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DSpace: Sharing MIT's Intellectual Output

from MIT Libraries' News, Vol 12, no. 2, Fall/Winter 2000

In a downstairs room of the Barker Engineering Library a small team of MIT and Hewlett-Packard developers has embarked upon an exciting project that has as its goal to capture, store, and make available the digital intellectual output of MIT. In March the Libraries announced the Hewlett-Packard Company's funding of this joint project to build a scalable, sustainable digital repository for articles, technical reports, datasets, images, and other research products in digital form produced by MIT faculty and researchers. "As MIT's intellectual heritage makes its way into electronic form, the library must take responsibility for capturing those documents that will form the foundation of tomorrow's scholarship." said Ann Wolpert, Director of MIT Libraries.

Soon after the announcement of the $1.8 million project, the Libraries were awarded an additional $215,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of the development of an economic plan and business model to sustain DSpace beyond its time as a research project.

Digital repositories are not new to the academic community, but what is different and experimental about DSpace are the plans for adding features to enhance the flexibility and usefulness of the repository, such as access control, rights management, version management, community feedback and flexible publishing capabilities. The DSpace team hopes to cooperate with other academic institutions developing similar projects, and plans to use software, methods and data models that can easily be shared with other universities worldwide.

In order to accommodate the broad scope of the content, which will encompass all research disciplines at MIT, DSpace will be organized into distinct "realms". These realms may be built around academic departments, research labs and centers, or around a particular data type, such as biomedical images or geospatial datasets. Each realm will be able to set its own policies and procedures concerning contributions and access to DSpace material. This approach will also make it possible for DSpace to accommodate the individual metadata requirements of each realm. Another feature of DSpace will be a simple yet controlled submission process that gives each realm the ability to develop its own vetting system to control which publications are to be included in the repository. Similarly, there will be an access control mechanism built into the repository that allows each realm to control who will have access to its documents. It will also be possible to change these restrictions over time. For example, a document may be visible only to a select few reviewers or sponsors for a limited time until it is approved for wider access. Additional restrictions may be attached to certain documents; for instance, MIT Press or the Virtual Thesis Library may restrict printing of their DSpace documents until they receive payment. A mechanism for associating these rights (or restrictions) with the documents and rigorously enforcing them will be an important part of the DSpace project.

The diversity of DSpace content, encompassing many subject disciplines and data formats, offers developers an opportunity to explore the issues surrounding the incorporation of different metadata standards within one system. Some of the more common uses of metadata are: to facilitate retrieval of documents (title, author, subject), to provide users with information about the format or usability requirements of a document (hardware and software needed for "readability"), to record administrative data such as access rights and requirements, and to facilitate the sharing of documents between systems. Different disciplines have adopted different sets of metadata standards to accommodate their particular data needs. Two examples are the CSDGM standard for geospatial data and the DICOM standard for digital imaging in medicine. Efforts are also underway to develop more general standards, such as Dublin Core, which proposes a basic set of common elements that can be used across many different disciplines and document types.

DSpace also hopes to foster a dynamic scholarly community by experimenting with community services and utilities such as class groups, interest groups, and review groups. Documents in DSpace could be linked to feedback and commentary from the community at large via a set of annotation services. Automatically alerting users of new submissions in their topic areas might be another way to build a community of scholars.

An important measure of the success of DSpace will be the extent to which the MIT community uses this repository. During the initial phase of the project we are gathering as much information as possible from members of the MIT community about how they would contribute to such a repository and how they would like to see it work. Margret Branschofsky , Faculty Liaison for DSpace, is reaching out to as many potential contributors as possible to encourage submissions of materials to DSpace and to identify "lead user groups". During the development period of the project, deposits to the repository will be accepted from a small number of "lead user groups", while access to the documents will be limited to MIT and HP only. It is expected that DSpace will go live in September of 2001, accepting submissions from all of MIT with potential retrieval by users around the world. For ongoing information about the project, please check our website at http://web.mit.edu/dspace.

by Margret Lippert and Eric Celeste



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