Attending CONUL 2024 in Belfast to give a talk on ‘Building Community to Coordinate Ireland’s Fragmented Open Repository Network’


The Consortium of National and University Libraries (CONUL) held its 2024 conference this year in Belfast, where I gave a 20-minute presentation on the National Open Research Forum (NORF) Open Access Repositories Project. The theme of the talk was how the project is bringing the fragmented repository community together across the island of Ireland. The aim of the project is to create a robust, community-centred open repository network integrated and aligned not only technologically but with a shared sense of purpose and a commitment to sharing knowledge and expertise within an open and interoperable research ecosystem supporting each one of its institutional repository members. Much of the talk was focused on the data gathering conducted previously and the next steps of the project, including piloting OpenAIRE v.4 metadata alignment in four repositories while continuing to develop events and initiatives to foster the community engagement piece of the project. These events, aimed at informing stakeholders and inspiring institutions to action, will be coming soon.

My talk was followed by one which was highly complementary, "Developing and Implementing a Rights Retention Policy at Queen’s University Belfast" by Stephen Gorman and Dan Holden. Their talk demonstrated the multiple interlocking ways that institutions can use their leverage to make 100% OA a reality.


The Purpose of Green OA

The National Action Plan for Open Research 2022-2030 aims to deliver 100% open access in Ireland by 2030 and cannot achieve this without a strong repository network providing Green open access to Irish research outputs. It states that:

“The transition to open research is a shared responsibility across the research system, with local efforts required to implement policies, infrastructure and incentives within research performing and research funding organisations. National-level actions are designed to encourage a coordinated approach and complement and connect with efforts at international and local levels.”

The open repository community in Ireland shares this responsibility and provides critical access to knowledge that is open to all who seek it, without any barriers of cost, and provides the platforms for researchers to share their research outputs across the world without publisher paywalls. Yet up until now, notwithstanding the defunct Research Multi-institution Repository (RIAN), each research performing organisation (RPO) has developed and supported its own repository, creating an uneven and fragmented repository environment, with each repository operating in isolation. The aim to connect and align these repositories is so important because it ties each institution’s repository to this national strategy and coordinates its efforts both in Ireland and the international research community.

The Purpose of Repositories

The theme of the conference was ‘Libraries as Changemakers’ and the keynote speaker, Tony Ageh, charged the attendees to remember and attend to their primary purpose, the preservation and access of knowledge for the long-term benefit of humankind. While those working in libraries generally know the larger purposes they serve, it doesn’t harm anyone to be reminded about it occasionally. It was helpful to be reminded of this both before giving my own talk and listening to other presentations.

One of the primary purposes of open repositories is that they support necessary bibliodiversity and an alternative to paid-for-publishing models, but they also shouldn’t be seen as a less prestigious route to publication for researchers, who deposit their outputs in them solely to fulfil funder or institutional obligations. Green OA is fundamental to the purpose of access and preservation and any configuration of OA at a national level must ensure that it is supported technologically and financially so that those working in repository environments are allowed the resources necessary to fulfil their function while at the same time adapting and evolving their skills to ensure long-term viability of the research ecosystem. This includes providing the sense of community and community support that allows repository managers to operate more effectively and to advocate effectively for their needs.

Repositories have a purpose both of preservation and access. In my opinion, it is a mission driven by morals as much as by metrics. There is fair argument that open access advances scientific research through rapid dissemination of findings, especially during the COVID pandemic, where scientific preprints, for example, were essential to share results faster than peer review would allow. Repositories also serve global research communities who cannot afford the publisher price of access. It provides free access to information for anyone with an internet connection and browser. However, there is also an ethical argument to be made beyond utility or consequences. While the climate crisis provides the most urgent reasons for sharing scientific research quickly and widely, the preservation of knowledge also requires an attendance to the ethics of virtue and human flourishing, in which both access and preservation cannot but support equality for a global demos, despite technological and political caveats. Open repositories serve all of these long-term ethical functions while also driving innovation in research today.

A Community Vision

What, then, does this mean for the Irish repository community? In order to best fulfil both its practical and ethical obligations, a robust, interoperable and technically aligned repository ecosystem is essential to serve its constituents locally, nationally and internationally. To achieve 100% open access, like many peer countries across the world, the repository community must act together and be supported together. What this looks like as a technological solution is uncertain. Countries such as Denmark and Japan are pushing forward with the Green model while others are offering more mixed approaches while also using CRIS integration. What we do as a community in Ireland will be decided together by building a cohesive vision through the consensus and advocacy of its members, guided by the project board and the working group.


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