All in One Place

(March 4th, 2016) A new umbrella repository called One Repo wants to integrate all 4,000 existing repositories for Open Access articles. The work is well ahead and soon, access to your paper of interest is only one click away.

“Publish! Publish! Publish!” is the universal cry of the academic. Its urgency is felt by those at the top of their fields and resonates all the way to the bottom of the academic totem pole. Each year in response, hundreds of thousands of research articles, theses, conference and meeting reports, monographs and book chapters, costing millions of dollars, euros, pounds, yen, blood, missed family events, sleep, and sanity make their way to the respective academic market. And then what? Where do they go? How can the rest of us access them and what impact do they really make if no one reads them?

Access to academic publications is rarely an issue at larger, well-funded institutions, where employees and students can peruse millions of publications on all possible topics at the click of a button. Smaller research institutions, universities with smaller budgets, institutions in less wealthy nations, journalists, private doctors, amateur science enthusiasts, however, all face the hurdles of unavailable articles and high pay-per-view fees. Anyone who has ever been redirected to a page asking for sign-in information understands the frustration of not having full access to articles that will bring their own research further.

The Open Access movement has made great leaps in the last decade towards removing restrictions on the online availability of published research. Large funding agencies, such as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the National Institutes of Health in the US, the UK Research Councils and European Commission, have all pushed to have publications arising from the projects they fund freely available to all. Some organisations even make this a stipulation to obtain future funding. As a result, many of these agencies, together with different academic societies, groups of universities and societies have created institutional repositories, where all publications originating from these respective institutions are aggregated and made available to anyone with internet access. This is marvellous progress; however, all across the globe there are approximately 4,000 such repositories, each with their own platform and interface with little to no communication among them.

Mike Taylor, software engineer with Index Data, a consulting and software development company, and Research Associate at the University of Bristol is in the process of creating One Repo, the repository of repositories. In a blog on Biomed Central’s website in January, Taylor justified why the world needs One Repo, “It’s a single place where you can find any open-access paper, wherever it was written or published.” In other words, it will be one of the largest digital libraries fathomable – a gold mine for academics. Regardless if your interest is quarks, dinosaurs, or an obscure plant species indigenous to ten square metres at the bottom of the Himalayas, if there is an open access article on it, it will be yours. In addition, extra information relevant to the search, such as publication trends, number of citations, country where most publications originate and so on, will be available.

In addition to the people at Index Data, One Repo is sponsored by SPARC Europe, an organisation that according to its website, “engages with the European Commission, universities and university associations to develop and argue the case for policies that further stimulate a more open and accessible Europe”. Along for the ride in the development of One Repo are, who Taylor refers to as ‘the wisest heads in Open Access’ – an international group of people, each of whom boasts multiple job titles and descriptions - scientists, editors, publishers, writers, software developers. Members, Jan Velterop and Peter Suber, have been involved in Open Access initiatives since its very inception.

To begin the compilation of One Repo, the approach so far has been to ‘re-aggregate’ what has already been aggregated – both from large and small repositories. For example, in the pipeline are the COnnecting REpositories (CORE), which gathers articles from institutions in the UK, and SHARE Notify, which combines data from NIH-funded projects. There are also smaller repositories that are very specialised in their content. Articles from Open Access journals, such as PLoS and Biomed Central are also targeted, with the ultimate goal to eventually have the information from all 4,000 repositories under one umbrella – One Repo.

One limitation that will slow down the process is that some repositories lack an application programme interface (API). This means that they are unable to support the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH), a protocol that was set up to, according to Open Archives website, “provide an application-independent interoperability framework based on metadata harvesting”. Basically, it means that repositories could communicate with one another. Therefore, in addition to combining all the repositories that support OAI-PMH, Taylor and his colleagues at Index Data are on the lookout for people who can develop so-called harvesters, which can be used to access the information from the repositories lacking the correct API.

There is a long road ahead but according to Taylor, the software infrastructure is already in place to get started. One wish from the developers of One Repo, besides successfully centralising all open access publications, is that their free, easily accessible repository will simply be used for something new and extraordinary.

Rosemarie Marchan

Photo: Kratochvil

Last Changes: 04.05.2016