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The repository‚ the researcher‚ and the REF: “It's just compliance‚ compliance‚ compliance”

Carolyn Ten Holter


Although institutional repositories (IRs) have become widespread, they have been consistently under-populated and under-utilised. Unless their content approaches a significant percentage of a university's output, IRs can neither form a useful branch of open access to scholarly communications, nor provide a representative view of an institution's research output. The UK's 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF) requires all work submitted to it to have been deposited in a repository, which for most authors would mean an IR. This research sought to understand the impact of the REF mandate upon researchers and repository staff, and upon their relationship with the university, through a series of semi-structured interviews with researchers and repository managers. The research discovered that despite steep rises in repository submissions, little resource has been made available to accommodate hugely-increased workloads, nor have interfaces improved. Researchers and repository-managers alike struggle with a tedious and difficult administrative task that may require many iterations to complete. The research concludes that the mandate, and the pressure it places on the relationship between the researcher and the institution, is highlighting unspoken tensions in this relationship. Although the mandate is increasing the amount of open access material in the UK, as well as providing universities with evidence for the REF, it is placing significant strain on the tacit contract between a researcher and their employer. Opportunities to align the participants, to create alternative metrics from newly available data, and to develop new solutions, are being missed. This has implications for the way other mandates focusing on deposit in IRs are managed, both within and beyond the UK.

The Journal of Academic Librarianship