Institution: La Trobe University, Australia
In October 2020, La Trobe University (LTU) launched a new Institutional Repository, OPAL (Open@LaTrobe), using the Figshare platform. Since the launch, the LTU Library team has been monitoring repository use and assessing the discoverability of La Trobe research. This case study presents their observations and demonstrates the value of institutional repositories to the open access ecosystem.
OPAL is La Trobe University’s institutional repository. It preserves, promotes and provides worldwide access to publications, theses, data and educational resources for university staff and researchers. As an online, open access, dissemination platform, OPAL increases the impact and citation rates of publications by improving their visibility, helps researchers collaborate and share data and assists with funding and grant applications.
OPAL is supported by an integration with the Symplectic Elements (Elements) publication management system. Elements is a highly-configurable research management system which ingests data from multiple sources and provides a comprehensive picture of organisational data. This means that whenever an author enters or claims a research publication, they are given the option to upload a copy directly into the institutional repository. Uptake has been high compared with usage of the previous repository, which was not linked to Elements. This suggests that system familiarity and an easy deposit process are important factors in repository success.
In addition to research publications, OPAL also contains open access theses, datasets, and educational resources. Another section has recently been added for the digitisation of special collections and archival material. Since launch, almost 3,000 items have been deposited, resulting in over 100,000 downloads; journal articles alone have received over 200,000 views.
Before being adopted as LTU’s institutional repository, the Figshare platform had been used to store datasets and other records of research activity, such as presentations. With the implementation of OPAL, the intention was to continue to collect diverse repository content. One example is the La Trobe eBureau, the University’s in-house publisher of open access e-books. Most titles are textbooks but eBureau is now also entering the open research ecosystem with the publication of monographs such as Carolyn D’Cruz’s Democracy in Difference. As well as whole books, OPAL has also provided a platform for the eBureau to share associated video content for separate download.
Research reports represent another use-case of OPAL as a publishing platform. Although reports are not always licensed for re-use, the repository provides an infrastructure for their dissemination to commissioning bodies and participants alike. It also provides ongoing storage. According to Professor Andrew Harvey (Director of the Centre for Higher Education Equity and Diversity Research): ‘One advantage of the repository is that it can preserve institutional memory and maintain La Trobe-produced works over time. This is particularly an issue for us as our national reports are not archived with a particular journal or other site, and such reports would simply disappear from view without the LTU library’.
The one-off technical implementation of any repository is less challenging than the ongoing development of a culture of open access. This culture shift includes education of the research community regarding both the advantages and appropriate usage of the repository. Despite funding body mandates and university policy recommendations, manuscript deposit is not yet embedded in the research project lifecycle. Manuscript deposit is especially important where Transformative Agreements (library subscriptions inclusive of free Open Access publication) have not yet been negotiated.
Raising awareness of the benefits of the repository is ongoing and there are opportunities to alter existing perceptions of the institutional repository. The repository has a distinct role to play in communicating research across disciplinary and professional boundaries. It is also a unique platform for sharing other types of research publications and non-traditional research outputs. As a shopfront for ideas and the promotion of research, the repository represents visibility and impact.
Examination of repository use since launching indicates that an additional section is required where unpublished material can be shared. This may include preprints (i.e., work in progress or publications that have not yet been peer reviewed), but more importantly will provide a space for the dissemination of research in alternative formats such as presentations, posters, infographics or video. It will serve the purpose of enabling researchers to make their findings openly available, even when outputs are published behind a paywall, offering external non-specialist visitors a more accessible snapshot of research content.
Leibold’s recent work on the Chinese government’s crackdown on the Uyghurs and other indigenous communities in China’s western region of Xinjiang has generated a great deal of media attention. Accepted manuscripts of articles by Leibold such as ‘Islamic Veiling in Xinjiang: The Political and Societal Struggle to Define Uyghur Female Adornment’ (The China Journal, 2016) and ‘Han cybernationalism and state territorialization in the People's Republic of China’ (China Information: a journal on contemporary China studies, 2016) are freely accessible via OPAL. One prominent example of the attention Leibold’s work has received was a 4 Corners report in July 2019, in which he was interviewed about Uyghur cultural genocide and human rights abuses.
In 2020, Leibold co-authored a report for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute naming brands alleged to benefit from forced Uyghur labour (Uyghurs for Sale: “re-education”, forced labour and surveillance beyond Xinjiang). Although the report is available elsewhere online, the institutional repository has the advantage of providing a citable permalink and enhancing discoverability. It also situates the report within an academic context as well as the political domain. The public availability of Leibold’s research led to his testimony before a Senate hearing in relation to the proposed Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced by Uyghur Forced Labour) Bill. Leibold recommended to the Senate Committee a ‘more targeted set of legislation and sanctions’ to enable enforcement of the 2018 Modern Slavery Act. Many of Leibold’s views were adopted in the Committee’s final report. For example, the Committee recommended the prohibition of imports from regions ‘with particularly high risk of being associated with forced labour’; a multilateral approach; and investigation of technological solutions for tracing supply chains.
The benefit that the repository adds to the work of scholars such as Leibold is that their original research may be easily accessed by external users. The scholarly works cited in the Senate Committee report, for example, are available to anyone following up these original sources, thus ensuring public accountability. Professor Leibold states, ‘As much of my research is relevant and read by individuals outside of the academy – chiefly government officials, journalists, think tank researchers and those in the NGO sector – they greatly benefit from being able to access copies of my scholarly work via OPAL, and in turn, my career and profile benefits from this increased visibility and impact.’
A PhD student in Immunogenetics, Almasi ran a series of nine workshops in late 2020 presenting an introduction to genomic prediction and its applications. They were attended live by over 200 delegates worldwide, representing universities and agriculture industry bodies such as Meat & Livestock Australia, a partner in the project featured in LTU’s 2018 Impact case study. Because of the cap on attendance numbers, Almasi used OPAL to publish the video presentations, notes, slides and accompanying data, and shared the DOI with participants. The presentations have now been downloaded more than 6500 times. A further series of 12 workshops is planned for the same time this year. Although this case study is a work in progress in terms of impact evidence, it demonstrates the reach available to scholars making use of alternative formats to disseminate their research.
Professor Carey has been using OPAL (in its previous incarnation as Figshare) since 2018 to provide access to the reports produced in his Participatory Field Placement program. This program produces literature reviews for industry clients. As a result of Carey’s 2014 report Audit into RAAF Chaplaincy Policy and Confidentiality, further reports were commissioned by the RAAF concerning moral injury (2018), interfaith spaces (2020), and chaplaincy infrastructure (2020). He was invited by Frontiers in Psychiatry to publish an article based on the moral injury report, for which Frontiers waived the open access charge. Carey’s work was recognised by the Australian Military Medical Association with the Sir Edward Weary Dunlop Award in 2019.
Erica Lauthier, Acting Coordinator: Repository, Publications & Archives - E.Lauthier@latrobe.edu.au
Helen Slaney, Manager, Research Impact, La Trobe University - H.Slaney@latrobe.edu.au