Western’s open-source repository for research, Scholarship@Western, has reached 10 million downloads in a little more than 10 years.
Originally intended to be an electronic host site just for graduate students’ theses and dissertations, the database evolved to hosting about 30,000 digital objects including conference presentations, videos, audio and webinars, providing a valuable free-to-use multi-media research and reference tool for scholars across the globe.
It’s hard to know exactly which paper put it over the top into double-digit downloads, said Joanne Paterson, head of research and scholarly communication at Western Libraries, which manages Scholarship@Western.
But a detailed list shows downloads in more than 1,100 disciplines ranging from anthropology to zoology and every -ology in between.
The top three most-downloaded papers are a good example of the scope:
- About 104,000 downloads of a 2012 thesis by then-student Lauren Friedman that assesses two screening tools used to detect cognitive impairment in patients who have had a stroke;
- More than 36,000 downloads of a 2014 paper by student Emily Konantz examining the effect on test scores of listening to music while studying;
- About 35,000 downloads of a 2011 engineering thesis by Meranda Salem of a process intended to improve spot welds used in vehicle manufacturing.
Those who read and/or download Scholarship@Western’s resources come from almost everywhere – from 236 countries as diverse as Afghanistan and Zambia – and from every continent, including one download from McMurdo Research Station in the Antarctic.
Researchers from other universities are the most frequent, but users also include commercial, government and non-government organizations.
Before Scholarship@Western came along, graduate students were required to submit print copies of their theses and dissertations. In the Internet’s infancy, academic papers might be submitted to a website, or to specialty research publications either in print or behind a paywall.
A rudimentary version of the repository started in 2006, ramped up in 2009, then took flight in 2011 after a three-month pilot project showed that it saved time, money and headaches, Paterson said.
She recalled how, in a former job, she sometimes needed information from an academic journal but couldn’t gain access to it because the institution didn’t subscribe.
“Alumni and postdoctoral students come up against paywalls; people who graduate and go to work for businesses and NGOs and not-for-profits come up against paywalls,” she said. “And so, this is why publishing openly in a repository is a way of giving back to the community. It’s a way of making information equitable.”
For Western, it’s also an investment in global knowledge-sharing
“Open access is ‘free’ as in kittens,” Paterson said. “Someone’s paying for this. There’s still a cost for the infrastructure. So, we provide an infrastructure so that someone can publish something openly.”
Western also has an open access task force that’s examining how the university community can best advance a core mission to disseminate knowledge for the benefit of society.