Law Repositories conference report

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The following is a guest post by Jona Whipple, Digital Resources Librarian, Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology.

In the last week of March 2015, I had the opportunity to attend the first ever Law Repositories conference, made possible by a grant from AALL/Bloomberg Continuing Education Grants Program, and by the sponsorship of LIPA and bepress. I spent a weekend in beautiful, sunny Williamsburg, Virginia with many of my fellow “repositorians,” as we’ve come to brand ourselves, and learned so many things about the future of the institutional repository.

The official title of the conference was “Law Repositories: Shaping the Future,” and it’s never been clearer that this is exactly what we’re doing. The repository is no longer just the home of scholarly articles, built to provide and sustain open access for the legal research community and the world at large. This is still a very important part of the function of the law repository, but so many are now hosting diverse collections of information that are proving invaluable. The archive of opinions and orders of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals maintained in the Villanova University School of Law repository is evidence of this, as is the collection of historic Georgia digests and codes available for download from the University of Georgia Law repository. The University of Nebraska is using a portion of their repository to publish digital print-on-demand books under their publishing imprint, Zea E-Books. While repositorians are not necessarily shifting the focus from collections of scholarly work, they are definitely expanding the scope of what would traditionally be included in a law repository. This expansion not only energizes and excites those of us who work to make this content available, it also brings more focus to our repositories and our missions as champions of open access and protectors of information. The general attitude towards what should go into the repository seems to be: “Is anyone else providing access to this? Will it be helpful if we provide access? Let’s do it!”

Many of the sessions at the conference focused on these interesting non-traditional collections. Other sessions were along the lines of “how-to.” These sessions, such as “Using Metrics to Make Repository Decisions” and “Lightning Talks on Process” were helpful in theory and included lots of ideas and hints to motivate development. However, for the lone repositorian (as most of us are) who is responsible for every part of the repository workflow, discussions about creating Python scripts to automate back-end functions and monitoring Google Analytics via your iPhone to track possible download bots can be overwhelming. The reality of many of our day-to-day workflows is that we manage it all by ourselves and can’t spend a lot of our time writing code, compiling detailed statistics, and launching large-scale marketing campaigns. However, these sessions were valuable in that if we can put aside how much we’d love to have an entire department dedicated to building a robust and diverse repository that can become a leader in download counts, even those of us with a single person responsible for the repository’s growth can find inspiration for things we can do on our level.

I think there is a balance that has to be found by the lone repositorian: do what you can, when you can. Start with the collections that will be both easy to build and of interest to your audience. Take all the help you can get: student workers and virtual interns are your best friends. Don’t sweat it if you don’t have the capacity to wrangle scripts into doing the repetitive and time-consuming tasks for you. These things take time—but all good things come with time. The future can be shaped slowly, and with care.

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