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Smart Libraries Q&A: Marketing an institutional repository

Smart Libraries Newsletter [June 2019]


How can libraries effectively market their institutional repository?

Libraries invest considerable effort in deploying institutional repositories and in maintaining their content and metadata. It's a reasonable concern to ensure that these services are well used, and many libraries engage in outreach or marketing activities to promote them. These efforts can include encouraging researchers to deposit documents or data into the repository as well as promoting their use. Libraries continue to be strong supporters of open access publishing and view institutional repositories as an important component of that ecosystem.

Institutional repositories serve an important role in providing an official centralized place for research papers or other publications. More recently, their role has been expanded to house the underlying data and related materials. An institutional repository aggregates content authored by individuals throughout the university, providing safe, long-term storage of these documents in a way that they can be easily discovered and accessed by others, including the global research community. These repositories are much safer and more reliable than alternatives such as posting papers on each faculty member's web page, which at one time was the common practice.

Within universities, libraries have been the traditional champions of institutional repositories, taking on the role of deploying the technical platforms and providing any needed assistance. They have been advocates for open access publishing of scholarly content and have implemented institutional platforms as supporting infrastructure. These repositories have mostly been based on open source applications such as DSpace, Fedora, or Samvera, though some have also engaged with commercial providers such as bepress. In addition to providing the platform, libraries also contribute services such as submission support, metadata enrichment, digital preservation, and advocacy.

The vision of institutional repositories has often included the ambitious goal of capturing the entirety of the scholarly and research output of the academic institution, though few attain that level of participation. The portion of research papers contributed can be expected to be quite high when university policies mandate deposits in the institutional repository. External funding organizations may also require deposit of research materials into open access platforms, through the institutional repository may be only one option. Research funded through the National Institutes of Health, for example, requires that manuscripts or article be submitted to PubMed Central. Regardless of whether it is an institutional or funder mandate, having formal requirements that become part of the standard research publication workflow can be seen as the most effective way to ensure that scholarly articles are deposited into open access repositories.

Many academic libraries have incorporated responsibility for the institutional repository into one or more professional positions. For those with locally-hosted platforms, the library's IT team may be involved with technical operation and its data backup and preservation. It is common for responsibility for the institutional repository to be part of the portfolio of a scholarly communications librarian or to dedicate an entire position to this role.

With that context, we can turn to the question of how a library can better market its institutional repository. Different activities apply to encourage researchers to deposit documents than to promote access to the repository.

Increasing the contributions of content to an institutional repository involves a combination of organizational and individual advocacy. As noted above, the most important factor in gaining participation in an institutional repository comes in the form of mandates. In many institutions, librarians and other stakeholders have collaborated with the administrators responsible for the research activities in the university to develop policies that require, or at least encourage, that scholarly articles be submitted to the institutional repository or other open access platforms. With these policies in place, the library can facilitate compliance by developing procedures that explain how to deposit a manuscript or paper that can be disseminated through local community of researchers. The library should also be prepared to provide support services to provide any help that researchers or their assistants might need in making their submissions.

For those institutions were the submission of research papers to open access repositories is discretionary, the role of the library to promote the service is more challenging. Librarians can take a proactive approach by working with academic departments and individual researchers to reinforce the advantages of submitting materials into the repository or contributing to other open access channels to increase the exposure of their work. Creating a streamlined submission process that requires minimal instruction or effort may help allay resistance. Researchers may be more attuned to other venues that offer a broader and more community-oriented platform such as ResearchGate, SSRN, Humanities Commons,, or other networks of interest. The competition for academic research engagement is increasing and the bandwidth of researchers in the academic institution is limited.

In addition to efforts to populate the institutional repository, the other concern involves ensuring that the content receives an appropriate level of access. Promoting an institutional repository as a discrete destination is not likely to gain more than marginal results. Rather, the key strategy for strengthening access lies in integrating the content into local and global discovery environments. The normal mechanism for dissemination of the content into other discovery services is OAI-PMH (Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting), which all the major repository platforms support.

Libraries with an index-based discovery service will naturally want to include the metadata from the repository. It's common practice for these discovery services to incorporate metadata from the local ILS, the institutional repository, or digital collections in addition to the global indexes of scholarly content. It's also important to be sure that the repository is harvested by key search services such as:

  • OAIster, a union catalog of open access resources now managed by OCLC.
  • Unpaywall, a database of open access content used by many search services, including browser plugins that match citations to open access copies of articles.1
  • Direct inclusion in index-based discovery services.2
  • Google Scholar, which inclusion in Google Scholar should mostly happen automatically, but see its “Inclusion Guidelines for Webmasters” for details on optimizing harvesting and indexing.3


  1. For submitting your repository, see “Data Sources,” Unpaywall, accessed May 10, 2019, sources.
  2. For example, see “Primo Central: Institutional Repository Program,” Ex Libraries, accessed may 10, 2019, Corner/Product_Documentation/Institutional_Repository _Program.
  3. “Inclusion Guidelines for Webmasters,” Google Scholar, accessed May 10, 2019, en-US/scholar/inclusion.html.
View Citation
Publication Year:2019
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 39 Number 06
Issue:June 2019
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:24472
Last Update:2022-12-05 14:47:26
Date Created:2019-07-26 07:53:32