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Ecology of repositories


This work began with the need to express something of how and why repositories and services interact. As a community we have well understood technical models and architectures that provide mechanisms for interoperability. The actual interactions that occur, however, are not widely understood and knowledge about them is not often shared. This is in part because we tend to share in the abstract through architectures and use cases, articulating interactions or connections requires an engagement with specific details.

We think that constructed systems benefit from being described and understood well and that such understanding allows the possibility of better future development. Within the context of the Information Environment this may mean richer services, more efficient interoperability, or may simply support new connections.

Ecology studies systems that are complex, dynamic, and full of interacting entities and processes. Although the nature of these interactions and processes may be highly detailed, a higher level view of them is accessible and intuitive. We think that ecology and the ecosystems it studies may offer a useful analogy to inform the task of understanding and articulating the interactions between users, repositories, and services and the information environments in which they take place.

We hope that this strand of work will suggest an additional way to conceptualise and analyse interactions and provide a common vocabulary for an ecological approach. It should as a minimum provoke and support some useful discussions about networks and communities.


The following is taken from:

Heery, Rachel and Anderson, Sheila. Digital Repositories Review, UKOLN and AHDS, 2005 (Final version), section 3

How do these different types of repository interact? How far is interoperability achievable between repositories of such diverse types?

At present there is very little interoperability between repositories. For example, e-print institutional repositories are unlikely to be linked to or interact with repositories for teaching and learning. Software does not facilitate sharing services between repositories, or provide the full range of functionality that users might require - users in the broadest sense to mean those submitting content, those managing content, and those using content.

Interesting work is now emerging considering interaction between repositories in the context of the digital library and learning community (McLean and Lynch, 2004). Recent work by Blinco and others seeks to map a repository landscape, and to place some order on the present somewhat confused and fragmented picture (Blinco et al., 2004). McLean has put forward a tentative ‘ecology’ of repository services that may help to identify common services and to bring about a convergence of service domains (McLean, 2004). It would be useful to take this forward to consider commonality of services. This work usefully spans input from the US, Australia, Canada as well as the UK. It would be timely to take this forward at a technical/operational level. There is potential to expand such work to also consider research repositories, the e-science community, and corporate repositories, though mindful that scope might be too challenging.

A framework needs to established for repositories that would encompass:

  • relation between repositories
  • data flow between repositories
  • workflow issues

This would begin to address fundamental questions, such as how institutional repositories relate to thematic, subject repositories? Within institutions, how do repositories relate across the ‘service domains’ of research, learning, administration? A meeting point is required at various levels, both as regards service provision and technical infrastructure.

JISC’s role in establishing a framework for repositories might provide a co-ordinating focus for such UK activity nationally, and feed into international activity. Note: this is an area of transition, that needs to mature before mandating practice.

An ecological approach to repository and service interactions: an introductory report

An introductory report on this topic is now available:

Recent presentations

JISC Conference

R. John Robertson, Anthony Troman, Paul Needham and Susan Copeland, “Repository Ecology: EThOS, the new UK e-theses service, national and institutional repository interaction”, Presentation at JISC Conference, 13th March 2007.


R. John Robertson, "The repository ecology: an approach to understanding repository and service interactions", Presentation at OAI5, 19th April 2007.

Workshop at ECDL2007 - Towards an European repository ecology

RRT are organising a workshop a ECDL2007 relating this work to the European information environment

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

Workshop homepage: ECDL2007Workshop:Towards an European repository ecology

Upcoming events

Related work

Further reading

J. Barton and R.J. Robertson, 'Developing a metadata lifecycle model' Workshop at CoLIS 5, June 2005

Blinco, K., Mason, J., McLean, N., Wilson, S. (2004). 'White paper for alt-i-lab 2004'. Prepared on behalf of DEST (Australia) and JISC-CETIS (UK). Version 2, 19 July 2004.

Thomas H. Davenport, 'Information ecology', OUP, 1997

Rachel Heery (2006). Digital Repositories Roadmap: looking forward. Presentation given at the JISC/CNI Conference, 2006.

R. Heery and A. Powell, Digital Repositories Roadmap: looking forward

Rachel Heery and Sheila Anderson, Digital Repositories Review, UKOLN and AHDS, 2005 (Final version)

McLean, Neil. 'The Ecology of Repository Services: A Cosmic View'. Presentation given at ECDL 2004, University of Bath.

Animated presentation of the 'wheel' in action:

Anoush Margaryan, Sarah Currier, Allison Littlejohn, and David Nicol, 'Report on Learning Communities and Repositories, Community Dimensions of Learning Object Repositories', 2006

Bonnie A. Nardi, and Vicki L O’Day, First Monday Vol 4 No 5 May 3, 1999. 'Information ecologies: using technology with heart. Chapter Four: Information ecologies'.

R. J. Robertson and J. Barton, 'Optimising Metadata Workflows in a Distributed Information Environment', Digital Repositories: Interoperability and Common Services, The Foundation for Research and Technology, 11-13 May 2005 , Hellas (FORTH), Heraklion, Crete, 2005

R. John Robertson, Anthony Troman, Paul Needham and Susan Copeland, 'Repository Ecology: EThOS, the new UK e-theses service, national and institutional repository interaction', Presentation at JISC Conference, 13th March 2007

R. John Robertson, 'Repository ecologies' Presentation at OAI 5, April 2007,