I have never worked in the academic sector, but I have had miserable experiences looking for locked up and guarded content from institutions. But in recent years the rise of the digital institutional repository has helped me many a time to find and access great content. Imagine my surprise to learn that the humble cover sheet could be playing a role in my ability to locate content.
Researchers at the University of Bath believe that the cover sheet is harmful. Their paper argues the cons and some pros for the use of the repository coversheet, coming to the conclusion that is it a ‘devisive phenomenon’. Strong stuff indeed!
It has never crossed my mind before that it may be a source of such controversy. Yet I do know that any aspect of a record (and its metadata) has significance for a search outcome and discoverability. I am intrigued, as although much of what I have read pertains to the academic institution, I see the relevance and significance for the commercial setting that has its own versions of institutional repository.
As a researcher I am not only driven by finding content, I am also interested in context too. It would seem sensible to me that any material produced by a person within an organisation – whether academic or business – needs some sort of identifier if published. A person(s), the institution, a date, a URL, the version, grant funded or not (and by whom), all seems reasonable.
The Bath authors note that cover sheet use has risen due to the need for marketing institutional content and branding. That may indeed be the case, yet as a researcher this has value. I also want to know the source for content and I want to be able to cite content accurately. I am like the bumble bee dropping the institutional nectar all over the place, taking it way beyond it started. That has to be a good thing.
The crux of the matter is concerned with mainly fixed layout formats such as PDF where the addition of a cover sheet is time consuming and presents extra resource and technical commitments. The Bath team consider the low discoverability of institutional content and whether a cover sheet has a negative, positive or neutral impact and present a survey.
In the UK cover sheets are adopted widely, yet the methods are not uniform. There does seem to be a clear need for relevant information to be collected, but whether this is embedded into the document is not straight forward. This would obviously open up the floodgates for other types of content to have embedded cover type sheets such as data sets. I liked their idea of holding the cover sheet content in metadata fields, that would certainly help discoverability but it could lose some of the context of the work itself such as part of a series of work or grant funded that researchers find useful in putting evidence jigsaws together.
The PDF cover pages, whether they be automatically generated or not, have helped me a great deal to discover great content. In the past this would have been difficult to access for the institution outsider. When I do a Google search and I find a document that has a title, authors, version, and that it has been made available via an e_Pub university service my heart soars. I truly appreciate the technical and resource issues inserting covers but in the longer term without this extra content it does make discoverability hard. It is a chicken and egg – with greater discoverability there is credit.
For me collecting and storing content within an organisation, for the sole purpose of collecting and storing is useless. Make that content work for you – whether it is branding, marketing, raising the profile of researchers, gaining extra funding for research.
I say keep the cover sheet!
Joanna Ptolomey is a freelance information specialist who specializes in how people/organisation/communities find, use, share and manage information in health. In particular, developing technology platforms, via aliss.org, as well as facilitating and supporting the journey of change, developing supporting educational material.