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COAR General Assembly, 2nd March 2010
by Neil Jacobs

The Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR) is an organisation with both technical and organisational interests, and it is not clear yet which, if either, will come to dominate. There have been discussions about the potential for an international body of this kind for several years but, until now, few major attempts to set one up.  COAR emerged last year from the team that undertook the European DRIVER project, which developed infrastructure and guidelines to integrate repositories.

Despite no systematic attempts so far to recruit new members, there are currently just under 50 members of COAR: ranging from representatives of individual repositories to technical developers, infrastructure funders and sector organisations such as the Coalition of Networked Information and the European library organisation LIBER. Most were represented in Madrid in March for the organisation’s inaugural General Assembly, of which this is a personal reflection rather than the official record. The agenda for the meeting was mainly around two substantive items: the workplan and terms of membership.

A small number of COAR members had worked prior to the General Assembly to draft a workplan as a basis for discussion, and this was organised around the following objectives for COAR:

  1. Raise the profile of repositories, their networks and repository based e-Infrastructures on national and international levels as a representative, authoritative and neutral voice.
  2. Fill repositories with content and provide ‘best practice’ repository policies.
  3. Provide a ‘best practices’ document to support harmonised repository policies.
  4. Facilitate and ensure data interoperability of repositories across countries, publications, institutions, disciplines and research data.
  5. Facilitate and ensure interoperability of repositories with other e-Infrastructure components (such as research information systems).
  6. Support national helpdesks in repository infrastructure related issues.
  7. Provide guidance on how repositories will form essential elements of the global e-Infrastructure.
  8. Operate and maintain a global metadata-store.
  9. Initiate discussions on a strategic level with organisations/initiatives.

There was much discussion around these objectives, though some generated more than others. Before noting a few of the important details and implications from that, it may be worth recognising two important principles that members seemed to agree on. The first is that of neutrality with respect to software and implementation. COAR recognises that both repositories and related infrastructure can be implemented in a wide variety of ways, and that this heterogeneity is a strength of the repository domain. However, if repositories are to become elements of a wider infrastructure to support scholarly communication then they must interoperate cleanly, so that there is a need for common and agreed standards and guidelines. Sometimes the distinction between these two imperatives is a little fuzzy, depending on exactly how much interoperability is likely to be needed and that, of course, remains a point for - sometimes animated– debate. The other principle that members seemed to agree on was that of subsidiarity. Within the European Union this means that nothing should be done by the international body that can be done equally well, or better, by member states. In keeping with this, COAR should not take on work that is, or could reasonably be, taken on by members or national bodies. While necessarily vague to account for a wide variety of different national circumstances, the principle is a useful one in defining COAR’s scope and remit.

Interoperability seemed to me to be the problem area where most people were looking to COAR to address. In my view, precisely what ‘interoperability’ means and where it is important are unresolved questions among the membership. The DRIVER project has released guidelines on metadata interoperability, and has proposed and built an infrastructure that exploits that. However, another view is that – at least for text-based materials – formal descriptive metadata is redundant, as Google plus Web 2.0 solves the resource discovery problem. Instead, COAR should be seeking to encourage good and consistent expression by repositories of policies (IPR, preservation), use of identifiers, and managed disclosure of attention data, such as download figures. Precisely how COAR would encourage these practices is not clear, though guidelines and incentives might both play a part. Interoperability is important though, as repositories take their place in an emerging research infrastructure that includes funder repositories, shared services such as Sherpa-RoMEO and ROARMAP, research information and management systems, virtual research environments, and grid and cloud-based architectures.

On the softer side, there was significant interest in COAR’s potential support for the emerging repository manager profession, either engaging with national bodies where those exist, or more directly. One approach might be in working with or backing up helpdesks that offer advice and guidance to repository managers, though the subsidiarity principle would be relevant. There does seem to be an important role for COAR to play in enabling effective practice (for example in populating repositories, or in achieving effective collaboration between institutional and funder repositories) to be shared worldwide.

There was a good discussion about whether COAR should support a global metadata store, with strong views expressed for and against. Those arguing for such infrastructure claimed both that it was necessary to impose some order on a chaotic repository world and so ease the work of potential service providers, and that COAR was the body best placed to make it happen. I was among those who argued against this, partly because I do not think COAR is – at the moment – set up as an infrastructure provider, not having either the resources or the organisational arrangements to do the job well. The conclusion was to set up a COAR group to examine the question further. In fact five groups were proposed following the discussion of the workplan, to develop action plans in the following areas:

  1. Promote the role of Open Access (OA) repositories and raise their profile / Be the strategic partner of regional, national and international OA initiatives as a representative/authoritative voice.
  2. Collect, assemble and disseminate best practices for the inception, operation and growth of OA repositories.
  3. Facilitate the discussion on the interoperability among OA repositories and as part of a wider e-Infrastructure.
  4. Support regional and national repository initiatives / Promote the repository manager profession.
  5. Promote the concept, design and implementation of an OA information commons (incl. the question whether COAR should provide concrete services, such as the (meta-) Data Store).

The afternoon session was mainly spent on membership arrangements, concluding that single full membership would be set at 2500 euros, with options for group and special membership that might be cheaper for some.

One thing that shone through all the discussions was the urgent need for COAR to both engage with and clarify its position and role with respect to a wide range of organisations and activities working in related areas, including the OpenAIRE project, SPARC, the Coalition for Networked Information, LIBER, OCLC, the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, and the north-European ‘Knowledge Exchange’ partnership in which JISC is involved. Once that is clearer, and the action plans developed for the areas noted above, then it will become a lot easier to assess the value that COAR can bring to the repository and Open Access communities.  However, I think this needs to happen rapidly now.

Neil Jacobs
JISC Executive


CNI - Coalition for Networked Information is a US organization dedicated to supporting the transformative promise of networked information technology for the advancement of scholarly communication and the enrichment of intellectual productivity. Some 200 institutions representing higher education, publishing, network and telecommunications, information technology, and libraries and library organizations make up CNI's Members.

COAR – The Confederation of Open Access Repositories is a not-for-profit association of repository initiatives launched in October 2009. It aims to enhance greater visibility and application of research outputs through global networks of Open Access digital repositories. 

DRIVER - Digital Repository Infrastructure Vision for European Research was a European project whose vision and primary objective were to create a cohesive, robust and flexible, pan-European infrastructure for digital repositories, offering sophisticated services and functionalities for researchers, administrators and the general public.

Knowledge Exchange aims to foster co-operation and collaboration between the four partner organisations (JISC, Danmark's Elektroniske Fag-og Forskningsbibliotek (DEF), Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, Germany) and SURF Foundation (The Netherlands) to add genuine value to currently funded activities, namely: to increase returns on investment in ICT, to improve infrastruture in the partner countries. To enhance shared knowledge and collaboration possibilities, and to improve the quality of learning, teaching and research.

LIBER - The Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche is the main research libraries network in Europe.  Founded in 1971 as a non-governmental organisation of research libraries under the auspices of the Council of Europe, LIBER encompasses more than 400 national, university and other libraries in 45 countries. Our network is however not restricted to the European Union and the participation of research libraries outside the European Union is widely encouraged.

Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association represents the interests of Open Access (OA) journal publishers globally in all scientific, technical and scholarly disciplines. This mission will be carried out through exchanging information, setting standards, advancing models, advocacy, education, and the promotion of innovation.

OCLC - Founded in 1967, OCLC Online Computer Library Center is a nonprofit, membership, computer library service and research organization dedicated to the public purposes of furthering access to the world's information and reducing the rate of rise of library costs.

OpenAIRE - Open Access Infrastructure for Research in Europe.  The main goal of OpenAIRE is to support the Open Access pilot, launched by the European Commission in August 2008. This Open Access pilot, which covers about 20% of the FP7 budget, commits researchers from 7 thematic areas (Health, Energy, Environment, Information & Communication Technology, Research Infrastructures, Socio-economic sciences & Humanities and Science in Society) to deposit their research publications in an institutional or disciplinary Open Access repository, to be made available worldwide in full text. OpenAIRE will establish underlying structures for researchers to support them in complying with the pilot through European Helpdesk System, build an OpenAIRE portal and e-Infrastructure for the repository networks and explore scientific data management services together with 5 disciplinary communities.

ROARMAP - Registry of Open Access Repository Material Archiving Policies lists the mandates and policies of institutions and funders with respect to Open Access.

Sherpa-RoMEO lists publisher copyright policies with respect to Open Access self-archiving.

SPARC - the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, is an international alliance of academic and research libraries working to correct imbalances in the scholarly publishing system.

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