Institutional repository infrastructure: a survey of Ghanaian public universities

Osman Imoro (Department of Information Science, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa and Sam Jonah Library, University of Cape Coast, Cape Coast, Ghana)
Nampombe Saurombe (Department of Information Science, University of South Africa - Muckleneuk Campus, Pretoria, South Africa)

Collection and Curation

ISSN: 2514-9326

Article publication date: 4 April 2023

Issue publication date: 2 January 2024

1364

Abstract

Purpose

Ghanaian public universities have fully embraced the concept of open access. This is evident in the increasing numbers of institutional repositories (IRs) by universities in Ghana. However, to ensure the sustainability of these IRs, it is vital the current IR infrastructure is capable of responding to current and future demands. The purpose of this study is to investigate the sustainability of the current IR infrastructure of public universities in Ghana.

Design/methodology/approach

The convergent parallel mixed methods design was adopted. A total of 830 respondents comprising IR managers, library staff (digitisation and e-resources units), postgraduate students, lecturers and university librarians from five public universities in Ghana were sampled for this study. A questionnaire and a semi-structured interview guide were the main instruments used for data collection.

Findings

The findings of this study revealed that the IR infrastructure of public universities in Ghana is robust and has the capacity to expand when the need arises. However, funding, cost of internet connectivity, personnel and erratic power supply were identified as major challenges confronting IRs in Ghana.

Originality/value

This study highlighted Ghana's existing IR infrastructure situation. This study is a significant contribution to the literature from West Africa because there is not much research on IR infrastructure from this part of the world.

Keywords

Citation

Imoro, O. and Saurombe, N. (2024), "Institutional repository infrastructure: a survey of Ghanaian public universities", Collection and Curation, Vol. 43 No. 1, pp. 1-7. https://doi.org/10.1108/CC-11-2022-0038

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Osman Imoro and Nampombe Saurombe.

License

Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial & non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at http://creativecommons.org/licences/by/4.0/legalcode


Introduction

Repositories emerged out of human efforts to organise records for storage, preservation and long-term use. Repositories have long existed in the form of libraries, museums and archives (Huvila, 2016; Torres, 2016). From the era of clay tablets and papyrus to books and e-resources, technological innovations have shaped the nature and format of the collections stored by these repositories; institutional repositories (IRs) are no exception.

The concept of IRs began with the launch of the DSpace project in 2000 (Callicott et al., 2016; Mackenzie, 2002). However, it gained global attention as a result of global open access (OA) initiatives such as the Budapest OA Initiative in 2002, Berlin Declaration on OA to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities in 2003 and Bethesda Statement on OA Publishing in 2003 that sought to remove all access barriers to scholarly and scientific information (Kodua-Ntim and Fombad, 2020; Callicott et al., 2016). Since then, the growth of IRs has soared partly because of the rapid growth of e-resources and its attendant challenges to usage, management and preservation (Ternenge and Kashimana, 2019; Tiwari and Gandotra, 2018).

In an era of digital publishing and archiving, academic and research institutions are increasingly recognising IRs as an important component of modern-day scholarly communication, preservation and dissemination (Saini, 2018). While most academic and scholarly databases can only be accessed only by subscription, research papers archived in IRs are totally free (Tsay et al., 2017). The Alfa Network Babel Library (2007:63) believes that the free availability or access to the content of IRs is a feature that could help enhance collaboration among both local and international research institutions seeking to expand the frontier of knowledge through open science and data.

Contextual setting

There is increased adoption of IRs by universities in Ghana. Currently, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, University of Ghana, University of Cape Coast, University of Education, Winneba and University for Development Studies are the only public universities in Ghana with functional IRs (OpenDOAR, 2023). These IRs were created to promote academic scholarship, productivity and prestige, as well as to boost the global visibility and utility of the institutions’ research (Tiwari and Gandotra, 2018). Despite its numerous benefits, the setting up of IRs requires significant financial investments. The infrastructural cost for the implementation of an IR is estimated to be in the range of US$ 20,500 and US$76,500 (Royal Society, 2022; Burns et al., 2013). Given the high cost of setting up repositories, it is imperative that existing IR infrastructure possesses the capability to expand to meet current and future demands. This study, therefore, examined the state of existing IR infrastructure in Ghana.

Purpose of the study

The purpose of this study is to investigate the sustainability of the current IR infrastructure of public universities in Ghana.

Study objectives

The objectives of this study are to determine:

  • the technical specifications of IRs in Ghana;

  • the types of documents that are archived in IRs in Ghana; and

  • the infrastructural challenges that confront IRs in Ghana.

Literature review

Software

Software platforms for IRs can either be open source (OS) or proprietary. Statistics from the ROAR indicate that as of February 2023, there were 30 known IR software platforms used by 4,750 repositories globally (ROAR, 2023). Among these, OS software platforms were the most commonly used. Most IR software platforms are issued either under a Berkeley Software Distribution OS License or a GNU General Public License and are freely available for download.

In addition to Open Source Software (OSS), there are also subscription-based IR platforms. Subscription-based IR platforms are increasingly gaining prominence in the IR space because of their potential to reduce total ownership cost and construction time (Upasani, 2016; Bankier and Gleason, 2014). However, many proponents of OSS believe that organisational structure of OSS and the subsequent development of dedicated online communities or user groups are key features which, together with compatibility and ease of customisation, make OSS a cost-effective option (Ray and Ramesh, 2017; Sreekumar, 2007). Despite these, most libraries, especially those in developing countries, do not have the requisite IT personnel with the needed technical sophistication to install and maintain OSS (Upasani, 2016; Chaudhari and Patel, 2019), making proprietary software their only option.

However, the distinction between OS and proprietary library systems has started to blur because of the increased dominance of commercial support services by software vendors and consulting firms (Corbett et al., 2016). As libraries today have a host of software solutions or platforms to choose from, they focus on choosing software with features and capabilities to address the needs of their clients to make their repositories globally competitive.

DSpace

DSpace is an OS IR software platform originally created by developers from MIT and HP Labs in 2002 for the collection and preservation of digitised research material (MacKenzie, 2002). The platform offer libraries the opportunity to capture information resources in a variety of formats and distributes these resources over the internet. It is the most used OS IR platform globally (Corbett et al., 2016; Tzoc, 2016). As of February 2023, 2,400 repositories of the 6,001 registered repositories use the DSpace platform (OpenDOAR, 2023). Similarly, data from the ROAR showed that 2,380 repositories use DSpace (ROAR, 2023), making it by far the most commonly used and widely tested digital archiving solution available to most libraries.

Prominent among it numerous benefits are its built-in workflows model, metadata standards, an active community of developers, customisable front ends and a growing list of service providers (Tzoc, 2016). The submission of content onto the DSpace platform follows a hierarchical workflow model that reflects institutional polices, practices and procedures (Naik and Naik, 2019). The workflow model defines the steps a submitted item would have to undergo before it is finally archived. The workflow model is designed to ensure that accepted submissions are free from errors and have undergone the standard editorial review.

EPrints

EPrints was developed by the University of Southampton with sponsorship from CogPrints (Tansley and Harnad, 2000). It is the first professional software platform for building high-quality repositories that are compliant with the open archives initiative protocol for metadata harvesting (Beazley, 2011; EiFL, 2011). EPrints uses a Web-based command line that operates on the Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP/Perl/Python architecture (Thiagarajan, 2013). Its configuration files are written in Perl/XML, making it possible to run successfully on common operating systems such as Linux, Mac and Windows. This makes EPrints an easy choice for many institutions seeking to set up a repository within a limited time period (Beazley, 2011). Once the setup is completed, users can upload documents with the requisite metadata by filling out a simple Web form.

Despite its numerous benefits, such as improved metadata quality, reduced deposit time, high Google Scholar optimisation, RSS feeds and email alerts (Tansley and Harnad, 2000), EPrints is not without its challenges. One major challenge is the inadequate literature on the installation and management of an EPrints repository. As per the feedback provided by many experts and other technical reviewers, the installation, configuration and management of an EPrints repository are not difficult (Verma and Kumar, 2018; Thiagarajan, 2013). However, the scarcity of literature and online support forums makes it installation and management a daunting task for novice users. A study by Leng et al. (2016) revealed that the Wawasan Open University had to look for other alternatives after two years of implementing EPrints because of configuration and enhancement challenges. This was largely attributed to technical support and the lack of programming expertise. This, therefore, would require that libraries have in-house programmers or experienced IT support staff, which can be herculean task for most libraries in Africa, especially in this era of dwindling library budgets.

Hardware

Hardware continues to be one of the critical choices for the establishment of any IT infrastructure. This is because without the hardware, the system will simply not work. The software selection that is made would eventually have to be installed or accessed by a hardware. The decision on the choice of hardware depends largely on the kind of repository an institution would like to build, as well their software choices. For example, if an institution selects a hosted service, then a desk computer or laptop, a scanner and an internet connection might be the only hardware required (Okumu, 2015, p. 28). However, the majority of the Open Access Institutional Repositories in Africa are developed in-house using OA software and would, therefore, require local servers to host them (Okumu, 2015). The specification of such local server(s) is determined by the quantum of data intended to be archived (Okumu, 2015, p. 28), as well as its intended functions or services. These local servers must be operated under controlled temperatures to avoid overheating and subsequent disruption of service. This requires that servers are kept in spacious, air-conditioned rooms and protected against power fluctuations, virus attacks and hackers.

Also, IRs built in-house must have a contingency or backup plan that allows IR managers to transfer or mirror valuable IR data onto remote servers. These servers are usually kept secured on offsite locations and, therefore, can be a valuable reference point in times of disaster, such as fire outbreaks, floods or simply a server crash. While the majority of the IRs run on local servers, there seems to be a strong preference for cloud-based hosted services (Smith and Bishoff, 2015; Younglove, 2013). However, it must be noted that whatever service option an institution chooses will require some level of investment in hardware.

Methodology

The study was designed based on the convergent parallel mixed methods design. A total of 830 respondents comprising IR managers, library staff (digitisation and e-resources units), postgraduate students, lecturers and university librarians from five public universities University of Ghana; University of Cape Coast; the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology; University of Education, Winneba; and University for Development Studies in Ghana were sampled for the study. The main instruments used for data collection were a questionnaire and a semi-structured interview guide. The internal consistency reliability of sections of the research instruments was tested using Cronbach’s alpha. The reliability co-efficient of the questionnaire items ranged between 0.70 and 0.97. Interviews were personally conducted by the researcher, while questionnaires were administered with the help of five research assistants. The recorded interviews were transcribed and analysed using NVivo software. The data collected through questionnaires was analysed descriptively using the SPSS software.

Findings and discussions

Technical specifications of institutional repositories in Ghana

Data in Table 1 shows that all IRs surveyed are using ninth generation servers with a processor speed ranging from 1.90 to 3.5 GHz. These ninth generation servers use the Intel Core microarchitecture that is designed to optimise the performance, energy efficiency and scalability of multi-core processors (Hewlett-Packard, 2016; Riwzan et al., 2006). Thereby, these servers provide a cost-efficient solution for diverse repository workloads (Hewlett-Packard, 2016) and offer libraries the opportunity to host a variety of services at lower cost and improve efficiency.

Analysis of the interview transcripts revealed that the IRs surveyed run on local servers at a Network Operation Centre with backup servers in the library. By running repositories on local servers, libraries are able to have greater control and access over their repository infrastructure. Further analysis based on the server specifications clearly indicates that IRs of public universities in Ghana have the capacity to expand when the need arises. However, library management must collaborate with central administration and the main IT department to ensure continuous investment into current IR systems to sustain the gains in response to current and future demands.

Data in Table 1 shows that DSpace is the only repository software used by public universities in Ghana. A probe on the reasons for the choice of DSpace revealed that cost, availability, community of support and ease of use were the major reasons that informed the choice of DSpace:

The truth of the matter is that is cost and at the time IR was introduced in the university, that was the software available. Also, when setting up our IR we had support from the African Library and Information Associations and Institutions and they recommended DSpace. And so, the university also used DSpace. Currently I do not know of any university in the country that is using any other software apart from DSpace:

DSpace, because it has proper maintenance cost saving, good information security, cost-effectiveness, and it is very common in our parts of the world. It offers speed and is user friendly and, lastly, it is flexible and offers multiple ways for solving problems.

It is clear that cost was a major deciding factor for libraries in Ghana, considering the strict budget and financial conundrum that most libraries in Ghana are usually faced with. However, it was interesting to note that most of the IRs surveyed choose Dspace because it was recommended to them by a “sister-library” or institution. This is largely attributed to the lack of requisite IT personnel with the needed technical sophistication to install and try-out other IR systems, particularly during the initial implementation stages. There is, therefore, the need to build local expertise on the installation and management of a variety of IR systems which can be tapped into by new institutions looking to set up repositories in Ghana.

Document archived in institutional repositories in Ghana

Analysis of the interview transcripts obtained from the interviews with IR managers and university librarians revealed that documents archived included theses and dissertations, research papers or articles, books, conference proceedings and other publications of the universities (e.g. speeches, inaugural lectures, committee reports, etc.). This was affirmed by the content analysis of the documents archived in the selected repositories as provided in Table 2.

Table 2 shows that research articles, theses and dissertations constituted 90.5% of the documents archived IRs in Ghana. This is clearly because students and faculty members are the main producers of knowledge within public universities in Ghana. The knowledge produced through research activities carried out by faculty members and students is usually packaged as theses, dissertations and research articles. This is not surprising, as the primary mandate of public universities in Ghana revolves around teaching, learning, research and community services. This finding affirms views expressed by Abrizah (2009) that students and faculty members’ contributions are vital to the successful deployment of IRs in academic institution, as they are the primary depositors of IRs in many academic institutions.

Data in Table 2 also shows that thesis and dissertation were the most (46.7% and n = 21,293) archived document by public universities in Ghana. This finding was in accordance with the results of previous studies (Sale, 2006; Pickton and McKnight, 2006; Palmer et al., 2008). This can be attributed to the fact that public universities have mandatory deposit policy for thesis and dissertations. This was evident from the following interview extract:

Ok so the policy that is in existence now is a bit passive for faculty submissions. We most of the time have to look for faculty publication that were published open access, download and archive them in the IR. That is why in my earlier submission I stated that it is important to have management support in pushing them to do the right thing as far as deposit is concern. For thesis and dissertation, Graduate School furnishes us with them copies of submitted thesis annually for archive.

Infrastructural challenges

Data in Table 3 shows that 60.8% of the respondents agreed to a high extent (means = 3.57 and SD = 1.13) that infrastructural challenges threaten the sustainability of IRs in Ghana. Specifically, 57.9% of the respondents stated that unreliable internet connectivity to a high extent (means = 3.56 and SD = 1.25) hindered their access to and use of IRs:

The cost of internet is really a major constraint to students’ access to our online product particularly outside the campus. Even on campus not all facilities have reliable internet connections.

According to the Alliance for Affordable Internet (2014), the cost of internet data remains too high for the average Ghanaian. Even though Ghana was ranked as having one of the lowest internet data prices in Africa (Faria, 2021; Sasu, 2021), the cost for 1 GB of data ranged between US$0.66 and US$3.47 in 2021. This is exceedingly high for many Ghanaians, considering the minimum daily wage is US$2.07 (Norden, 2021), making internet access a luxury for many people. This finding is in line with previous studies conducted in Africa that also identified the high cost of internet connectivity and adequate bandwidth as major challenges for many individuals, particularly students, and institutions on the continent (Bhardwaj and Banks, 2019, p. 166) seeking to provide or have access to online educational resources. The high cost of internet bandwidth has resulted in many academic institutions in Ghana subscribing to very low bandwidth packages, resulting into very slow and frustrating attempts or experiences when accessing IRs.

Although most of the institutions surveyed had made significant investments into IT infrastructure by creating wireless internet access points on their campuses, 50.1% of the respondents stated that to a moderate extent (means = 3.40 and SD = 1.14) inadequate Information Communication Technology infrastructure hindered their access to and use of their institution’s repository. This can be attributed to the fact that these wireless internet access points do not spread across the whole campus, and students have to converge in a specific area, usually the library, to have a signal strength adequate enough to access content from the repository. This greatly affects usage, as IRs are supposed to be openly accessible irrespective of the time and place.

The poor quality of electricity supply was also identified by 46.4% of the respondents to have challenged their usage of IRs to a moderate extent. This finding was in line with studies by Oguche (2018), Fasae et al. (2017) and Siyao et al. (2017), which identified unstable power supply as a major challenge that confronts successful implementation and uses of IRs. However, it was observed that most of the libraries surveyed had procured standby generators as a backup to keep library systems running in case of power outages to ensure continuous access. However, this adds up to the operational costs of IRs because of the additional expenditure for backup generators and fuel. This makes repository management a very difficult and expensive venture and has the potential of bringing many IR projects in Ghana to its knees, irrespective of tremendous gains.

The results in Table 3 indicate that 65.1% of the respondents agreed to a high extent (means = 3.85 and SD = 1.14) that the lack of technical staff for system development and management of IRs poses a great challenge to the sustainability of IRs in public universities in Ghana. This is in line with findings by previous studies that found that the technological expertise to effectively manage repositories or other IT systems is either non-existent in most academic libraries in Africa or inadequate (Dzandza, 2020; Oguche, 2018). This is a conundrum, as it seems that the library profession keeps evolving, but its professionals do not seem to be abreast with the needed skills and competencies to keep pace with changes within their own profession. These changes, which are spearheaded by technology, have brought about an ever-broadening array of innovative devices and applications that have become associated with libraries. Therefore, there is a need for libraries to have staff with the necessary training, competencies and skills to effectively and efficiently manage these systems.

The interview transcripts revealed that academic libraries in Ghana seem to be tackling this problem through the recruitment of system librarians. The idea behind the recruitment of system librarians is to have personnel with the requisite training and experience in librarianship and library systems to solve strong technical problems that confront the deployment of IT systems in libraries. The recruitment of such personnel has become critical, as many academic libraries in Ghana, apart from establishing IRs, are increasingly expanding the services they provide through the use of technology. Also, there is the need for library schools to integrate core IT courses, such as networking, database management and internet and Web-based resource management into the training and education of librarians, as these skills have been become an essential skill set for the 21st century librarian. However, it must be noted that such solutions would require adequate financial and personal investments, particularly for practicing librarians. It is, therefore, imperative that the management of academic libraries takes a holistic approach to solving this problem through policy and budget allocations.

Conclusions

There is no doubt that OA to scholarly and academic information has attracted the attention of public universities in Ghana. This is evident by the increasing establishment of IRs. As revealed in this study, all the public universities surveyed representing 33.3% of public universities in Ghana have fully functional IRs and digitisation units. This offered universities the opportunity to showcase their intellectual resources to a worldwide audience, thereby improving upon its visibility and prestige. However, to ensure the sustainability of these IRs, it was important to examine the capacity of the IR infrastructure to respond to future trends and demands. The study revealed that the IR infrastructure of public universities in Ghana has the capacity to expand when the need arises. However, there is a need for continuous investment into the current IR infrastructure to sustain the gains and ensure the longevity or sustainability of IRs in Ghana.

Recommendations

Based on the findings of this study, the following recommendations are made for consideration by various stakeholders of IRs in Ghana:

  • Funding for the purchase of new equipment and the cost of recurrent expenditure is still a challenge for IR management. Therefore, IR managers and administrators must seek external funding sources to ensure the smooth operation and management of their IRs.

  • It is recommended that governments work with telecommunication companies to ensure a reduction in the cost of internet data for accessing educational content. This has become even more necessary as universities in Ghana are increasingly embracing online and hybrid teaching models.

  • Although the recruitment of systems librarians seems to be a panacea for the lack of technical staff required for the development and management of IRs, there is still the need for continuous professional development training. It is, therefore, recommended that professional associations in Ghana such as the Ghana Library Association and the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Ghana make the organisation of training workshops or webinars on emerging IR trends a key component of its yearly activities.

  • Technological advancement has brought about an increasing array of systems and applications that have become associated with libraries. This calls for librarians to have theoretical and practical knowledge in the use and management these systems. It is, therefore, recommended that the curriculum of library schools in Ghana be revised periodically to reflect emerging technological trends.

Institutional repository specifications

Institution IR server specification IR software
BrandTypeMemory sizeProcessor speedProcessor typeHard disk space
UG Dell PowerEdge T40 8 GB 3.5 GHz Intel Xeon E-2224G 1 TB DSpace
6.3
KNUST HP ProLiant DL360-G9 128 GB 2.1 GHz Intel Xeon E305.3965 4.8 TB DSpace
5.8
UCC Dell ProLiant DL380-G9 15 GB 1.90 GHz Intel Xeon E5-2609 260 GB DSpace 5.8
UEW HP ProLiant DL360-G9 128 GB 2.1 GHz Intel Xeon E305.3965 4.8 TB DSpace 6.2
UDS HP ProLiant DL360-G9 32 GB 2.3 GHz Intel Xeon E5-2650 1.8 TB DSpace
5.8

Source: Table by authors, 2022

Documents archived in institutional repositories in Ghana

Document type F %
Theses and dissertations 21,293 46.7
Journals 1,980 4.3
Research articles 19,971 43.8
Book reviews 84 0.2
Conference/seminar proceedings 480 1.1
Work in progress 6 0.0
Heritage materials/special collections 521 1.1
Lectures and speeches 654 1.4
Newsletters and newspapers 70 0.2
Institutional policies 226 0.5
Committee reports 116 0.3
United Nation’s reports 229 0.5
Teaching notes 1 0.0
Total 45,631 100.0
Source:

Table by authors, 2022

Infrastructural challenges to the sustainability of institutional repositories in Ghana

Challenges F % Mean SD
Limited budget for purchasing equipment 652 85.0 4.05 1.19
Unreliable internet connectivity 444 57.9 3.84 1.15
Unreliable power supply 356 46.4 3.45 1.20
Inadequate ICT infrastructure 384 50.1 3.40 1.14
Lack of technical staff for system development and management 499 65.1 3.85 1.14
Difficulty in backing up data 460 60.0 2.85 0.93
Overall mean 60.8 3.57 1.13
Note:

n = 767

Source: Table by authors, 2022

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Corresponding author

Nampombe Saurombe can be contacted at: mnkennp@unisa.ac.za

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