ECDL2007Workshop:Towards an European repository ecology

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Towards an European repository ecology: conceptualising interactions between networks of repositories and services

ECDL 2007 Workshop, 21st Sept 2007

Conference homepage:

Tinyurl for this page

An introduction to the workshop

Although the underpinning technical protocols and models of repository interaction, such as those underpinning JISC’s Information Environment, are well documented and publicised, it can still be difficult for repositories and services to understand how they and their data relate to, and interact with, each other. When repository administrators and service developers begin to develop collaborative networks, they have to understand their different purposes, implementation choices, and administrative processes.

The general concept of an information ecology (as developed by Nardi and O’Day, and Davenport) draws on the metaphor of an ecology to examine the relation of people and ICT in given location. The idea of a repository ecology develops this concept to apply the ecology metaphor to examine how users, repositories, and services interact within an information environment. Such a process assists repositories and services understand how they relate to other, how they could relate to each other, and identify where there are gaps in service or repository provision.

This metaphor when applied to repository interactions supports the consideration of how the following key features of an ecology manifest themselves in a repository space. These features, as articulated by Nardi and ODay, are:

  1. system (how changes affect the whole ecology)
  2. diversity (the benefits and importance of not relying on one solution)
  3. coevolution (the constant change and development of constituents)
  4. keystone species (the constituents required for the whole ecology to flourish)
  5. locality (what a constituent does in a particular set of relationships)

Thinking ecologically presents an opportunity for repositories to identify and create distributed workflows and capitalise on opportunities for repository and service interaction. Such a model creates a layer of relationships on top of the unconnected federated architecture and allows mutually beneficial developments to occur.

The workshop will identify existing components of the European repository ecology, highlight opportunities for interaction, and identify gaps in the ecology. The concept of a repository ecology will be presented along with illustrative examples of repository ecologies drawn from different domains. The workshop participants will then identify features of the European repository ecology and develop a fuller model. This process will include an identification of vital parts of the ecology and a consideration of what gaps exist. As such the conclusions of the workshop will also be of use to funding bodies seeking to support the development of repositories and services.

Outline programme

  • 9:00-10:30 Introduction and ecological examples
    • Welcome and introductions
    • The challenges of connecting repositories and developing services
    • An ecologically influenced approach
  • 10:30-11:00 Coffee
  • 11:00-12:30 Presentations Session 1: ecological approaches
    • "The "repository ecology" approach to describing cross-search aggregation service management", Phil Barker & Malcolm Moffat
    • "Aspects of repositories use: employing an ecology-based approach to report on user requirements in chemistry and the biosciences", Panayiota Polydoratou & Dagmar Biegon
    • "Data Curation Continua in a Repository Ecology: One way of classifying related repository species", Dr Andrew Treloar
  • 12:30- 2:00 Lunch
  • 2:00- 3:00 Presentations Session 2: building ecosystems
    • "Building the foundations of an ecology", Caroline Drury
    • "The Digital Repository Infrastructure Vision for European Research – Building infrastructures to support the research ecosystems", Muriel Foulonneau, Wolfram Horstmann, Paolo Manghi, Natalia Manola
  • 3:00- 3:30 Coffee
  • 3:30- 4:30 Discussion and Review

Detailed Programme

Introduction and ecological examples

  • Welcome and introductions
  • The challenges of connecting repositories and developing services
  • An ecologically influenced approach

Presentations session 1: ecological approaches

The "repository ecology" approach to describing cross-search aggregation service management

Authors: Phil Barker & Malcolm Moffat

  • Phil Barker JISC CETIS Metadata and Digital Repository Coordinator. homepage
  • Malcolm Moffat PerX Service Manager. homepage
ICBL, School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, Mountbatten Building, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh EH14 4AS.
email {phil.barker|m.moffat}


We use the ecology metaphor to describe and explore issues raised through a project (PerX) that developed a pilot service providing resource discovery across a series of repositories of interest to the engineering learning and teaching communities. We describe the ecological habitat within which the pilot service that PerX created sat and sketch the ecological niche, that is the role of the service and its interactions with other entities. In doing so we show that, while a technical architecture is at the heart of this description, the ecology approach highlights crucial interactions that are out of the scope of a technical architecture.

Aspects of repositories use: employing an ecology-based approach to report on user requirements in chemistry and the biosciences

Authors: Panayiota Polydoratou & Dagmar Biegon

  • Panayiota Polydoratou
Imperial College London, Library Services, South Kensington Campus, SW7 2AZ, London, UK.
Biography available at:
  • Dagmar Biegon
Centre for Bioscience, The Higher Education Academy, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK,


"The Source to Output Repositories (StORe) project [1] sought to develop new ways of linking academic publications to repositories of research data. One of the project's deliverables are published surveys of researchers that identified workflows and norms in the use of source and output repositories, including common attributes across disciplines, the functional enhancements that are considered to be desirable in the repositories and perceived problems in their use. >From an ecology-based approach, the users of a system/service represent organisms or a population in an ecosystem. Therefore, information that enable us to identify their requirements and expectations is considered essential in the design and the provision of the system/service as it may determine the levels of functionality and future user satisfaction with a potential impact on the wider information environment."

Data Curation Continua in a Repository Ecology: One way of classifying related repository species WITHDRAWN

Author: Dr Andrew Treloar


Dr Andrew Treloar [2] has a B. A. hons. (first class), majoring in Germanic Languages and Linguistics, a Grad. Dip. in computer science, and an M. A. with the topic A Computer-assisted analysis of characterisation in Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Waves’, all from Melbourne University. In 1999 he received his Ph. D. from Monash University with the topic Hypermedia Online Publishing - Transformation of the Scholarly Journal.

Dr Treloar is currently the Director and Chief Architect of the ARCHER [3] project. He is also the ARROW [4] Technical Architect and DART [5] Project Architect. He has held a number of management roles within ITS in the Web and Internet technologies area. He has also consulted in Australia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, South Korea and Fiji.

His research areas include data management, institutional repositories and scholarly communication. He has published over 50 papers on these and related topics.

He never finds enough time for practising his ‘cello, reading, talking to his chickens, or working in his vegetable garden.


Dr Treloar is no longer able to attend ECDL and has withdrawn from the workshop.

"One way to think about repositories is to try to classify them according to a number of continua. A series of choices about where to place a dividing line on each continuum can be seen as a way of deciding the characteristics of a class of organism in an ecology. The sum of these choices then serves as a way of defining different types of repositories. One set of decisions leads fairly naturally to two distinct genuses of repository (these are not the only possible genuses, but are the ones that seem to emerge most naturally in a research environment). Other types of repositories (learning object repositories, administrative document repositories) might be appropriate in other environments. This presentation will describe the continua, identify at least two distinct genuses of repository and explore how the ecological approach can help to model future work."

Presentations session 2: building ecosystems

Building the foundations of an ecology

Author: Caroline Drury

  • Caroline Drury
RUBRIC Senior Technical Officer
RUBRIC Project, USQ, Toowoomba QLD 4350 Australia


"Funded in 2005 by the Australian Department of Education, Science and Training under the Commonwealth Government's Backing Australia's Ability Action Plan, the RUBRIC Project (Regional Universities Building Research Infrastructure Collaboratively) was established to assist regional and smaller universities in Australia and New Zealand to develop sustainable institutional repository infrastructure. Throughout the project the importance of developing and sustaining a high-level ecology around the participants, has remained paramount. To facilitate and support this ecology, RUBRIC employed a variety of strategies and tools which will be discussed in this paper, including the provision of a collaborative environment of trust, as well as the provision of centralized support and online communications."

The Digital Repository Infrastructure Vision for European Research in a repository ecology

Authors: Muriel Foulonneau, Wolfram Horstmann, Paolo Manghi, Natalia Manola



"Why DRIVER is not a pond!"

  • Disclaimer: This contribution is meant as a constructive (and not always entirely serious) criticism of the "repository ecology".

The applicability of the "repository ecology" (suggested by Robertson et al.) to practical initiatives such as DRIVER depends basically on two assumptions: (1) the necessity of the inclusion of non-technical aspects in the frameworks (or models) for repository systems for the sake of easier comprehension and (2) the usefulness of the analogy of ecology as an explanatory framework for repository and service interactions. It is argued here that the first assumption can be corroborated since the repository system has a great number of users ("players"), software-services and information objects, which poses a severe problem of "combinatorial explosion" for the design and management of repository systems. DRIVER for example in even the simplest setting identifies more than 15 user types and roughly 15 services that provide an enormous combinatorial power. However, simple use-cases such as those proposed by Stevan Harnad may be sufficient to "tame" the complexity. DRIVER adopts the standard approach of combining simple use-cases with a generic architecture that result in exact models (maybe expressed as UML, Unified Modelling Language). The second assumption of the repository ecology -- the usefulness of the ecological analogy -- is only given if a close correspondence between an ecological model and a repository system to be explained can be demonstrated. Otherwise it would not only be misleading but it would also introduce even more elements that have to be understood and explained so that the desired simplification would be lost. Furthermore ecological theory as such offers itself methods for exact modelling of a problem through systems theory. Such ecological models would finally contain the same number of entities and causal relations as the repository system itself if to be put in practice. But in these cases we can directly explain the repository system in system-theoretic terms instead of introducing additional explanatory models. In sum the ecological analogy points out the important issue that simplification and exact understanding of the repository system is required. But even though the usefulness of analogical reasoning is acknowledged, it is concluded that simplification through use-cases can be sufficient in practice.

Discussion and Review of workshop

Administrative details


The workshop will be held on the 21st Sept 2007.

The workshop will be held in a location to be determined at the main conference venue.

All workshop participants must register through the conference website ECDL 2007 (

The workshop language is English.

Contact details:

R. John Robertson

Repositories Research Officer (JISC CETIS)
tel: +44 (0) 141 548 3072

Mahendra Mahey

Repositories Research Officer (UKOLN)
tel: +44 (0) 1225 384594

Julie Allinson

Repositories Research Officer (UKOLN)
tel: +44 (0) 114 2486457, ++44 (0)1225 384594


All presentations will be made available under an appropriate creative commons or similar licence via the workshop web site and deposited into a relevant open access repository.

Presenters will also be invited to develop their papers for submission to a special issue of the Journal of Digital Information

In the interim presentations are available here [6]