OER repositories and preservation – the elephant (not in) the room?
September 17, 2010 10 Comments
Way back at the beginning of the ukoer programme there were discussions around including a link to a resource in JorumOpen rather than the file itself; Gareth Waller emphasised on my post at the time that “having a chain of URLs does not present any technical problems in the sense that the end resource can still be found, the problems only appear when the link chain breaks (either via a bad URL or a server not responding).” He also emphasised that “if the physical resource is submitted into Jorum, we may be able to offer enhanced searching to the end user for that particular item e.g. full text search on a pdf. If a link is submitted, we can only allow the user to search on the metadata associated with the resource.”
The issue has cropped up again recently on the JISC-REPOSITORIES mailing list where @lescarr makes the point that, of the recently announced six winners in the Jorum Learning and Teaching Competition, which are all discoverable from Jorum, none are actually deposited in the national oer repository – just metadata records with a web link to the location elsewhere on the web. Les goes on to emphasise that, while this is perfectly useful, “one of the raisons d’etre of repositories is to provide persistent, safe access to valuable material”.
There was a lot of discussion throughout the ukoer programme around the pros and cons of duplicating resources in Jorum as opposed to simply linking to resources held in other repositories/on institutional or third-party websites and also on the development of tools to harvest metadata via RSS and OAI with different projects having different preferences depending on the tools they were using and the types of resources they were releasing (see http://blogs.cetis.ac.uk/lmc/2009/12/09/oer-rss-and-jorumopen/). Responding to a clear demand from the ukoer community who understandably did not wish to dual deposit both locally and into the national repository, Jorum therefore developed a tool to harvest metadata via RSS (which I presume is why many records are metadata only).
Our Unicycle project, in fact, as one of the ukoer projects using a formal repository platform that makes it straightforward to export resources as IMS content packages, is one of the few projects, I think, to actually bulk upload our OERs to Jorum – however, many of the resources in our repository are themselves metadata records only that point to an external resource on leedmet.ac.uk, YouTube, joebloggs.com or wherever which clearly carries implications for preservation…Our OERs are also harvested by the xpert repository at Nottingham using OAI-PMH. Xpert is “a JISC funded rapid innovation project (summer 2009) to explore the potential of delivering and supporting a distributed repository of e-learning resources…to progress the vision of a distributed architecture of e-learning resources for sharing and re-use.” As such, there are no resources in Xpert per se, just links to resources harvested from various feeds – which means, of course, that it cannot have preservation as one of its raisons d’etre (I recently learned during a twitter conversation with the repository itself that xpert use a 404 checker that checks all their links once a week and deletes any that are broken.)
The ukoer programme was necessarily none-proscriptive around technology (apart from mandating “deposit” in Jorum Open) and, as made clear in @kavubob‘s series of posts The use of…in the ukoer programme a wide range of tools and platforms were used including but by no means limited to formal repositories - Web 2.0 technologies in particular lent themselves to the programme, even for projects like our own that did use a formal repository we were often simply curating resources on external web-sites (Web 2.0 is third party pretty much by definition and a well established source of anxiety for preservationists). What, then, are the implications for preservation of OERs and is it an elephant that we will struggle to keep in the room? To what extent does it matter if an individual resource, perhaps poorly curated, disappears from a specific web-location; if it has been “released into the wild” under Creative Commons (and it’s any good) then there is a good chance it has already been reused or duplicated elsewhere – perhaps disaggregated or modified (Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe)?