New Online Service Preserves, Promotes Digital Faculty Scholarship

July 29, 2011

July 29, 2011 — The University of Virginia Library has developed a new service to preserve faculty scholarly work and make it easily accessible online.

Libra, a new digital repository, is designed to archive U.Va. faculty articles and scholarship from any discipline in a searchable database, said Martha Sites, deputy university librarian. The service will also host student theses and dissertations, as well as research data sets.

"It provides a way for scholars to ensure the long-term durability of the scholarship they produce," Sites said. "That's the overarching goal."

Digital technology makes it easier to disseminate scholarly work, but it has also created unforeseen preservation problems, she said. Even if a journal or publisher posts an important scholarly article online, there's no guarantee it will stay there for the long run. And if an article was born in a digital format – meaning  no print version exists – it could potentially be lost forever if a server crashes or the publication folds, Sites said. 

"It is a problem in the digital realm that doesn’t exist in the same way in the print realm, in that the best ways to manage digital content over time and through changes in technology are not yet well understood," she said.

Libra will provide a stable, long-term home for U.Va. scholarship that isn't tied to a commercial endeavor, said James Hilton, vice president and chief information officer. More and more institutions are heading down similar paths, he said.

"It's completely appropriate for academic research libraries to be developing these tools and providing these solutions, because they are the only ones charged with the mission of preserving the scholarly record forever," Hilton said.

When a library buys a physical book, it has the right to loan that book out and preserve it indefinitely, Hilton said. But when it obtains an electronic item, such as a digital copy of a scholarly article, the library only has a license, which – unless the contract says otherwise – doesn't include the right to preserve it.

"What I think is beautiful about Libra is that it places control in the hands of scholars," Hilton said.

University faculty members who use Libra are responsible for securing publishing rights to their work and uploading it. Instructions are available on the site.

School of Medicine neurology professor Ivan Login, the first faculty member to upload his work to Libra, said the service could become a powerful tool for scholars who need free access to published research.

"Part of the value of Libra is that it gives faculty members a place to put their papers where the world can get at them without having to pay," Login said. "The repository allows these articles to be available, if you know where to look for them."

Sites said Libra was developed in conjunction with Faculty Senate efforts to increase access to scholarly works. Last year, the senate approved a policy designed to encourage scholars to retain rights to publish their research findings online a year after the articles are published in academic journals.

Law professor Edmund Kitch, who served on the Faculty Senate's Task Force on Scholarly Publication and Authors' Rights, said many publishers have been cooperative with that process. In some cases, the authors already own publication rights for important pieces of scholarship, he said.

In addition, uploading articles to Libra assures worldwide distribution of work that could otherwise be hard to find, he said.

"It’s a reality that many important scholarly journals are very expensive and have very limited distribution," Kitch said. "There are millions of people who have no way of getting at the scholarly literature at the present time. If you have a piece of scholarship on Libra, it can be accessed by anyone with an Internet connection throughout the world."

The library partnered with Information Technology Services to create the site's infrastructure, and library staff is currently working to make Libra materials searchable through Virgo, the library's primary search portal. Beta testing for the inclusion of data sets, dissertations and graduate theses should begin in coming months, Sites said.

In the future, online repositories such as Libra could be an important step toward larger digital scholarship repositories that span many institutions, Hilton said.

"In my view, digital preservation efforts are going to increasingly play a role in the life of premier research libraries," he said.

— By Rob Seal

Media Contact

Rob Seal

Director of Media Management and Managing Editor, UVA Today Office of University Communications