misfiled, disconnected, even lost. While Internet search engines give us the illusion that everything is findable and accessible, a large percentage of the content of repositories is not adequately discoverable with today’s search engines. Strengthening repositories and standardizing workflows must be among our highest-priorities in scholarly publishing reform. But how can we even begin to think about improving such a complex system?

Defining the landscape

First, for our purposes here, the scope of this conversation is limited only to institutional or disciplinary repositories that are connected to scholarly publishing, such as the institutional repositories (or IRs) that university libraries maintain. In the scholarly publishing world, these repositories are storage boxes for information with multiple functions, workflows and relationships, and that—ideally anyway— operate under standards and other best practices in order to support the preservation of and access to the copious amounts of research information produced in the academic world today. In addition to possessing large amounts of durable storage space, these repositories are expected to safeguard this information through backups and quality controls, include metadata (data about the data, such as author, date of publication and file size/type) and provide at least some level of certification—for example, digital object identifiers (DOIs), and provenance or versioning information (giving the origin and history of a piece of information). They are also expected to remain well managed over a long period of time (meaning that they require professional stewardship and plans for long-term sustainability) while also supporting needs and expectations regarding access and interoperability (with other systems and repositories) as these needs and expectations evolve over time. To recap, repositories should:

Preservation is a function of some (but not all) digital repositories and its purpose is the long-term protection of an object to ensure its integrity and accessibility for future use. The preservation function:

OSI2016 asked the workgroup to consider challenges of “repositories” and “preservation” in tandem, although preservation of scholarly materials also occurs outside of repositories. For the purposes of OSI2016, our team limited its discussion to open preservation repositories for scholarly research output. Some of the scholarly research content that is currently included in these repositories is listed on the following page (see table 1), along with notations regarding whether preserving this content is currently mandatory for ensuring integrity and reproducibility; is in the process of being identified for inclusion by funder guidelines and community and discipline standards; or is not currently being considered for inclusion.

Table 1: Deposit imperatives in scholarly research

Deposit Imperative
Scholarly research output Specific content Required or high priority Currently being identified Not yet required Notes
Peer-reviewed publications (papers and monographs) Peer-reviewed publications (papers and monographs) X Includes material with DOI, errata, etc.
Earlier VORs X
Accepted articles post peer review (AAM) (for papers) X Required output by agencies
Important metadata as-sociated/linking X
Peer review comments X Sometimes connected to VOR, sometimes not
Public Drafts (preprints) X Being preserved by some repositories now
Software associated with publication (w/ metadata) X Often included as supplemental, but not always
Data associated with publications (w/ metadata) X Including multimedia
Data or software products (maps, software packages) X Might have IP
Materials (mice, reagents, samples) Metadata around materials X If can’t include material, at least include metadata about it.
Integrated research data sets Funded datasets, funder mandate X
Special collections, such as cultural heritage or web/email/social media collections X
Web-based multimedia scholarly products X
Comments, related to VOR X
Private Drafts (drafts research group may be working on) X
Isolated data X May be leftover for analysis
“Raw” data coming off instruments X
Records of research (notes, emails, correspondence with collaborators, scientific exchange) X Some are Freedom of Information Act items
Grey literature (blogs, YouTube, Twitter, etc.) X

The challenges

Stakeholders in the broad scholarly publishing system—authors, researchers, universities, libraries, publishers, and others—are often not clear about where they fit into this landscape of preservation and repository or about what their roles are supposed to be. Indeed, these stakeholder groups often have unique and conflicting viewpoints.

Our workgroup identified a small subset of the challenges and opportunities related to the preservation of the scholarly record and the roles of repositories. Juxtaposed against what we described earlier as the ideal of a scholarly research repository, the current overlapping and conflicting environment instead leads to an utter lack of coordination, which results in the loss of key data and software, a failure to ensure long-term preservation, and a lack of dependable means to retrieve information in these repositories.

This chaos is evidenced through three main symptoms of dysfunction:

  1. Redundancy of effort
  2. A lack of coordination and standards
  3. A lack of sustainability.

The first symptom, redundancy, needs little explanation. There is a high level of unintended redundancy of content between repositories, resulting in vast amounts of duplicated effort in categorizing and re-categorizing the same information artifact across multiple storage locations.

The second symptom, a lack of coordination and standards, is evidenced in a variety of ways:

The third symptom of dysfunction is a lack of sustainability. Repositories are often funded on a project-by-project, collection-by-collection basis. When project funding disappears, planned work-flows end and inconsistencies develop.

The path forward

How can we begin, then, to improve the outlook for repositories and preservation? The first step is to recognize the vital role of repositories in scholarship and to establish a set of guiding principles around which reform can be built. To wit:1

The next step is to agree on specific goals that move beyond simply reducing the current levels of dysfunction. These broad goals should include developing a coordinated approach to:

Within this framework for action, the specific actions to be taken will vary depending on where reform efforts gain traction. What is abundantly clear is that the repository and preservation system needs to be funded in a planned and sustainable manner in order to ensure quality, consistency, and uninterrupted preservation. Such funding and planning cannot be achieved in a vacuum, but requires a broad plan for collaboration and coordination. It is the responsibility of the entire preservation repository community to work together on this new future, avoid the continuation of current, haphazard practices and decisionmaking, and encourage a rigorous adherence to standards and best practices as purposeful components of a comprehensive access and preservation plan.

The specific—and we believe achievable—action items that we propose are:

How might the Open Scholarship Initiative fit in with this effort? There are many major initiatives and discipline-based efforts, some with decades of experience and hard-fought lessons resulting in best practices across fields. However, to date these efforts have had few opportunities to coordinate. Affecting the status quo will require the informed alignment of these efforts, coupled with additional resources, leading toward systemic change across a wide range of stakeholder groups, including governments, academia, scholarly societies and associations, research libraries, and for-profit and non-profit organizations. OSI may be well-positioned to help push these stakeholders as a community towards an agenda that will move progress forward on these issues. Coordination on this initiative with other efforts, such as the Scholarly Commons effort of Force11 and the Research Data Alliance, is highly recommended (see Appendix).

OSI2016 Repositories and Preservation Workgroup

Joyce Backus, Associate Director for Library Operations, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health

Robert Cartolano, Vice President for Digital Programs and Technology Services, Columbia University

Christina Drummond, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Educopia Institute

Agathe Gebert, Open Access Repository Manager, GESIS-Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences

Brooks Hanson, Director of Publications, American Geophysical Union

James Hilton, University Librarian and Dean of Libraries, Vice Provost for Digital Education and Innovation, University of Michigan

Maryann Martone, Director of Biosciences,, and President, FORCE11

Sarah Michalak, Associate Provost for University Libraries and University Librarian, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC)

Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Sarah Pritchard, Dean of Libraries, Northwestern University

Rita Scheman, Publications Director, American Physiological Society

Appendix: Select Preservation Communities


Halbert, Martin, Katherine Skinner, and Christina Drummond, “Vertically Integrated Research Alliances: A Chrysalis for Digital Scholarship, A White Paper for Community Discussion,” Educopia Institute, 2015, (note: see stakeholder section, bibliography), as of June 9, 2016: earch_Alliances_A_Chrysalis_for_Digital_Scholarship_0.pdf

Maron, Nancy L., “A Guide to the Best Revenue Models and Funding Sources for your Digital Resources,” Strategic Content Alliance, Ithaka S+R and JISC, 2014, as of June 9, 2016:

Maron, Nancy L., Jason Yun, and Sarah Pickle, “Sustaining Our Digital Future: Institutional Strategies for Digital Content,” Strategic Content Alliance, Ithaka S+R and JISC, 2015, as of June 9, 2016:

Skinner, Katherine, Christina Drummond, and Martin Halbert, “Chrysalis: Moving Forward Collectively,” (white paper), Educopia Institute, 2014, as of June 9, 2016: ard_Collectively.pdf

“WSIS + 10 Outcome Documents,” ITU World Summit on Information Society, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Geneva, 2014, as of June 9, 2016:


  1. The following recommendations have been adapted from the “Data Management and Research Policy” Position Statements of the American Geophysical Union (AGU); as of June 9, 2016: