Journal subscriptions are dropping for the majority of law school law journals. This drop could be attributed to a number of factors for subscribers. Many subscribers share the common concerns of budget issues, journal availability in online databases and the need for relevant scholarship. Law school faculty and scholarly journals have to find a way to provide scholarship to researchers. Dropping subscriptions normally means a drop in access and exposure. Scholarship without access and exposure is just a well-researched document sitting on a hard drive.
Institutional repositories offer researchers another way to access legal scholarship. Institutions can provide researchers direct access to the scholarship of the institution without subscriptions or other costs. This means access for a wider audience and a greater reach for the scholarship. The Berkeley Law Scholarship Repository currently provides free access to more than 5,000 scholarly works from UC-Berkeley School of Law. These works include Berkeley Law faculty journal articles, 100 years of California Law Review, the Berkeley Journal of International Law and the Berkeley Journal of Entertainment and Sports Law. In the future, the repository will grow to include access to all or nearly all of the journals from Berkeley Law and other scholarly works from the Berkeley Law faculty.
Berkeley Law is currently using the bepress Digital Commons platform for its institutional repository. While the majority of materials included in repositories are the traditionally published materials such as journal articles and book chapters, the nature of repositories also allows for organization and storage of nontraditional scholarly works and file formats such as videos, audio files, presentations and research data files. Institutional repositories are still in the early stages of use and application. This means different institutions provide different types of scholarship and there are no uniform standards for materials in an institutional repository.
Researchers may find this lack of uniformity frustrating because they can’t be sure what they will find, but this frustration may be quickly forgotten if the elusive document is easily located and freely available on an institution’s repository. One major benefit for researchers is the possibility of finding an institution’s works in one place instead of having to search multiple databases for the same material. Another great advantage of the push towards repositories is that it isn’t contained to one subject area. Repositories are being used globally by thousands of institutions in nearly all scholarly areas in multiple languages. Many of these repositories can be located through online services like the Registry of Open Access Repositories, or ROAR, and The Directory of Open Access Repositories, or OpenDOAR.
Considerations behind the scenes may not affect researchers directly, but they could have an effect on what is available from each institution. Some institutions feel that it is enough work just to get materials organized and into the repository so they choose repository platforms like Digital Commons. The content and metadata can be quickly organized and as digital repository platforms improve, institutions have the option to move this data to a new platform if their needs change. Berkeley Law chose to use Digital Commons in part due to the ability to provide access to legal scholarship of the Berkeley Law faculty and journals earlier in the movement towards repositories. This option was used instead of building a repository platform that may have taken more time to go live, or using an open source option that could take more staff time on the back end to set up and keep it running. Other institutions would prefer to build their own repository platform. One example of this is Harvard University’s Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard, or DASH. This is a great option for institutions that have the resources since they can build a repository that meets their needs exactly. Institutions that don’t want to pay for a proprietary resource like Digital Commons but don’t have the resources to build their own can choose an open source option like EPrints, Fedora Commons or DSpace.
Institutions can also add a new level of statistics to consider in the evaluation of their scholarship. One of the biggest issues with these new statistics is the inconsistency of counting methods by each repository platform. There are many processes that could give inflated counts such as robots, crawlers and other automated processes. The Counting Online Usage of NeTworked Electronic Resources — or COUNTER — program is an international effort to create a standard where all repositories could offer comparable statistics and data. Currently, Digital Commons is the only COUNTER-compliant repository platform meaning the download counts are accurately inaccurate in a standard way. There are efforts under way to get the open source options COUNTER-compliant in the near future. Accurate download counts can give publications and authors a better view of what scholarship is being downloaded and gives feedback that print sources could never match. This could be good and bad for authors. An author might think that her article is the one every subscriber is reading (it is) and that feels great when her article is included in a journal with a large subscription base. Download counts and other statistics may back this up or they might show that an article was not particularly popular on the Internet.
Providing digital access to scholarship allows institutions to keep up with technology and the needs of researchers. This is great for the current state of research, but it’s also great for the future of research. Institutions have the ability to take back the presentation of their scholarship and provide that scholarship both digitally and in print. For a researcher seeking scholarship, the repository platform does not matter because the result is the same — free access to legal scholarship. Whatever the choice, researchers benefit from the free access to the scholarship being produced by the institutions.
Joe Cera is a legal research librarian for information technology and scholarly communications for the UC-Berkeley Law Library.