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oa@inaf, the Open Access Repository of the National Institute for Astrophysics

In 2017 the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) decided to adopt an open access institutional repository for collecting all its scientific production. Features and problems related to the creation and implementation of the repository are described here.

Published onApr 27, 2022
oa@inaf, the Open Access Repository of the National Institute for Astrophysics


In 2017 the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) decided to adopt an open access institutional repository for collecting all its scientific production and the INAF Scientific Directorate welcomed the proposal to acquire the software DSpace-CRIS. A working group consisting of librarians, computer specialists and scientists worked on the configuration of the hardware and software and at the same time drafted an Open Access Policy.

The oa@inaf repository collects not only the common scientific literature (articles, proceedings, books), but also grey literature in particular technical reports. The paper illustrates the various phases of the project, how the software works, the problems encountered and the solutions found.

1 The Premises

In 2017 the National Institute for Astrophysics decided to adopt an open access institutional repository for collecting all its scientific production.

The INAF could no longer delay putting the principles of open access into practice, especially after a series of indications from the European Union and the official position taken by INAF itself.

Already in 2012 the European Commission’s recommendation n. 417 established that the scholarly publications based on the results of research funded by public grants by at least 50% should be published in open access journals, or made available through open access repositories within six months from the publishing date.1

In 2013 the Italian Ministry of University and Research prepared a document inside the European Horizon 2020 programme reaffirming the principles of the European Commission’s recommendation.2 In the same year a new law reiterates this view. It was an amendment to the Copyright Law (an old law dating back to 1941) whose main goal was “Promoting open access to research results financed at or above 50 % by public funds.”3

Another important step in the direction of Open Access inside INAF, also in 2013, was the signature by the INAF President of the Position statement on open access to the results of scientific research in Italy.4

The Universities Rectors and the Public Research Institutions Presidents decided to prepare a strong declaration, aware of the benefits of open access for Italian research, in terms of visibility, promotion and internationalization, and decided to commit themselves to carry out coordinated activities for the affirmation of open access.

In 2013, by adhering to the position statement, INAF agreed to adopt an institutional policy and regulations that require researchers to deposit in their own institutional repositories and, if these do not exist, in institutional repositories of other institutions or in open access disciplinary repositories publications and data derived from their own research.

Only in 2017, according to the INAF Scientific Director, an internal working group on open access was created and from the beginning was clear that two are the directions to move towards: the adoption of a policy and the realization of a repository.

2 An Institutional Policy on Open Access

At the end of 2018, five years after the signing of the Position statement, the INAF management board approved the policy on Open Access to the results of scientific research and some firm points were fixed5.

The policy clearly indicates a double task:

1. the preservation of the scientific production of INAF;

2. the use of the repository for internal or external research evaluation.

The policy also established that from January 1st, 2019, every researcher was obliged to insert in the open access archive at the time of publication:

a) the product metadata (always visible in open access),

b) the digital copy of the product in the version permitted by the publisher for dissemination in open access (pre-print or post-print version),

c) the digital copy of the product in the version useful for internal and national evaluation (editorial pdf), which will remain confidential.

The policy also established the creation, within INAF articulations, of an "Open Access Office", formed by librarians, researchers, and computer specialists, to support the development of open access in terms of human and financial resources. This Office provides technical support in the process of storage of products in the archive, verifies the publishing policies, validates the product descriptive metadata. Furthermore, it deals with copyright issues, provides information and continuing training with the aim to create an awareness raising in the research staff and technologist (web pages, seminars, conferences, etc.).

3 The Creation of oa@inaf

In parallel with the drafting of the text of the policy the open access working group started thinking about which software to choose for the management of the repository.

Some years ago INAF realized a database, a CRIS (Current Research Information System) containing the bibliographic metadata of all INAF researchers publications, but since 2014 CRIS has been abandoned because the person who created and managed it had retired and had not been replaced by anyone else. But, beyond that, it was necessary to overcome it because the database had many limits. It did not dialogue with third parties (typically ORCID, LoginMiur6, Scopus, and Web of Science); it collected bibliographic information but not full texts; and it was not accessible from the outside and only partially from the inside (each INAF observatory was able to see only its data and each researcher only her/his publications). Mainly, it was also not compatible with open access principles.

In 2017, after a preliminary survey, the purchase of DSpace-CRIS, a software developed by the company 4science, was decided. DSpace is the most widely used repository software with more than 2000 installations around the world, used by over 70 universities and research institutions. It is free, open source and completely adaptable to fit the needs of any organization. So, the work we immediately began to do was to customize the repository taking into account the requirements of INAF astronomers.

The first step was obviously the installation (on the INAF internal servers in Trieste) and the configuration of the hardware and software that is integrated with the institution's IDM (identity management) system and dialogues with the INAF personnel database. This fact allows to import and align the data of the staff that can access the repository. This was a really onerous part of the work, given the continuous "movement" (career progressions, transfers, etc.) of the personnel database.

In order for DSpace to interact with third parties, API were required for ORCID, ADS, LoginMIUR.

One of the primary operations was the definition of the documents types, the collections (a set of documents with the same characteristics) and 22 typologies divided into 7 macro-typologies were identified: journal articles, book chapters, contributions in conference proceedings, other scientific products (technical reports, research reports, working papers, software, database, dataset, artifacts, media products, web sites, permanent and temporary exhibition, PhD thesis, articles in non-scientific journals), books, translations, and patents.

In the next step the mapping of the types of products on the macro-types of the Ministry of University and Research database was done to permit a good level of interoperability between the two databases.

Then the different workflows of the various collections were defined and for each collection it was possible to customize the workflow, i.e. the metadata entry process, the type of metadata and the mandatory of the entries. For example, when inserting the article in journals, it is mandatory to provide the ISSN of the journal to verify the publisher's policy and because, without this data, it is not possible to send the metadata to LoginMIUR.

The last phase was the choice of the name of the repository oa@INAF, an easily storable URL like, and the customization of the layout. The repository has an Italian and an English version, for both the public and the administrative interface.

Several changes aimed at greater functionality and at the ability to manage sections that may have variable content, i.e. top news, side news, and foot news, were realized. (see Figure 1)

Figure 1. The home page of INAF institutional repository oa@inaf

4 How the Repository Works

During the installation phase of the software entities were created: organization units, researcher profiles, and scientific projects (mainly European projects). Data of researchers and facilities are fed and updated thanks to the daily dialogue with INAF staff database. And a fundamental data element in the personnel database is the ORCID, which is the unique identifier of the researcher. Without this information the full functionality is not possible.
Furthermore, the ORCID serves for the recovery of all past ADS papers. If the researcher tagged her/his publications in ADS with her/his ORCID, the paper will be easily imported in the repository.
To access the repository as a user the researcher need to be recognized through her/his INAF username and password.

Publications can be inserted in three ways:

1. through a metadata recovery by ID (typically the DOI, but also the ORCID, the arXiv identifier, or the Bibcode ADS)7

2. manually (typically this is how technical reports are inserted, in which case a DOI is assigned)

3. in batch mode (for example, for the past technical reports).

The repository data entry can also be set so that the researcher’s ORCID profile is kept constantly updated, avoiding the need to insert things twice.

System interoperability allows each researcher to send all information about publications to LoginMiur without having to re-enter them at the time of the periodical evaluation exercise and to keep researcher profile on ministerial database up to date.

The repository allows each product and each researcher to have metrics (Google Scholar, Altmetric Index, Scopus, WOS).

Finally, the repository is registered in OpenDOAR, the open directory of open access repositories and is indexed with Google.

In addition to the public site of the repository a help site has been prepared at the URL, where the users can find information of various types on the open access and on the use of repository, such as a guide for inserting research products and technical reports, internal documents (such as the INAF policy), FAQs, slides presented at training sessions, video tutorials and recordings of meetings with researchers, courses, seminars, open access videos produced by other institutions, etc.

Furthermore, to ensure maximum visibility and availability of its research products, INAF has joined OpenAire, the infrastructure of the European Union, which collects, examines, and disseminates the results of research (publications and data) funded by public, national and European, funds (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. The operating scheme of INAF repository oa@inaf

5 oa@inaf Today

The INAF policy on open access established the obligation of the insertion of the papers in the repository beginning from January 1, 2019.

To the date of June 1st, 2021, the repository contains almost 9600 items published between 2015 and 2019 (the years 2020 and 2021 will be loaded in the coming months) for more than 2000 researchers. The delay is due to the obligations of the evaluation of the research made by the Ministry of Education and Research in Italy at the beginning of 2021 and concerning the years 2015-2019.

There are all the different types of products: journal articles, technical reports, conference papers, conference abstracts, magazine articles, but also videos, multimedia products, software, and so on. The repository contains 63 European projects with Italian leadership and participation.

6 The Benefits of the Institutional Repository

Open access repository is a powerful vehicle for the dissemination of astronomical research because it makes available to the external scientific communities and to the wider public the products and research results of Italian astronomers.

Also, the technical and technological skills developed within the laboratories and workshops of the institution are shared and made available for their reuse in a larger field, also of industrial type, thanks to the presence within the repository of the INAF Technical Reports.

Furthermore, the recovery that has been made of the technical documentation realized before 2019 by each observatory (since 1968) has allowed to bring out hidden information that can be a stimulus for the production of new knowledge.

oa@inaf is an important tool that contains informative sources to support dissemination and teaching activities and that can be used by teachers, communicators and astronomy buffs. In addition to the numerous articles on the public outreach, the presence of technical reports or multimedia products offering scientific laboratories for schools also reinforces the value of a database such as oa@inaf repository.

It also provides analysis data on the editorial choices of the researchers of the institution: on which journals INAF researchers publish, if the researcher publishes in green and/or gold magazines, whether the researcher pay to publish in open access or not. The information obtained becomes crucial for any decisions regarding the signing of traditional subscriptions and new transformative agreements.8

The repository can also be used as a strategic tool for the governance of the institution, first of all because it provides useful and immediate elements of reflection for evaluation activities both internal and external with its articulated system of metrics and statistics.

The creation of the repository is part of a wide context that also finds its reference in Horizon Europe, the new European Union Research and Innovation Programme covering a period between 2021-2027. It is the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation and one of its pillars is “Excellent Science.” The aims of “Open Science” are clearly defined: “dissemination and exploitation of research results” and “support for active engagement of the society.” (See Figure 3)

Figure 3. The EU programme Horizon Europe

About the immediate mandatory open access to publications, the EU declaration is not absolute (as we can read, for example, in Plan S) but more moderate. It says that the beneficiaries must retain sufficient intellectual property rights to comply with open access requirements.

And about open data the recommendation is clear: “data sharing as open as possible and closed as necessary.” Furthermore, it is mandatory that data management plans for research data follow the FAIR requirements (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable.)

Horizon Europe clearly reaffirms the principles and directions to go towards:

  • reward systems for researchers promoting open science

  • support to open science policy actions

  • use of open research Europe publishing platform

Despite all the numerous difficulties, INAF is on the right track and in 2020 became one of the first member institutions of the EOSC (European Open Science Cloud) Association, the instrument through which the European Commission intends to build a competitive European knowledge economy.

7 A Concluding Remark

The last few years for the INAF have been a period of construction of a system that led to the design and the implementation of tools.

Now it’s time to improve the instruments, keep them updated but above all it’s time to create and strengthen an awareness of researchers so that they do not consider open access activities as a bureaucratic administrative obligation but a powerful means of transmitting research results and a civil choice of sharing scientific knowledge within society.

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