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Telling DSpace Stories at Cornell University Library with David Ruddy

“Telling DSpace Stories” is a community-led initiative aimed at introducing project leaders and their ideas to one another while providing details about DSpace implementations for the community and beyond. The following interview includes personal observations that may not represent the opinions and views of Cornell University Library or the DSpace Project.

Carol Minton Morris from DuraSpace interviewed David Ruddy, Director of Scholarly Communication Services at Cornell University Library, to learn about the eCommons DSpace repository (

What’s your role with DSpace at your organization or institution?

Since 2009 I've coordinated the management and operation of Cornell's general-subject institutional repository, eCommons, which runs on DSpace. The Library also manages three instances of Digital Commons, as disciplinary repositories. And we operate two major subject repositories, Project Euclid and arXiv, both of which I'm also very involved with. When it comes to repositories, the environment at Cornell is complex.

Tell me a little about your organization or institution.

Cornell is a large research university with fourteen distinct colleges or schools, including a medical college and the new Cornell Tech campus, both in New York City. Cornell's student population is around 21,000, and graduate students make up a third of that. It is a highly decentralized environment. There are about 20 separate libraries under the umbrella of the Cornell University Library. The Library is an integral part of the university in many different ways, actively supporting the research and teaching taking place across a wide array of disciplines.

Why did you decide on DSpace?

Cornell began using DSpace in 2002, at the urging of the then Dean of Faculty, Professor J. Robert Cooke. With support he helped secure, we joined the initial DSpace Federation based at MIT and brought up the repository, called simply "DSpace," initially. The original goals were lofty, as was typical of the time: to "stimulate a fundamental reshaping and enhancement of the way research universities and their faculties function by creating an economical vehicle for openly-shared access to formerly inaccessible, but intellectually-rich digital resources, and by implementing affordable alternatives for more formal scholarly publishing." The repository was re-branded as eCommons in 2007.

What were your requirements going in?

In some sense, DSpace was an experiment, to see what needs we could meet with it. We were attracted to the idea of a ready repository, with few if any development demands, which we could use to store and deliver a range of digital objects.

What strategic organizational or institutional goals did DSpace help you meet?

Cornell faculty and students generate a wide variety of scholarly content. We've seen consistent community use of our eCommons repository, which has been receiving about 4,000 submissions per year. The submission of much of this content is mediated by the Library. We don't, however, do a lot of outreach, and the numbers continue to increase. In the early days, most submissions were textual in nature, like theses and pre-prints. Now we're seeing more multimedia as well as data sets. Today we manage more than 34,000 items in eCommons, with a bitstream to item ratio of about 8. DSpace has given us a stable, easy-to-use tool by which we can handle this material with relatively low cost.

What are your plans for your DSpace repository in the future?

In mid-2015, we completed a major eCommons upgrade, in progress for over a year. We moved from DSpace 1.8 to 5.1, and switched from the JSP to the XMLUI. This involved a much needed complete remodel of the user interface look and feel, and improvements in a/v streaming, which we had added a couple of years earlier. We're quite happy with the improved DSpace search capabilities in the newer version.

We have deliberately stayed away from a lot of code customization so that we can upgrade easily. Longer term, Cornell expects to move to a Hydra-based IR. We've done some preliminary requirements gathering for this, but it is a ways out yet. We expect to be using DSpace for the next three to five years.

What is at the top of your DSpace wish list?

A number of users at Cornell would like more control over the presentation of material at the collection level. This includes interface branding, but also the ability to arrange informational context as desired, and to govern the ordering and display of items contained within a collection. This type of flexibility and control is typical in publishing and in website design, and we encounter these expectations frequently. I know that DSpace is aimed primarily at a different set of functionality, but that's not an explanation most users will appreciate.

What advice would you give to other organizations that are planning to establish a DSpace repository?

Establish repository policies early on with a broad range of input from across your organization. Get institutional commitment to the long-term maintenance of your repository, and publicize that commitment. This will be an attractive feature to many prospective users. And assuming you are in this for the long haul, distinguish the service you are providing from the platform that supports it. It's the service that you will brand and promote, and which will become meaningful within your community.