Posted by Rachel Proudfoot – programme – presentations from the event

Repository Fringe is an annual event in Edinburgh where anyone interested in repositories and research outputs can share experience, expertise and learn about developments in the repository field. 2017 marks the 10th Repo Fringe and this year was, in part, a celebration of how we have shared content ‘beyond borders’ over the last decade. The Research Data Leeds team explored the theme in our ‘Galactic Interfaces’ poster about working with arts and humanities researchers and data. (The poster is currently on display in the Research Hub on Level 13 of the Edward Boyle Library).

The conference offered a mix of keynote talks, short presentations, ‘birds of a feather’ sessions, posters and of course lots of informal networking over tea and biscuits.

Repositories:  problem or solution?

Shortly before the conference, Elsevier announced it had acquired BePress. Concern about the amount of control large commercial publisher have over research dissemination was a recurrent theme in the conference. This is nothing new, but we are seeing large publishers increasingly pushing into the ‘open access’ arena. Keynote Kathleen Shearer, Executive Director of COAR, suggested that, financially, Universities are as much over a barrel now with article processing charges for ‘gold’ open access articles as we were (still are) with journal ‘big deals’ and hikes in journal subscription costs. Shearer challenged the conference: are repositories helping to perpetuate a highly flawed scholarly communications system? Shearer is part of the Next Generation Repositories Working Group which will be publishing a set of recommendations in Sept 2017. She suggested we need to rethink repository design so we have ‘repositories of the web, not just on the web’. This may involve supporting peer review (another speaker pointed out Elsevier’s controversial patent of the online peer review system), improving discovery of research more than we currently do, making sure metadata is machine readable and taking a stronger lead on digital preservation. We should also develop a shared, international vision and common ways of working which reduce the risk of academic research being disproportionately shaped, controlled and charged-for by commercial interests. For Shearer, we need a more coherent alternative – and we’re certainly not there yet.

Active promotion of content

A few presentations suggested ways that repositories can promote content in addition to curating it. Gavin Willshaw from University of Edinburgh gave a great example of promotion as part of a project to digitize 17,000 PhD theses. Edinburgh have highlighted theses from notable alumni, such as Gordon Brown, Arthur Conan Doyle and Helen Pankhurst, have linked PhD theses to author pages in Wikipedia e.g. and have uploaded older theses to Wikisource, Wikimedia’s online library of out of copyright works.

Other discussion looked at what role, if any, a repository can have for impact case studies / research impact more generally. Could the repository promote research and /or capture more usage and impact data? Is there a role for repositories to host lay summaries of research to make research more accessible to a non-specialist audience – be they the ‘general public’ or researchers from other academic disciplines.

Easier, embedded metadata creation which will make researchers’ lives easier

Well, we can dream! One of the keynote speakers, Andrew Millar, outlined a vision of specialist tools designed to support an academic ‘community of practice’ which make it easier to capture metadata and contextual information as a routine part of research practice. Millar is a systems biologist and suggested Fairdom is a widely used tool which helps to capture metadata in a standard experimental workflow.

Such domain specific tools could link painlessly to shared repositories if we adopted common standards of data exchange. Tools discussed in the context were:

  •– packages documents, code and data into a zip file with manifest. Designed to be flexible across different subject areas.
  • – a way of packaging documents, models and data together using the Open Modelling EXchange format (OMEX).
  • BagIt – uses a file naming convention for structuring digital content

A presentation by Rory Macneil and Megan Hardeman demonstrated an end to end workflow, capturing information via an electronic lab notebook in the RSpace digital research platform depositing directly into the Figshare repository via an easy to use and embedded tool.

Hopefully repository uptake will increase – and we’ll get more enthusiastic engagement from researchers – if we can get closer to their everyday workflows and provide relatively pain free deposit options.


Anthea Wallace’s absolutely excellent presentation showed examples of how public domain works – either deliberately or unintentionally – have had restrictions imposed on reuse. As Wallace put it, closed licences won’t stop bad people from doing bad stuff with your data but may well stop good people doing good stuff. Wallace promoted the Copyright Cortex as a helpful resource for researchers in digital humanities. I partly mention this presentation as an excuse to use one of Wallace’s examples: the transcription of music from a human bottom in Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly delights which can you can see below. You can also listen to an adaption of the ‘Butt Music’ on YouTube.

Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly delights

More from the Fringe

Incentivising open practices – Digital Curation Centre (Authored by Sarah Jones with corrections from Dr Paul Ayris)