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Ten Years After: Open Repositories Conferences Fulfill the Promise of “Open”

From Carol Minton Morris, DuraSpace; OR Steering Committee

Winchester, MA  A look back over ten years of Open Repositories (OR) conferences [1] [2] to see what has changed and what’s stayed the same is also a story about the open access, open source repository communities that the conference serves. A recent scattershot sampling of community opinions about the evolution of OR conferences were surprisingly homogeneous. Comments were focused less on advances in technology, and more on how “working together” had changed. There seems to be some agreement that a unique, unquantifiable spirit, or collegial energy has emerged over time at these conferences that has contributed to shared advances across all aspects of repository development. It has not always been like that.

Jon Dunn, wrote in an article for CLIR (Council on Library and Information Resources) after OR2014 [3], “The word open in Open Repositories can mean different things to different people: open access, open standards, open systems, open data, open source. And the same is true for repositories: institutional repositories, disciplinary repositories, digital collection repositories, data repositories, code repositories, preservation repositories. These words were intentionally left undefined by the original organizers of OR, which has given the conference great flexibility to adapt and change over the past nine years as the work, interests, and contexts of its participants have evolved. However, it also has a downside: In its early years, I saw that these differences of interpretation sometimes led participants to talk past each other, with speakers assuming an audience shared their viewpoint. In recent years, though, and especially this year, it has become obvious to me that the community has developed a better understanding of its scope and has come to embrace an open view of digital repositories as serving many diverse communities, content formats, and user needs, and utilizing a wide range of technical tools and platforms.”


The first Open Repositories Conference was a small symposium held in 2006 at the University of Sydney. The program consisted of a forum entitled “The Well-Integrated Repository”, and a symposium entitled “Managing Openness”. User Group meetings for DSpace, EPrints and Fedora were also part of this five-day event [4]. Slide presentations are archived by the Australian Partnership for Sustainable Repositories [5]. Organizers and attendees recognized that there was a desire in communities of practice to showcase what was going on in stand-alone institutional digital libraries and repositories, and talk about a future that included interoperability ideas, and how to manage the poorly understood concept of “openness.”


San Antonio River Walk, San Antonio, Texas, US; Open Repositories 2007.*

In 2007 OR Conference Chair John Leggett said that new ideas around scholarly communication were born from Tim Berners Lee’s very early Hypertext demonstrations, "If you squinted." He believed that repositories were on the brink of something bigger and more tangible with regard to advancing technologies to support open scholarly practices. In the keynote James Hilton, University Librarian, Dean of Libraries and Vice Provost for Digital Education and Innovation, University of Michigan, suggested that the "Rising tide of collaboration is more than just Kumbaya." He believed that it could also represent a competitive advantage particularly in higher education. [6]

Even then hallway meet-ups, which have always been a big part of Open Repositories Conferences, were lively and focused on real information sharing, and shaping collaborative relationships around solving issues related to interoperability, legal and business models, architecture, frameworks, national and international perspectives, scientific repositories, early social networking, sustainability issues and what was then known as “Web 2.0.”  Using semantics as a tool for creating context around digital resources to add meaning became part of presentations.


The Bargate, a medieval gatehouse, Southampton, England; Open Repositories 2008.*

In 2008 funding and long-term digital preservation issues were front and center [7]. OR Conference Chair Les Carr suggested that "squillions of dollars" could be spent on international, highly collaborative projects that might ultimately equate to longer repository lifespans. If funding from an institution backing a repository, however, disappeared, contents were often tied up in administrative and resource allocation knots leaving information consumers without access. The notion of broad open access, and the utility of digital resources and data being related to the longevity of collections became part of digital preservation discussions in Southampton that year. [8]

The Developer Challenge emerged around this time highlighting current technical challenges while showcasing developers’ skills in meeting them. By participating developers created a conference forum for sharing a deeper understanding and appreciation of the process behind software development.


Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, Georgia, US; Open Repositories 2009.*

Services were emerging in 2009 [9]. In a keynote address entitled “Locks and Gears: Digital Repositories and the Digital Commons" John Wilbanks, VP of Science, Science Commons project, Creative Commons, referred to “the rental problem,” meaning that academic journals seemed to get less free, not freer, as the Internet emerged. He said, "Renting copies of journals does not allow you to build a service.”

He suggested, “Our culture, our law, and our technology must come together to make this work." To get there Wilbanks suggested local solutions, global sharing, the use of standards, and leading by example. [10]


Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain; Open Repositories 2010.*

The 5th annual Open Repositories Conference took place in Madrid alongside Spain's victory in the semi-finals and finals of the 2010 World Cup. [11] Research data issues, size, scale, legal mandates, RDF innovations and how institutions were struggling to keep up were part of conversations. The 2010 conference keynote offered by David de Roure described workflows as the new rock and roll. "They are the machinery for coordinating data, interaction and services," he said.

Repository development and seemingly overwhelming issues such as management of research data in repositories advanced important policy issues. The impact of the groundbreaking MIT Faculty Open Access Policy adopted in 2009 [12] had begun to percolate throughout institutions everywhere. De Roure said, "Repositories have provided a focus and a fulcrum for an absolutely critical series of policy discussions. Universities' role in the curation of knowledge–how the evidence upon which inquiry is based should be curated–in determining what the academy's role in the dissemination of knowledge is, are all key questions at universities that have been brought to the forefront by the development of repositories.” [13]


The University of Texas at Austin, Texas, US; Open Repositories 2011.*

In 2011 Open Repositories went to Austin, Texas where Jim Jagielski from the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) talked about a “secret sauce” for creating open source communities. He suggested that open source development allows each person who contributes code to have an impact. Open source creates an environment where the makers or developers are connected with the meaning behind their contributions. The principles behind open source, open access, open data and open knowledge and what was really meant by “long-term preservation” resonated in OR hallways that year. [14]


Castle ruins, Edinburgh, Scotland; Open Repositories 2012.*

By 2012 the idea of a digital scholarly ecosystem that was dependent on a corresponding and expanding ecosystem of digital repositories and consortial repository environments was part of conversations in Edinburgh, Scotland [15]. Data management and identifiers were among topics of interest as institutions focused on research data solutions that involved standardized methods for establishing provenance and authority.

Cameron Neylon, Director PLoS, was the OR2012 keynote speaker. He reviewed new kinds of research networks and reminded attendees, "Networks change our capacity to do things”. [16]


Farm fields on Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, PEI, Canada; Open Repositories 2013.*

In Prince Edward Island the Open Repositories 2013 conference theme, "Use, Reuse, Reproduce," was aligned with questions around the role of repositories in managing, preserving and reproducing research results from repository assets. Keynote speaker Victoria Stodden, Columbia University, emphasized the importance of proof–being able to verify the results of research from repository data, and the ability to make the same experiment turn out the same way using the same data. Curating data for replication to meet that standard was acknowledged as a complex process that could create repository workflow log jams. [17]

Kirsta Stapelfeldt who was a repository manager at the University of Prince Edward Island at that time, pointed out that the number of repositories in the world had doubled just since 2007. Conference session topics ran the gamut from community growth and corresponding increasing data needs, to high level policy-related issues to open access solutions for large and small institutions, to innovative, bundled repository platforms and novel approaches to preservation and archiving.


Vantaa (river), Helsinki, Finland; Open Repositories 2014.*

By 2014 in Helsinki it was clear that global interoperability was about how to affect change by coming together in broad partnerships and consortia with shared technical and policy-related open access and preservation goals. Keynote speaker Erin McKiernan, Researcher in Medical Sciences at the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico, advocated for open access and open data publishing particularly related to institutional practices around faculty tenure. [18]

James Evans, Product Manager, Open Repository, wrote about OR2014, “‘Repositories’–institutional, data, metadata, subject content or preservation–are no longer ‘a place where research goes to die.  A web of interactive, interoperable platforms is enhancing and improving global scientific and other scholarly research.” [19] [20]


Indianapolis City Market, Indianapolis, Indiana, US; Open Repositories 2015.*

What can we imagine will happen over the next decade of Open Repositories Conferences?

The Tenth International Open Repositories Conference was celebrated in Indianapolis, June 8-11, 2015. [21]  Kaitlin Thaney, director of the Mozilla Science Lab and virtual OR2015 keynote speaker pointed out that leveraging the power of the web for science (and scholarship) is a way of doing good–for everyone. Annurag Archarya, inventor of Google Scholar, reviewed best practices for repository managers and developers to ensure that scholarly resources are indexed by Google Scholar in his keynote address.  Discussions around conference sessions, the new Ideas Challenge, social get-togethers, interest group meetings and hallway meet-ups provided glimpses of “digital scholarship on the brink”. What would happen if we worked together even more closely? Attendees were busy with face-to-face discussions aimed at teasing out issues and solutions around even tighter partnerships based on ten years worth of mutual respect, admiration, friendship and tangible advances.

Large-scale preservation and access initiatives, technological advances, data sharing, cross-cultural ontologies, specialized services, broad economic models and emerging technology “stacks” across institutional and organizational boundaries, and across political borders are all possible because innovative, open source tools, standards, practices and businesses—OR program content—will continue to have a transformative impact on the digital scholarly ecosystem. The OR2015 conference theme, “Looking Back/Moving Forward: Open Repositories at the Crossroads” is a promise that future OR conferences, built on a solid foundation, will continue to be a place where passionate users, developers, funders and stakeholders come together to work towards sharing both the responsibilities and the benefits of “open”.  If the recent 3900+ #OR2015 tweets from 650+ community members over 4 days is any indication of enthusiasm, we are already moving forward.

[1] Open Repositories Conference web site:

[2] Open Repositories Conference wiki:

[3] Dunn, J., Opening Open Repositories, Council on Library and Information Resources blog,  June 26, 2014:

[4] Open Repositories 2006 web site:

[5] Open Repositories 2006 slides and presentations:

[6] Minton Morris, C., Road Report: Second Annual Open Repositories Conference (OR07) in San Antonio. D-Lib Magazine.  March/April 2007:

[7] Open Repositories 2007 web site:

[8] Open Repositores 2008 web site:

[9] Open Repositories 2009 web site:

[10] Minton Morris, C., Doing So Much More: The Fourth Annual International Conference on Open Repositories (OR09). D-Lib Magazine. July/August 2009:

[11] Hunter, P., Taylor, R., Open Repositories 2010. Ariadne. July 30, 2010:

[12] MIT Faculty Open Access Policy:

[13] Minton Morris, C., Making Repositories Mean More: Report on the Fifth International Conference on Open Repositories 2010. D-Lib Magazine. Sept/Oct 2010:

[14] Minton Morris, C., Open Repositories 2011: Community Meet-up in the "Live Music Capital of the World". D-Lib Magazine. July/August 2011:

[15] Johnson, L., Real Solutions at Open Repositories 2011. The Signal Digital Preservation Blog. Library of Congress. June 21, 2011:

[16] Open Repositories 2012 web site:

[17] Minton Morris, C., 4,000+ Tweets Later: Looking Back at the Seventh International Conference on Open Repositories. D-Lib Magazine. Sept/Oct 2012

[18] Open Repositories 2013 web site:

[19] Open Repositories 2014 web site:

[20] Evans, J., Open Repositories 2014 Conference: Onwards & Upwards. DuraSpace blog. June 2014:

[21] Open Repositories 2014 web site:

* Photographs by Carol Minton Morris. Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.