“What kind(s) of tool is it?”: How do university faculty & other stakeholders make sense of institutional repositories in university settings


This work-in-progress poster will present a conceptual framework for an exploratory study on how university faculty and other stakeholders make sense of institutional repository (IR), specifically, how their perceptions and interpretations influence the implementation of IR in a university setting. The framework was inspired by Orlikowski's ideas of “technology-in-practice” (2000), “technological frame” (1996), and Scott's (2001) institution theory addressing the regulative, normative, and cultural-cognitive aspects of social practices. Initial findings from two case sites (two research universities in Taiwan) will be presented in the conference.

Institutional repositories are enjoying a growing popularity among higher education and research institutions. However, existing literature indicates that, although many universities have implemented or are planning to implement an IR in their institutions, university faculty and researchers generally show a lack of interest in IRs (e.g., Ware, 2004; Van Westrienen & Lynch, 2005; Rowlands & Nicholas, 2005). Existing literature usually attribute university faculty's indifference or negative attitudes toward IRs to the following reasons. First, at the environmental level factors such as copyright limitations or a particular subject field's academic culture might prevent university faculty from depositing their works in IRs. Second, lacks of institutional mandates and/or provisions may negatively affect university faculty's participation in IR implementation. Third, personal considerations such as fear of losing control over a deposited work or preferences in using subject repositories rather than institutional repositories contribute to university faculty's low use of IRs (Pelizzari, 2004; Ware, 2004; Foster & Gibbons, 2005; Rowlands & Nicholas, 2005; Van Westrienen & Lynch, 2005). In short, existing literature by and large suggests that current problems facing IR implementation and development are “social” rather than “technological” (e.g., Gibbons, 2004; Ware, 2004; Jones, Andrew, & MacColl, 2006). The availability of easily obtained and installed IR software products such DSpace and EPrint might have further reinforced the impression that IR implementation problems are social (that is, “non-technological”) in nature among IR researchers and implementers.

This understanding, however, might have prematurely cheerled the current IR technologies and may lead to prejudiced diagnoses of IR implementation problems. First, existing literature in fact seldom examines how university faculty use IR systems in their work contexts - a rare exception is Foster & Gibbon's (2005) study. Lacks of empirical research in faculty use of IR systems prevent us from fully understand how technological designs encourage/discourage faculty's self-archiving activities in IR systems. Second, the understanding prescribes a division between “the social” and “the technological,” leading to possible blind spots in observing IR implementation - for example, neglecting technological design issues may prevent IR administrators from realizing how an IR system disrupts or fails to fit in university faculty's work practices; implementers may also fail to observe how an IR system's technological design features, due to its similarities or differences from other information technologies (e.g., a digital library; an online article submission system), affect different faculty members' perceptions and consequent uses (or non-use) of an IR system.

This researcher considers a “socio-technical” perspective (Kling, 2000; 2003) a more fruitful approach to understand IR system design and implementation problems. IR systems are an innovative technology. Like many other technological innovations, IR systems are subject to different users' interpretations - for example, faculty members and other major stakeholders such as university administrators, librarians, and technical staffers may draw from their prior experiences with other information technologies to make sense of an IR system. Social and organizational contexts also play a role in how various parties make sense of a new technology (Barley, 1986; Nardi & O'Day, 1999; Orlikowski & Gash, 1994; Orlikowski, 1996; 2000). As such, this study explores how university faculty and other major stakeholders (e.g., the university administrators, libraries, technical support staff, vendors, etc.) perceive institutional repositories and how their conceptualization of an IR system and their interpretations of the IR technology affect the use and implementation of IR. Specific research questions include:

  • RQ1: How do university faculty and other major stakeholders understand and interpret an institutional repository system?

  • RQ2: How do university faculty's perception and interpretations of an institutional repository influence their use of the system?

  • RQ3: How do other major stakeholders' perception and interpretations of an institutional repository influence their use and/or implementation practices?

This study employs methodologies of phenomenology (Von Eckhartsberg. 1986; Van Manen, 1990; Moustakas, 1994), grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1998), and the multiple case study methods (Miles & Huberman, 1994; Yin, 2003). By the time of conference this poster will present initial findings from at least two case sites (two research universities in Taiwan).