As more and more universities establish Institutional Repositories (IR), awareness is developing about the limitations of IRs in enhancing the academic research service. The concept of an IR needs to be expanded to include the integration of the processes that transform intellectual endeavor into a broadening array of academic and research support services which are fundamentally social. These include, but are not limited to –
(1) sharing institutionally developed intellectual product (traditional IR)
(2) informing others of the availability of this product with defined purpose
(3) collecting additional academically relevant materials in digital formats using IRs
(4) disseminating timely information about what has been collected to researchers
(5) creating an environment that encourages awareness and exchange of information
(6) and more….
In brief, information gathering, dissemination, and discussion in the form of library service must become a crucial part of researchers’ networks. An IR cannot and should not be viewed as a stand alone endeavor. It needs to be viewed and used as a research and communication tool in an environment that synergizes all elements of the research process. If an IR does not create discussions between librarians (information specialists) and researchers, its potential is lost both to the academy and the library. The library and its librarians must be interactive with researchers and the institution served.
With the advent of digital acquisition that IRs started, a new vision of the role of librarians can be fulfilled. The foundational concepts behind this vision are found in my article: The Library as an Agent of Change: Pushing the Client Institution Forward Information Outlook (Journal of the Special Libraries Association), Vol. 3, No. 8, August 1999, pages 37-40.
The above is not theoretical. It is being practiced every day at the Martin P. Catherwood Library of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) at Cornell University where I work. By combining the uses of an IR, known as the DigitalCommons@ILR – see http://www.digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu, with a discipline-based Internet news service, see -- http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/iws/news-bureau/index.html, supported with outstanding web content, technical support for both print and digital collecting, reference, referral, and teaching, a goal has been realized. The library is seamlessly integrated into the outreach, research and teaching of the institution it serves. The library is part of the social fabric and network of the school.