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24 September 2018
Institutional Repositories and Open access: key tools for Research Uptake Print
Wednesday, 15 April 2015 06:41

Open access means unrestricted online access to peer-reviewed scholarly research. It encompasses not only open access journals but also hybrid journals that provide open access only to articles for which the authors (or more often their institution or funder) have paid an open access publishing fee. Authors can also arrange to archive a pre-version (after it has been accepted for publication but before it has been reviewed) or post-version of the article (after it has been reviewed but before it has been published) on their own websites, or the institutional repositories of their university.

This makes institutional repositories an important tool for promoting access to research and identifying research for uptake. These repositories are provided online via the university website and allow public access to information about published research, including, in some cases, the full text.

Setting up a repository is technically very easy, and there are open source software packages that can be used. Populating them however is more of a challenge which requires juggling the needs of researchers, librarians, publishers and university management. Research conducted by Thomas Reinsfelder, entitled Open Access Publishing  Practises in a complex environment: Conditions, Barriers, and Bases of Power published in the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication explores the complex environment in which open access publishing operates. He looks at the conditions facing not only researchers and publishers, but also academic administrators and librarians.

"institutional repositories  [are] an important tool for promoting access to research and identifying research for uptake"

Complex systems

For publishers open access presents challenges to their traditional business model, and provides an uncertain environment for the future. The internet allows them to develop electronic systems for publishing and storage and the technological facilities provide the conditions to allow research, often conducted using public monies, to be available to the public.


Researchers on the other hand are concerned about the status of journals, often assuming that those that are open access do not have the same standards of peer review and therefore the quality of papers may be suspect. This culture is changing as open access journals prove their quality. Nevertheless researchers are rewarded for publishing in high impact factor journals, many of which are not open access.


Librarians are also facing a rapidly changing environment with open access and institutional repositories becoming part of their mandate.  They are primarily interested in providing access to staff and students to published research as cost-effectively as possible and they have first hand knowledge of the way the publishing industry works.  Having to manage their university’s open access repository widens the range of their users to include the public.

"Publications in high impact journals contribute to the institution’s prestige, help to maintain its reputation, and act as a strong attractor for research funding."

Like researchers, university administrators are concerned about quality. Publications in high impact journals contribute to the institution’s prestige, help to maintain its reputation, and act as a strong attractor for research funding. Administrators also understand the needs of libraries and the critical role they play in providing access to research, but the financial resources of the institution are limited and libraries are one of a number of academic areas competing for resources.


Power to change

Each of these players have what Reinsfelder calls “bases of power” which can be used to influence the others, but of all the parties involved in institutional repositories Reinsfelder notes that academic administrators “are unique in their ability to exert all bases of power on faculty researchers and librarians”, although they have little influence on publishers. This makes them key stakeholders when a university has an institutional repository. Research administrators can contribute to improving open access to scholarly research by committing resources to the development and support of open and multiple modes of dissemination and creating or supporting policies related to open access.


DRUSSA Universities and open access


Quite a number of DRUSSA Universities have a policy determining open access to their published research, including

University of Nairobi Open Access Policy

Kenyatta University Open Access Digital Repository Policy


Alison Bullen is Content Manager at Organisational Systems Design