When Shakespeare’s Juliet (Romeo and Juliet II, ii, 1-2) utters the famous line “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” she may have scrunched her nose and changed her mind regarding the name “Institutional Repository.”  Perhaps this word brings to mind that “cold sepulchre” where she and Romeo laid down their lives (“Let’s leave this cold sepulchre for Verona’s warm embrace”).

Mike Furlough seems to concur in his witty and insightful article “What We Talk About When We Talk About Repositories” from Reference & User Services Quarterly (volume 49, issue 1). As an Assistant Dean for Scholarly Communications for Penn State University and with exposure to multiple digital scholarship initiatives, he should know.  He starts off immediately discussing how he dislikes the word “repository” – primarily because it obscures its meaning and function, and in essence works against it in positioning, marketing, and defining an institutional repository.  The word “repository” conjures up a number of distasteful and unhelpful connotations.  One wonders whether those parties involved in naming institutional repositories bothered to look up what the word meant and implied.

Dictonary.com defines it as:

  • receptacle (Ok, this is bad.  Trash bins and toilets are receptacles.)
  • burial place (The final resting place.)
  • sepulcher (Scholarly ghosts, anyone?)
  • warehouse (Dusty, never to be seen again.)
  • where things are deposited or stored (deposit as in a bank account?)
  • stockroom (How many cans of Spam do we have left?)
  • store room (Dusty again.)
  • safe, vault (You can deposit but you can’t get out.)

Repositorium: (I don’t think this sounds any better and sounds slightly like a place for bodily eliminations, such as the the word “vomitorium” falsely implies.) Its origin comes from word “repositorium – meaning “that in which anything is placed.” (Again, laid to rest, not active, dormant.) The word “repositorium” actually means a “place for the storage of valuables, as in an ancient Roman temple or church.”

Interestingly, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary also defines “repository” as something that “contains or stores something nonmaterial.  Nonmaterial?  This brings to mind a common term used in 2005 for the University of California Irvine Institutional Repository Initiative known as “the black hole.”  It brought fear to many professors that their hard-wrought research would disappear into this “vacuous” space.

With the initial much-ballyhooed IR hype evidenced in the referenced 2002 paper from The Chronicle of Higher Education as “superarchives” that “could hold all scholarly output,” the Chronicle followed just two years later with “Papers Wanted: Online Archives Run by Universities Struggle to Attract Material.”  Dorothea Salo dared to touch this modern “Ark of the Covenant” (“touch this issue and you will fry”) and reveal its “data comes in but it doesn’t come out” roach motel status in “Innkeeper at the Roach Motel.”  Certainly, Salo’s article tapped into an underlying resonance felt by an accepting and grateful audience regarding the reality of managing an IR.  IRs seem to need more marketing, branding and positioning than is required of other digital libraries and collections.  Defining what an IR is and should be is critical, and as Furlough notes, there is quite a bit of active stuff that is required of a fully-functional IR.

Needless to say, its “service” aspect is hidden by its clunky and inactive name.  Where is the support and interest that can be seen for IRs when discussing “cloud computing” and “digital libraries?”  I recently attended a seminar by OCLC discussing the phenomenon of cloud computing.  The presenter displayed a gorgeous diagram of what “exciting” resources and services are available in the “cloud.”  All the cool stuff, or “branded” stuff was situated prominently together in this massive visualization map.  However, I noticed that only one item was positioned all by itself in the “cloud map” in the dark recesses of the PowerPoint slide. Oh, what a surprise.  It’s our beleaguered “Institutional Repository.'”

Perhaps a name change is in order.

  • How about branding it like a product?  Say “Digital Scholar.”
  • How about googling the name? Say “Institoogle.”
  • How about only giving it an acronym with a cooler name?  Say “IDL” (Institutional Digital Library) or “SDL” (Scholarly Digital Library).
  • How about “Salo-izing” it? Say “Roachmaster.”
  • How about adding the cool cloud factor to it: Say “IR Cloud.”
  • If can’t change name, put some hipper connotations to the IR acronym.  Say “IR 2.0.”  We all want to know 2.0 or 3.0.
  • Better yet, say “IRX.”  The X doesn’t mean anything but makes it sound fast and nifty like a BMW with that cool “X” factor.

What do you think IRs should be called?  OK, folks, keep it clean.