July 2018

Digital Repository Strategy

Recently, Kyle Rimkus shared a document laying out a strategy for repository development. That document, the result of months of discussion and planning by the Library’s faculty and staff working on repository services, articulated a vision for something broader than a repository, a vision where we will commit ourselves to building and deploying “a single curation platform … that unifies archival management, institutional repository management, digital collections management, research data management, and digital preservation.” This is an exciting strategy and I want to share a few thoughts with you about the direction.

Our repository and access work over the last few years has been a great strength of our Library. While many of our peers have labored to deploy large, open source enterprise solutions such as Fedora, our strategy has been nimbler and more effective. We have focused on critical functionality rather than name-brand system strategies. Our tactics have been based on smaller, modular microservices that are easier to deploy, to scale and to integrate. I’m struck by the fact that those other community-based strategies have rarely been able to address the scale and rights-management needs of real-world digital repositories. My diagnosis of their problem is that those community-based efforts tend to focus on the software rather than specific needs—i.e., they focus on Fedora, Samvera and the like, rather than on fixity checking, deposit of very large digital objects, or minting Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs).

While my armchair diagnosis of the failings of these other enterprises may be wrong, it is true that our efforts at Illinois have been relatively speedy and very successful. Our efforts have scaled effectively, and have a kind of flexibility that has allowed us to address a variety of problems. One of those problems is alluded to in the quote I included above. I would like to draw your attention to that notion again, and to emphasize how important it is to think about these related functions (e.g., archival management and access) in related ways. I’m fond of saying that there is no preservation without access, and that there is no access without preservation. The conclusion that I draw from this is not that we need a single system, a swiss-army knife of digital library systems; rather, we need to have our systems build on and connect with each other. This is precisely what I see in the strategy laid out by our Library and why, I believe, we have been so successful.

The strategy the document lays out bodes well for our future efforts. Integration of the sort we saw with the Illinois Data Bank is also possible for our institutional repository, IDEALS, for archival management, and indeed for publishing. I want to offer my thanks and appreciation for the way our team has come to these conclusions in a collective way, and hope that we see more successes in the relatively near future.

John Wilkin
The Juanita J. and Robert E. Simpson Dean of Libraries and University Librarian