As much as we would like, universities don’t fund themselves. In the closing keynote, David Shulenburger, vice president for academic affairs, National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC), offered practical advice on how to make digital repositories more visible to the public in hopes of winning over taxpayer support for educational institutions.

“A digital repository is the most effective way to make information free and the public wants and desperately needs to have it,” he says. The public is eager to have the fruits of the scholarship they funded available because they know the right information at the right place can change lives.

The job of a digital repository is to ensure that the extremely value scholarship paid for by taxpayers ultimately ends up accessible to them, as well as students, faculty and others. Shulenburger contends the focus has been about sharing information within the academy with little talk about access beyond campuses.

It’s a challenging time with universities more uncertain about the future than ever before - endowments are tumbling, building plans postponed, hiring on hold, aid restricted to truly needy students. Public universities have seen funds in real terms fall over 20 years and now reductions of 10-20 percent over the next few years will not be unusual. All this is happening at a time when many universities want to embark on a new activity of building or expanding a repository.

Given this, why should faculty and staff care about having a digital repository? “The answer is pretty simple: Because the folks who pay our bills need to and want to know how those investments in the university are benefiting them. Unlike most of other enterprises, universities do a lousy job of letting their investors know what they are getting from their investment,” he says.

When universities promote themselves, too often they stress value only of the most identifiable products to certain audiences – education products to students, research expertise to funding agencies, and value of attracting new firms to chambers of commerce, says Shulenburger. The result of that specific selling is that the people come to the erroneous conclusion that only those beneficiaries should pay for the university – not the general public.

To get the message across to the taxpayers about the value of the university, Shulenburger encouraged the audience to imagine all the products of a university (refereed publication, dissertations, extension publications, theater productions, images of objects from the campus museum, etc.) freely available on a digital repository and clearly labeled as products of the university. Then, the public becomes accustom to searching the university site for information. The searches would probably yield overwhelming results on information useful in their daily lives. “This is powerful,” he says. “Imagine the reward for knowing that people close to home care about these problems and their taxes are doing something to invest in them.”

A well-populated digital repository should be promoted as a resource to citizens of state to enhance the value and funding of a university, Shulenburger maintains. Rather than talking about a digital repository helping build the career faculty members or preserving scholarship, Shulenburger suggests it can also enhance the financial health of universities over time. It’s time to let the light of universities shine and allow digital repositories to entice additional funding, he says.

In closing, Shulenburger suggests seven steps to move forward:

1. Make sure there is a digital repository available for deposit work of your university’s faculty.

2. Work with the president, provost and faculty to show real benefits of broadening distribution of scholarly product.

3. Initiate discussions with administration and faculty to modify current practices and intellectual property policy so university retains certain rights.

4. Support efforts to spread public access policies, such as those of NIH, to all funding agencies and foundations.

5. Work to educate campus units to convince them to support, not to oppose the best interest of members.

6. Work with departments and faculty to develop habits of depositing into digital repository.

7. While information in a digital repository and search engines may sell itself, brand the information in your repository as information your university created or made available to the public. Work with your university public relations unit to spread the word so the public looks first to your repository for reliable information.

“Digital repositories can make cultural contributions of scientific knowledge generated on campuses widely available and have profound effects,” Shulenburger says. “This is a case of doing good, while doing well.”

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