Online repository features UT Martin academic works
Posted: Thursday, February 4, 2010 9:15 am
The Messenger 02.04.10
Academic works authored by UT Martin graduates and faculty have a worldwide audience, thanks to an online resource established in January 2008 by the Paul Meek Library’s Corbitt Special Collections.
Known as an “institutional repository,” Internet browser hits for Scholarship@UT Martin exceed 4,200 since July 1, 2009, and continue to grow.
Nobody is more pleased than Richard Saunders, the university’s special collections librarian and university archivist.
Several years back, Saunders had the idea of giving university-authored academic works a virtual home. In 2005, he received an advertisement for commercial institutional repository software that would manage online document storage and delivery. Although the software was impressive, the five-figure annual subscription charge was prohibitive.
The library staff looked for other options, seeking software that was open-source or inexpensive to use. Jim Nance, systems librarian, computer-science student John Britton and Saunders discovered a product called EPrints.
“EPrints is an open-source, open-archive database developed at the University of Southampton in Great Britain,” Saunders said. “It was written by a bunch of computer-science students who just simply have the idea that research needs to be available publicly.”
The program was adapted for use in the library service pages, and the digital world opened for UT Martin scholarly works.
Saunders said about 600 open-archives repositories exist around the world, with UT Martin’s repository about in the middle in terms of size. He added that there are approximately another 1,000 databases on commercial platforms similar to what UT Martin is using but which carry considerable operating costs.
“They’re slicker. They have a little more customizability, but they’re a whale of a lot more expensive, so we struck a balance between cost and effectiveness,” he said. “And, as we have used this, we are absolutely certain that we came down on the right side of things, both for the taxpayers of Tennessee and for the type of scholarship that the campus has generated over the last years.”
The software works like a library catalogue. From the front page, searchers may use keyword, title, author and subject functions to locate material directly. The site also indexes in search engines like Google and ask.com, making the contents accessible across the globe. Once a record is located, a link to an electronic file allows users to download a digital copy directly to their computers.
“Master’s theses and projects are demonstrations of academic competence,” Saunders said. “But they rarely get used after they are produced, mostly because they are accessible only at the student’s institution. Traffic on Scholarship@UT Martin shows how valuable master’s-level research can be to the world.”
As of Jan. 1 this year, 338 full-text files were accessible in the online repository. In the past year, that small number has accounted for more than 5,000 file downloads to researchers in 133 countries across the globe.
“That sort of activity suggests UTM students produce research of real value,” Sanders said.
Graduate students in education and agriculture wrote a majority of the 280 UT Martin master’s theses available on the site.
“Still the single most downloaded item on the whole database is a 30-year-old master’s thesis on Tennessee teacher-tenure policy,” he said.
The next step is capturing master’s projects, followed by University Scholars papers, which are academic works produced by undergraduate students in the University Scholars Program. Faculty members are encouraged to contribute their own work, he said.
Besides the search feature, the site includes a “Paper of the Day,” randomly chosen by the software.
“It’s just a way to remind people that there is real research here,” he said. “It’s not just a site with a number on it. There’s something to take a look at.”
So far, Saunders is pleased with what Scholarship@UT Martin has accomplished.
“Number one, it’s always good to have a digital presence out in the world. That was a big driving force,” he said. “What the software does is put UTM as a research institution into an international context. We have a presence now.”
To find the repository, point a browser to http://scholarship.utm.edu.
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