Friday, June 27, 2008

ATLA in DSpace: A Digital Repository Proposal

I am grateful to Tracy Powell from the Pitts Theology Library at Emory University for initiating a roundtable discussion on establishing a digital repository for theological librarians. Her presentation took us through the basics of what a digital respository is and some of the advantages of DSpace as an open source program for establishing a digital respository. We then had a good discussion of whether there is a need for a digital repository for theological librarians.

One question that was raised was whether a wiki would be a better solution for our needs than a digital repository. It depends, of course, on what kinds of materials theological librarians would like to collect. Something like ALA's Professional Tips Wiki provides a fund of common wisdom on library issues. A wiki, though, is meant to be an evolving document reflecting the contributions of a community; a digital repository is meant to be both an archive and an access point for resources created by individuals and distributed to a community. In my opinion, we need more than just a wiki.

Another question that was raised was whether we could piggy-back on an existing repository. E-LIS (E-prints in Library and Information Science) and dLIST (Digital Library of Information Science and Technology) are two existing repositories dedicated to the needs of the library community. Again, speaking strictly for myself, I think the needs of theological librarians are distinct enough that we would be better served by our own repository.

One reason we would be better served by our own repository is the question of copyright. Institutional repositories are positioned to force an eventual change in publisher attitudes toward the ownership of copyright. Experiments like Harvard's open-access requirement for its faculty have the potential to return copyright ownership, if not to authors, at least to their academic institutions. By establishing our own digital repository for theological librarians, we would have control over how copyright is managed and what items are made publicly available and what items are located in a dark archive with restricted access. We would want to encourage contribution to the repository as widely as possible across our profession. Should a copyright conflict arise, say, due to the eventual publication of material that had previously been in pre-publication form in the repository, we would want the flexibility to honor member copyright obligations by controlling how that material is stored and accessed. We need our own digital repository if we are to have that level of flexibility.

Finally, we already have a number of collections that could provide a solid core on which to build a theological librarianship repository. The Cooperative Digital Resources Initiative, the annual Summary of Proceedings, Theology Cataloging Bulletin, and resources collected by Interest Groups like the Technical Services Interest Group could all be collocated and simultaneously searched in a repository. I do not know how our Publications Committee is going to provide access to the new Theological Librarianship journal, but a digital repository would also be an ideal way to preserve and provide access to this publication.

It remains for us to find an avenue to raise awareness about the benefits of a digital repository and construct a proposal that would be attractive to ATLA or to some other institution that would be interested in hosting this kind of a resource. I look forward to further communication from Tracy to all of us who attended the roundtable discussion, and I invite your responses to this posting if you are interested in seeing this project move forward.


Tracy said...

Thanks, Blake, for providing this summary of the discussion about a digital repository. I'd like to encourage anyone who would be interested in working together to develop a proposal to contact me:

Beth said...

Blake, thank you for your summary. It was nice to meet you in person. As the current chair of the publications committee, I would be interested in exploring options for a digital repository and will contact Tracy.

NeoArch said...


A quick question -- Does ATLA need its own DR? What if a member institution that has a DR volunteered to provide a platform for storing materials? For example, DSpace has the idea of communities. What if a member institution established a theological librarianship community? Would that meet the needs you mentioned?