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A Brief History of eCommons

A lot of eCommons history is ingrained in institutional memory, so I thought I would take a stab at documenting it a bit. Much of what follows was gleaned from a 2008 white paper by the CUL IR task force, whose members included Terry Ehling, Peter Hirtle, Eileen Keating, George Kozak, Mary Newhart, Joy Paulson, David Ruddy, John Saylor (chair), Gail Steinhart, Patrick Stevens, and Glen Wiley. I’ve also passed this by a couple of eCommons veterans, but take responsibility for any errors or omissions (and welcome corrections!).

The first CUL-developed repository resembling something like an institutional repository was the Cornell University Library Technical Reports and Papers system, begun in 1999 and built on an early version of the DPubs platform. It was originally populated with content from the Networked Computer Science Technical Reference Library (NCSTRL), which had been hosted by Cornell’s Computer Science Department. Faculty were encouraged to deposit to the CUL-based repository, regardless of departmental affiliation, though few outside of CS chose to do so. Eventually the collection was migrated into CUL’s current general purpose IR, eCommons.

In 2002, Bob Cooke (then Dean of Faculty) secured funding from Atlantic Philanthropies to develop an institutional repository for Cornell on the open source DSpace platform, and we called our local instance simply “DSpace” for several years. The stated objective of the proposal was to “stimulate a fundamental reshaping and enhancement of the way research universities and their faculties function by creating an economical vehicle for openly-shared access to formerly inaccessible, but intellectually-rich digital resources, and by implementing affordable alternatives for more formal scholarly publishing.” Cooke himself was an enthusiastic and early contributor, establishing the community “Internet-First University Press (IFUP).” He also actively promoted the use of the IR to faculty; I recall watching him give his pitch at a CALS Department chairs meeting around 2005. Cooke continues to contribute to this day, primarily materials related to the history of Cornell and its faculty (including an extensive collection of faculty interviews).

In 2007, with Atlantic Philanthropy funding exhausted, John Saylor (then AUL for Scholarly Communication and Collections) convened the task force referenced earlier to review the status of the IR and make recommendations to senior library leadership for its continued support. At that time the repository was renamed “eCommons” and got a cosmetic makeover.

Since then, eCommons has grown to hold nearly 50,000 items, and now supports a much wider range of uses than originally anticipated. Here’s a quick sampling of some of the more important and distinctive collections in eCommons:

In a future post, we’ll introduce the team that keeps eCommons running. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to contact us with questions or comments.

~Gail Steinhart, Scholarly Communication Librarian


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