National Open Access Repository Project: Advancing Towards OpenAIRE Metadata Alignment


In recent years, Ireland has emerged as a highly active research ecosystem in the global drive towards full open access infrastructure and transparent research practices. The National Open Access Repository Project is one of the six pilot projects funded by the National Open Research Forum (NORF) to transition Ireland to 100% open access by 2030, now complemented by a further thirteen projects.  As an important output of this project’s data gathering and analysis phase, in March 2024 the project team published Advancing Ireland’s Open Repository Landscape: A Strategic Roadmap. Building on a 2023 project report, Advancing Open Repositories in Ireland: A Survey and Strategic Recommendations for National Progress. This roadmap is a detailed examination of the current state of open repositories within Ireland and provides valuable insights into the hurdles the repository community faces, the potential opportunities for alignment and advancement, and the roadmap for future development both for repositories and for open access more generally in Ireland.

Understanding the Role of Open Repositories

Open repositories serve as digital knowledge hubs that democratise access to scholarly content by providing platforms for the storage, organisation, and dissemination of research outputs. Embracing principles advocated by initiatives such as the Budapest Open Access Initiative and mandates like Plan S, open repositories aim to eliminate barriers to knowledge sharing and to promote academic collaboration. 

Open repositories empower Research Performing Organizations (RPOs) to regain control over their research outputs, serving as digital archives for preserving and disseminating institutional research materials such as journal articles, data and datasets, books, and conference items. Unlike subscription-based platforms, open repositories provide unrestricted access to anyone with an internet connection, aligning with the principles of open access initiatives that provide the impetus to knowledge that is free from commercial publishing restrictions. Initiatives like Plan S, for example, aim to mandate the open availability of state-funded research outputs. However, repositories also promote inclusivity across all disciplines and levels of academic hierarchy by hosting diverse scholarly materials and enhancing the visibility and impact of research outputs, fostering innovation within the academic publishing landscape. In terms of publishing, repositories are as open to student researchers as they are to senior academics. The deposit of a student thesis marks the beginning for many junior researchers of years of sharing research outputs with both peers and the public.

The Irish Background

In the early 2000s the global open access movement gained momentum, leading to initiatives like the Research Multi-institution Repository (RIAN) in 2007 and the establishment of the Repository Network Ireland (RNI) in 2013, which laid the groundwork for a robust, practitioner-led open access infrastructure. The subsequent launch of the Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) in 2015 marked a significant milestone, showcasing Ireland's commitment to preserving and sharing high-quality research data while supporting repositories and institutions of all sizes across Ireland.

In Ireland, NORF and Research Funding Organisations (RFOs) endorse open access principles and work to strengthen the country's network of open repositories in alignment with international best practices, including metadata alignment with international standards such as OpenAIRE, ensuring Irish research data is Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR). 

Collective national policies play a crucial role in supporting a shift towards open access, shaping an inclusive research landscape that enhances availability and accessibility. A comprehensive policy approach is vital to encourage the further development and utilisation of open infrastructures, workflows, and repositories, advancing the cause of open research on a global scale.

Current Challenges and Opportunities

Despite notable progress, Ireland grapples with challenges such as limited funding and technological constraints in its quest to achieve 100% open access. Fragmentation and lack of alignment among Irish repositories pose significant hurdles in effectively showcasing and sharing research outputs nationally and globally. However, collaborative efforts spearheaded by NORF, including the National Open Access Repositories Project, aim to overcome these hurdles collectively. Ireland's strategic vision aims to achieve comprehensive open access to research publications by 2030 through a multifaceted approach outlined in the National Action Plan for Open Research 2022-2030. Emphasising the pivotal role of open repositories, this strategy underscores their significance in revolutionising scholarly communication and fostering innovation within research institutions large and small, including academic, educational, and governmental RPOs. This is no small challenge, especially given the uneven distribution of resources amongst repositories. While some repositories are achieving significant advances in open access goals, many are struggling with the resources, including time, funding, and staffing, required to make this essential shift.

The landscape offers significant opportunities, with RFOs recognising the crucial role of open repositories in ensuring equitable access to research. Yet a notable challenge arises from the misalignment of metadata among Irish open repositories, hindering efficient sharing and representation of research outputs and the development of the national repository network. Addressing this alignment issue is vital for optimising the effectiveness of the National Action Plan in achieving its ambitious open access goals.

International Collaborations and Technological Advancements

International and national policies play a crucial role in promoting open access and shaping the research landscape towards greater openness and inclusivity. Organisations and affiliations such as UNESCO, the EU Council, and cOAlition S advocate for open access to research, emphasising technological support through the promotion of Persistent Identifiers (PIDs) and interoperable metadata. Technical evolution is crucial not only for repositories but for the entire Irish research ecosystem, including the success of the National Open Access Monitor that will allow Irish RPOs to track and monitor their open access publication metrics.

Engaging with international bodies such as OpenAIRE and participating in initiatives like COAR's Next Generation Repositories opens an integrated path toward interoperable knowledge exchange and the adoption of global best practices. Leveraging cutting-edge technology in repository infrastructure is essential for enhancing functionality, improving discoverability, and ensuring the integrity and accessibility of scholarly outputs.

There is also a growing awareness and utilisation of non-commercial open tools and infrastructures by research libraries and their institutions. Notably, in 2024 the Leiden Ranking transitioned to using data from OpenAlex, a fully open data source. Additionally, the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR) advocates for interoperability standards and initiatives such as COAR Notify and Next Generation Repositories to enhance scholarly communication.

In Europe, OpenAIRE serves as a vital infrastructure supporting open science and open access policies. It facilitates the discovery, access, reuse, and attribution of research outcomes and provides guidelines for repository managers to enhance interoperability and compliance with open access requirements. Through alignment with its metadata guidelines,  the scholarly community can foster a more integrated, transparent, and accessible ecosystem for scholarly communication.

The Project Working Group

Engagement in international collaborations and knowledge exchange is crucial for developing shared standards and best practices in Irish open repositories. Technological advancements play a pivotal role, with integration of modern research tools, platforms and data standards streamlining data management and enhancing discoverability and integrity of scholarly outputs. 

However, like most things in life, this is easier said than done! The challenges for Irish repositories lie not only in technological advancement and alignment, but in building and sustaining a practitioner-led community, while advocating for their ongoing development and operational needs, including staffing, funding, and the time to do what is necessary. From my interviews with repository managers in 2023, I learned of the daily challenges that staff face performing operational objectives. Adding developmental alignment, such as alignment with OpenAIRE version 4, presents a burden that must be overcome as a community if it is to succeed. 

My work at present involves leading a working group comprised of repository managers and staff. Our aim, in the next few months, is to draft technical guidance for implementation of OpenAIRE Guidelines for Literature Repository Managers version 4. This guidance will then be utilised in a pilot with two or three repositories, allowing the project to refine this guidance through the observed challenges of updating each repository’s metadata standards and working with their respective platforms. It will also give us a good idea of the resources necessary, or lacking, for this crucial work so that we can build a strong business case for the funding needed to continue this alignment nationally. While this work will be difficult given current constraints, it is made possible by the efforts of the repository community as they devote professional time and resources that are already overstretched, to the benefit of the entire Irish research community. 

Dr Christopher Loughnane is the NORF Open Access Repositories Project Manager at the University of Galway Library