Official Publications Librarian, UCL Institute of Education Library
The UCL Institute of Education Digital Education Resource Archive (DERA) is a fully searchable open access digital repository of electronic publications published by government and other relevant organisations in the fields of education, training, children and families. Launched in 2011, the resource now contains more than 23000 documents and is visited by over 240,000 unique visitors every year. This article explains the motivation behind the creation of DERA, examines the challenges that the library has faced and outlines our plans for the future development of DERA.
The Rationale for DERA
The UCL IOE Official Publications Collection is the largest of the special collections in the library, containing printed and digital material related to state education in the United Kingdom from the mid-nineteenth century through to the present day. The collection is also unusual in that its scope reaches beyond what would usually be characterised as an “Official Publication” as it includes material produced by quangos, non-departmental public bodies, political parties, trade unions and pressure groups. The collection has served – and continues to serve as – an indispensable source of materials for researchers, particularly for those working on developments in education policy and the history of education.
The move from print towards digital Government Publications created some significant challenges for the Library in terms of ensuring that the comprehensiveness and coherence of the collection was maintained. In the past, the library catalogue linked to the URL of the digital version of a publication as well as ensuring that a print version was obtained and added to the collection. However, it soon became clear that URLs were a rather unreliable entity. Organisational change, be it due to departmental restructure, merger or even closure, led to an ever increasing number of broken links on the catalogue. Links were repaired where possible but sometimes documents would seem to disappear without a trace and the battle to maintain the integrity of the collection was becoming an increasingly time-consuming and thankless task.
The development of DERA
What eventually became known as the DERA Working Party was tasked with formulating a plan which would address the issues that were threatening the integrity of the collection. A plan for an open access repository built upon the E-Prints software platform was developed. The initial stages involved ensuring that the material harvested for the repository complied with copyright; the terms of the Open Government Licence allowed us to add a large amount of material and further permissions were sought from individual organisations to ensure that the breadth of the printed official publications collection was reflected in this new resource. The resource launched in February 2011 with access to just over 1000 documents. Pivotal to the subsequent rapid growth of DERA was the JISC funded POPE (Preserving Official Publications in Education) project which enabled the addition of 6000 documents retrospectively covering the period between 1990 and 2010. As if to confirm the need for the resource, a significant number of organisations including the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA), the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE) and the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) closed between 2010 and 2012 and all granted permission to the Library to preserve their born digital content in DERA.
Maintaining and enhancing DERA
Probably the most difficult challenge faced by the DERA Working Party in maintaining the resource has been related to copyright; in particular the use of third party images within publications. In response to this, open source software was used to identify documents within the repository that contained images that might present an IPR risk which was then assessed and redacted where necessary. A further issue, and one which will no doubt continue in the future, is related to the format in which documents are released. The vast majority of documents in DERA are PDF, however an increasing number of departmental communications are now being published in HTML. At present these are being converted into PDF and then added to the repository, but it is clear that the team will need to monitor developments here.
The introduction of a discovery platform for the UCL Institute of Education Library in the form of IOE Library Search now means that the various collections of the Library (including the Official Publications Collection and DERA) are now united through one access point. Researchers are also able to find other resources such as books, journal articles and teaching materials which might help place official documents within a broader context. Interestingly, our work with web analytics indicates that well over 70% of users arrive at a DERA document via a search engine, so it is clear that the decision to create an open access resource was fully justified. The team is now utilising web analytics to understand how we can improve the experience of users still further, focusing upon design and navigability as well as investigating the introduction of additional features for users.
DERA operates in an environment where gov.uk, parliament.uk and the UK Government Web Archive offer access to many of the documents held within DERA, and the question might be asked as to why we continue to work on this project. In our opinion, the specific focus on education and the inclusion of a broad range of materials that lie beyond the usual definition of an official publication means that DERA offers something unique to researchers. Our vision for the resource has evolved and we see DERA as a tool that will enable researchers to view the wider impact of educational policy upon society. This will be achieved through our continued efforts to increase the scope of DERA to include the output of longitudinal academic research projects, think tanks, trade unions and political parties. Consequently we believe that DERA has established itself as a unique and valuable resource for all researchers with an interest in educational policy and practice.
Evans, R. (2012), The Digital Education Resource Archive (DERA) one year on – lessons learned, plans for the future. ALISS Quarterly, Vol 7, no. 3.
Scaife, B.M. (2011), From Link Rot to Web Sanctuary: Creating the Digital Educational Resource Archive (DERA). Ariadne, Issue 67, 4.
Refer 31 (2) Summer 2015