On-line institutional repositories

THIS WEEK Netspeak discusses the "on-line institutional repository,'' an innovative information dissemination concept that has been developed to capture/preserve/distribute intellectual output of universities and research establishments.

Universities and research institutions are the main information and knowledge generation sources. Though new ideas and thoughts emanate everyday from these knowledge production centres through seminars, discussions, assignments and working papers, only a small portion of them (the published research papers) reaches the public and other peer institutes.

As professional journals and working papers are the major information dissemination vehicles, most activities that take place inside the universities and research organisations go unnoticed. Even the information that gets disseminated through professional journals fails to reach many serious researchers as most of them do not have access to costly scientific journals.

One solution put forward to control this unnecessary waste of intellectual output is that the organisations should publish their intellectual output online so that it can be accessed by anyone from any place on the web. That is, the organisations should create a mechanism that can capture/store/disseminate the various information products generated by the researchers and academicians.

This kind of self-publication software/hardware infrastructure created by an organisation is called an "online institutional repository.'' A repository will certainly contain the necessary tools that help the researchers of an organisation self-publish their research output. It not only enables a person interested in an organisation's intellectual output to access it, but it also has the potential to enhance the prestige of the organisation by attracting the attention of other researchers worldwide.


DSpace (, developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is a typical example of an institutional repository that can `capture/store/organise digital works, distribute the products over the web and preserve them for future access.' A DSpace site is divided into communities (representing different departments — Ocean Engineering is an example), which are further divided into collections (group of related content under a community — example: design project reports). Each collection is composed of items (example: a specific report). The DSpace system provides the necessary mechanism that enables the authorised users to submit their materials and access the content published by others.

To experiment with an online repository, try out the MIT's implementation of DSpace ( This open source software, available for free download, can be used by any organisation to create its own repositories.

An excellent paper on Institutional Repositories by the SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition): Release_102.pdf

A technical description of the DSpace system: architecture.pdf

University of California Digital Repositories: https://repositories.cdlib. org/


Though there are many centres of excellence for teaching and learning worldwide, only a blessed minority of students gets the opportunity to join the courses run by them. Naturally, people coming from other less-resourceful institutions would be relegated to the background when they compete with the students from the prestigious institutions. A recent decision of the highly acclaimed and world's one of the most prestigious educational institutions, MIT, to make available the materials of the various courses run by its different departments online for free download is an attempt to minimise this inequality.

A few weeks ago, MIT has published a small sample of its rich course materials enabling anybody with web access to view/download such materials as the syllabus, lecture notes and assignments. MIT calls this OpenCourseWare ( as it follows the ethos of open source software. The significance of this attempt is that it provide an opportunity for students/teachers/ educationists to get exposed to high-quality teaching materials, syllabus and teaching methods that are hitherto available only to the students and teachers of MIT. Many academic units of MIT including engineering and computer science, linguistics and philosophy, mathematics, mechanical engineering, physics and political science have already published some of their courses for the public. This endeavour of sharing course materials to enrich the quality of learning worldwide has been widely welcomed as indicated by a report, which claims that "more than 13 million hits''were recorded on the MIT's site ( in the first week after the course materials appeared on-line.

Many netizens keep their files on the FTP servers so that they can be accessed at from any where on the web. But one constraint of storing the files on the remote FTP servers is that if we want to edit a file, it has to be downloaded from the server and after editing the file has to be uploaded again. This can be quite a cumbersome process.

Xpandesk: A program to expand your desktop

When we run several programs simultaneously, the desktop gets flooded with program windows and becomes quite difficult to manage. One solution to avoid this desktop clutter is to create several virtual desktops with each desktop configured to contain only a few related applications. When you work with one virtual desktop only, the applications assigned to this desktop will be visible. There are many programs available that can be used to create virtual desktops and NetSpeak has earlier already featured some of them.

The software, XpanDesk, published by the PC Magazine, is one of this kind that is worth trying. Using this free software, you can create nine virtual desktops. The program after installation places an icon on the system tray that can be used to configure different virtual desktops. For more details, check out:, 4149,583212,00.asp.

J. Murali