Spreading coronavirus research

February 2, 2021

As the world’s virologists race for answers to COVID-19, the Carolina Digital Repository makes the research of the University’s top coronavirus experts openly accessible online.

Working remotely from their home offices, the University’s librarians are helping the world’s virologists fight coronavirus by making faculty research more accessible online through the Carolina Digital Repository.

Launched in 2009 to digitally curate specialty collections, the repository was enhanced in 2016 to be able to share Carolina faculty members’ scholarly writing under the University’s Open Access Policy. It now is home to more than 10,500 articles and 28,000 dissertations, theses and other scholarly work.

Anyone in the world can access the articles for free, allowing researchers to connect and collaborate on solving a common problem, like coronavirus.

“I’m glad the University invested in this resource when they did,” says Anne Gilliland, scholarly communications officer at the University Libraries. “It’s not like someone said in 2016, ‘This will be really useful if we have a pandemic one day.’”

But, as the world is discovering, being prepared for the worst is helpful when a pandemic strikes.

Putting coronavirus first

The ability to share Carolina’s pandemic-related research with the world so quickly is the latest result of the University’s ongoing efforts to wrest control of its researchers’ work away from the subscription scholarly journals who traditionally hold exclusive publishing rights and to push instead for open access. (See “Scholarly publishing at the tipping point,” in the fall/winter 2019 issue of Windows.)

The coronavirus example shows just how valuable a reliable open access source can be for researchers.

During the pandemic, “Researchers have identified and shared hundreds of viral genome sequences. More than 200 clinical trials have been launched, bringing together hospitals and laboratories around the globe,” according to an April 1 New York Times article.

Rebekah Kati

Rebekah Kati, Institutional Repository Librarian, Repository Services

Anne Gilliland

Anne Gilliland, Scholarly Communications Officer, Scholarly Communications

In March, Rebekah Kati, institutional repository librarian, did her part to spread coronavirus research. After seeing a Bloomberg News article about the work of coronavirus expert and Carolina faculty member Ralph Baric, she immediately focused the repository’s efforts on his coronavirus research. Now a search of the repository yields 109 results related to coronavirus and 90 articles with references to Baric.

After finding a list of Baric’s articles on his online CV, Kati had to decide which were eligible to post to the repository. “Eligible” articles, Gilliland explains, are those authored by Carolina faculty after the University’s Open Access Policy went into effect in 2016 and any previous articles no longer exclusive to the original publisher.

Kati also contacted Baric by email with her plans. “He replied right away and was very positive,” Kati says. Right away, she found 63 eligible articles by Baric, 30 of them related to coronavirus. All of them, and more, are now available online.

Kati expanded her search to include articles by other epidemiologists at Carolina, including Gillings School of Global Public Health faculty members Lisa Gralinski, Rachel Graham and Timothy Sheahan, as well as researchers at the School of Medicine. Kati continues to follow news stories in order to identify other Carolina scientists for her to-do list.

During the current pandemic, some subscription journals have lowered paywalls temporarily to help researchers who are shut out of libraries, Gilliland says.

“A lot of publishers right now are making this research available,” Gilliland says. “But ours will still be in force beyond the current crisis. We’ll be able to keep that research open.”

Story by Susan Hudson, University Communications

A longer version of this article first appeared in The Well on April 13, 2020: go.unc.edu/CDRcoronavirus. CDR statistics have been updated.

This story originally appeared in the fall/winter 2020 issue of Windows, the magazine of the Friends of the Library at the University Libraries.

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