University of Vermont

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UVM Launches Open Access Institutional Repository: ScholarWorks@UVM

mushroom drawings
The new repository accepts all kinds of media. An item from the collection pictured here: drawings and notes from 1860 of mushrooms by mycologist Charles James Sprague. Browse and search the repository at scholarworks.uvm.edu.

A co-founder of Reddit and Creative Commons and, at the age of 14, a co-creator of RSS, Aaron Swartz was an internet prodigy. He was also an internet activist, one who believed strongly in an open source, open access ideology. But his resolve that the internet remain a place for the free and open exchange of ideas -- and one act in demonstration of those ideals -- ultimately led to his demise.

After downloading large quantities of scholarly articles from JSTOR through the MIT library, Swartz was indicted in 2011 on counts of computer fraud, among other charges, and the case would escalate over the following year. In January of 2013, his plea deal rejected, Swartz, facing a potential $1 million in fines and 35 years in prison, hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment.

The story put a national spotlight on the issue of the ownership of scholarship in the digital age and has further fueled the open access movement.

"The issues raised by Swartz's tragic death and life’s work are ones we’ve been struggling with in academic libraries for years," says Mara Saule, dean of libraries and chief information officer at UVM, noting that top suppliers of online journals have strong control over access to scholarly and scientific research. "In recent years they’ve posted large profit margins on billions of dollars in revenue. Meanwhile libraries around the country are finding themselves with diminished resources to provide access to the world’s scholarship – much of it produced on their own campuses."

To help preserve and promote access to scholarship, many institutions of higher education have created online repositories -- systems for storing, organizing and disseminating the research and other scholarly materials produced by their communities -- warehouses of information that don't require expensive subscriptions to access. This month, UVM joins that effort with the launch of ScholarWorks@UVM, a digital repository of UVM scholarship freely accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Using software created by Digital Commons, the UVM Libraries have begun to archive the university's scholarly materials -- now searchable at ScholarWorks -- from students' environmental studies theses to family medicine articles to specimen notebooks and drawings from the Pringle Herbarium. The Libraries' hope, says Donna O'Malley, Dana Medical Library associate professor and chair of the project's implementation committee, is that faculty will begin submitting their own work as well. The platform is accessible for submitting materials, from PDFs to audio or video files, with a UVM net ID and password. "We want to partner with faculty," O'Malley says, "and work together to help it evolve."

As the effort continues, that partnership will include helping faculty identify whether their existing author agreements with journals allow them to make their work available in UVM's repository -- and, if not, educating professors on how to negotiate author agreements going forward so that it's legal to add to UVM's repository content that's published elsewhere.

An added benefit of the software, O'Malley notes, is its ability to store information about conferences held on campus. The Digital Commons product allows users to create customizable websites for conference proceedings, to accept papers for an upcoming conference and to display the proceedings after the event is over. The software also enables creation of open access journals by curating materials from UVM or those available more broadly through the Digital Commons network, which is also searchable at ScholarWorks.

Beyond access, the project is also about preservation. O'Malley cites, for example, medical students' annual public health projects, which culminate in poster presentations. In the past, when the project is complete, "posters might get rolled up and put in a closet," she says. "Some of that work is really valuable, and it's getting lost." But a digital repository can allow a work's creator to share it with the world, rather than lock it in a closet.

"No matter what we can do to preserve our intellectual output in paper form, it's still locked behind library walls," says Bailey/Howe librarian Amber Billey, "and there's no need for that now. To be able to have an open-access repository  of the intellectual output of this institution that's freely available to the world is profound."

For more information about ScholarWorks@UVM, contact Donna O'Malley: donna.omalley@uvm.edu.