While the concept of a digital repository is embraced by many academics – particularly those designing the systems - getting the information deposited is difficult.
“There seems to be a disconnect between the discussion of people planning to share the information and the amount of information being shared, “said Wilbanks at the opening keynote.
One of the main reasons that it’s hard to get content posted is because stables systems – in this case, generally universities – are resistant to change on multiple levels. As a result, we are getting incremental innovation when it comes to digital scholarship.
Copyright laws work to protect creativity. It may lock the paper up in a container, of sorts, but it doesn’t lock up the facts and ideas contained in the work. In the pre-network culture, copyright protected publishers and authors in a way that they felt comfortable. Now many are trying to expand their power and put copyrights on databases, which are not creative products and not intended to be covered by copyright.
As organizations push to extend digital repositories, copyright law will likely get more complex, not less. Wilbanks cautions that if a digital repository is just a giant digital box of journals that an opportunity would be lost. But to expand the potential of the system also means overcoming some difficult hurdles.
There is the issue of incentives. “My experience is that faculty don’t like being hit with sticks, they prefer carrots,” he said. While it might just take a few minutes to do a simple repository upload, faculty don’t always see the benefit for them. The perception is that it is not something that helps with getting tenure or grant, so why spend the time depositing. A library can assist, but it takes staff and resources to add content and provide service.
Wilbanks said he is hopeful that as universities begin to adopt policies modeled after Harvard’s open access policy that there will be some standardized methods for depositing works. “What we don’t want is dozens of universities using different flavors of open access policies,” he said.
As open source data becomes integrated, it can be helpful to the community looking for information. It solves a retrieval problem with useful information, rather than getting 80,000 results from a search on Google. As databases become more visible and people find the systems useful, the incentive problem will be solved naturally. Scholars will want to participate in a repository so their work is seen.
Simple systems that are open and create competition will win. “If you take research from the walled gardens and if you do it right, you don’t have locks – that’s the opportunity,” Wilbanks said. Because of interconnected capabilities, we can build a stable reinforcing system of our own that will be more powerful over time than the closed systems.
If faculty members find a repository solves a particular problem for them, then they are more apt to participate. “The key part of incentive change is letting the people who want to share outcompete those who don’t want to share - giving them better answers is the best way,” he said. “If person sitting next to me is using a repository and is getting more out of it than me using Google – I’m going to copy them.”