The annual 2017 Open Repositories Conference, which “brings together users and developers of open digital repository platforms from higher education, government, galleries, libraries, archives and museums” was held in Brisbane, Australia from June 26th- 30th. This year’s conference theme was Open : Innovation | Knowledge | Repositories. The program was packed with content about innovation in open repository design, access, system functionality, and user services. This was my second year attending (the first being in Dublin, Ireland), and both years were extremely beneficial as they’ve allowed me to hear from colleagues internationally about how repository work unfolds within their regions of the world.
One of OR2017’s highlights was a Design Thinking workshop that guided us through a process of “unpacking” or “breaking into parts” our current repository tools and evaluating how each aspect of the tool’s technology helps fulfill our open scholarship goals. In design thinking, you approach your system design through an iterative process (visualized above). Through that process you try to understand your audience and their needs, you watch them interact with the environment you create for them, you take that information and rethink the effectiveness of your design, you come up with new ideas, you test the new idea, and then you implement. Of course, implementing new ideas will lead you to various parts of the process again in a “rinse and repeat” sort of rhythm.
As we unpacked our repositories from the design thinking perspective, we were also asked to think about whether what we’d constructing in terms of technology and workflow was helping us achieve the project, the institutional, and the user end goals. Keeping the end goal in sight can be more difficult than it seems because as you develop a product that is intended to appeal to and be used by a wide audience, it can be easy to become so embroiled in the technical aspects of that work that your grasp on the end goal loosens. Although members of my small group represented the USA, Australia, New Zealand, China, England, and Finland, we all felt the same about this phenomenon. Initially, our group’s conversation circled around the idea that our goal was to make as many open access articles available in our repositories as possible. This is true, but when we stepped back a little further, we all agreed that the real end goal has been and will always be to make it easy for scholars to use the system so that they can share their own work seamlessly within the institution’s open repository and then out to the world.
At Dartmouth, we are at the beginning phases of implementing our open repository in that we are working with a new system that will allow us to (later this Fall 2017) share Dartmouth scholarship openly under the Dartmouth Faculty Open Access policy. As one of the key administrators of the system, my number one goal in this development stage is to get as many open access articles as I can into the system now so that people have something to browse once it is available. Participating in the Design Thinking workshop reminded me that while this goal is important, it is short term. The end goal is to have a systems that will allow us to support and encourage faculty participation so that, if they want to and need to, they can share their scholarship with the world within a repository tool that is inviting, convenient, easy to find, and easy to use.
The great thing about these international conversations is the exposure it gives me to innovative and inspiring ideas from a broad range of cultures, perspectives, and community practices. There’s usually a moment in these conversations where I think, “well, that’s an interesting idea, but I don’t know if it could work in the US.” Then, my next thought is always, “but, what if we tried, and what if it did?” I appreciate how exposure to different practices and approaches from around the world stretches my concepts of what our boundaries are when it comes to making research and scholarship available openly. It’s also nice to be reminded that despite our varied cultures and practices, we all have the same end goal in mind.