COAR (Confederation of Open Access Repositories) — international association of repository initiatives

Kathleen Shearer

COAR (Confederation of Open Access Repositories) – international association of repository initiatives


Kathleen Shearer – Executive Director of COAR

(interviewer: Lidia Stępińska-Ustasiak)


The mission of COAR is defined as raising the visibility of research outputs through a global network of repositories. What measures and actions do you take to put this mission into effect?

This mission is actualized through a variety of activities that promote open access repositories and support their adoption, management and evolution. COAR works at two levels: On the one hand, we work at the practical level by fostering communities of practice around areas of interest for our members. On the other hand, we also work at the strategic level. We feel it is increasingly important that repositories remain visible and are perceived as a viable solution for supporting access to research outputs.

The COAR strategy is put into practice by dedicated working and interest groups. What are the priorities that the groups are currently working on?

Our current priorities fall in the areas of advocacy and promotion of OA repositories, alignment and interoperability, value added services, and training and education. We have working groups looking at controlled vocabularies, linked data, usage statistics, licensing language for deposit into repositories, and new competences for librarians. We have also been very involved in the Research Data Alliance (RDA) to ensure that as institutions expand services to include research data management, we can help build capacity and also ensure they are adopting best practices. We have recently published a major report about repository interoperability, based on community consultation.

COAR’s highest priority activity involves aligning repository networks. In March 2014, COAR launched a major initiative to align repository networks across the world. The aim of the initiative is to establish a mechanism for ongoing dialogue between repository networks. This will give the repository community a stronger global voice and raise the visibility of the role of repositories as critical research infrastructure. It will also provide an important venue whereby repository networks can discuss strategy, interoperability, and best practices for metadata standards, vocabularies and services. As a first step, we have been working with representatives from major repository networks: OpenAIRE, SHARE and La Referencia to ensure greater technical interoperability of these networks.

At the moment green and gold OA co-exist, they are developed simultaneously. However, this balance is constantly being challenged - for example through the policies of the Research Councils UK and the European Commission, when they allocated separate funds for gold OA. Should repositories somehow redefine their role in scholarly communication in order to respond to the growing support for the gold model? Do you think the balance between green and gold OA will tip significantly either way in the near future?

I think that we are at a pivotal moment for open access. Many of the major publishers are positioning themselves to provide gold open access through Article Processing Costs (APCs). However, there is a huge concern that if the APC model of open access becomes prevalent, this could further marginalize researchers from certain countries and regions. With average fees of 1500-2000 Euros per article to publish, APCs are completely out of reach for many researchers and make it very difficult to publish research they generate, and certainly not in the prestigious international journals produced in the north that would give them visibility and prestige.

As funders and governments adopt open access policies, we want to make sure that they are aware that decisions could have a negative impact on researchers in terms of their ability to participate in the international system of scholarly communication.

In terms of redefining their role, yes, I think repositories need to reposition themselves from an afterthought at the end of the process, to be at the centre of scholarly communication. This means providing more value added services, such as those offered by publishers. And, since scholarly communication is international, this repositioning must also take place at the global level across the repository community.

For the past few years we have been observing a tension arising between two competing scenarios: something that has been termed the research-driven and the publisher-driven transition to Open Access. The crucial difference is which community will lead the changes in the scholarly communication system and, as a result, whose interests will be better represented in the final outcome. What do you identify as the main challenges for COAR in this context?

One of the major challenges is that of visibility. Funders policies will be key in determining which scenario wins out. The nature of these policies can be influenced by lobbying from stakeholder communities. We are facing a very strong and well-funded publisher lobby. They have far more financial resources to devote to promoting their solution. Promoting our vision will be absolutely critical, despite having access to less resources.

Another really important challenge is the perceived value of repositories. As mentioned earlier, repositories are not highly valued at the moment, and to improve this, we need to begin to position repositories closer to the centre of the scholarly communication process. However, this is difficult since repository services at many institutions are just being launched.

Originally repositories were defined as places where papers published in subscription journals can be self-archived by researchers. Now repositories play more diverse roles, e.g. they provide access to multimedia, educational materials, grey literature etc. How does COAR define the current and future role of repositories?

Although COAR does not have an official position on this, our general approach has been that institutions have an important role to play in collecting the whole range of outputs created through research, whether that be articles, research data or other materials deemed of value by the research community. However, we recognize that it is important to be able to distinguish these different types of material from each other. Therefore, I argue that repositories should try to adhere to metadata standards and vocabularies that allow this to happen. To date, repositories have not been completely successful, but as the services mature and standards become global, I think this will get better.

The Horizon 2020 Open Data Pilot is one of the factors which has stimulated a debate on open research data. However, the discussion on what is the best strategy for developing e-infrastructures for this purpose is still at a very early stage. Is it realistic to expect that institutions will create dedicated institutional data repositories for their researchers or do you think that the e-infrastructure will be based on disciplinary repositories established and maintained by research consortia or research funders?

I think we will need both. Domain data repositories are important. They support integration of discipline-based data, which leads to new discoveries and further scientific progress. However, existing domain repositories cover only a small portion of the data sets produced through research. Institutional data repositories will be needed in order to support comprehensive data sharing and open data policies. However, I don’t anticipate that every institution will maintain their own data repository. Research data management takes specialized skills and can also be expensive. I think we need to pursue collaborative models for RDM services that involve several institutions taking on different roles as well as sharing the infrastructure and storage. We are beginning to see such models emerge in a number of countries including Netherlands, Austria and Canada. In an environment with a diverse data repository landscape, the key will be to ensure we have interoperable metadata standards so that the repositories are not individual silos.

According to the report “Open Science in Poland 2014. A Diagnosis”, there are currently 22 institutional repositories in Poland, while the number of academic schools in Poland exceeds 150, and further there are 79 institutes and research centers of the Polish Academy of Sciences and 123 separate research institutes. So currently the role of repositories is not strategic. At the same time, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education has just launched a public consultation of OA implementation, which shows that we are at the point of defining what the future model of OA in Poland will be. In the context of this discussion, how should repository managers communicate the role of repositories to make them an important part of the emerging new system of scholarly communication system in Poland?

My advice would be to position repositories as the most sustainable solution for open access over the long term. This will require more investment in repository infrastructure in the short term future, but it will end up saving the government money over the long term. [The cost comparisons have been explored by the economist John Houghton who found significant savings via the green route]. I would also note that most countries which have already adopted OA policies or laws have either favored the green road or remained neutral in terms of green or gold. I would also explain about the potential negative consequences of allowing the publisher-based solutions to drive the future of scholarly communication, especially for countries and regions that cannot afford to pay these huge APC fees.


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