Re: Central vs. Distributed Archives

From: Greg Kuperberg <greg_at_MATH.UCDAVIS.EDU>
Date: Mon, 6 Nov 2000 13:57:01 -0800

On Mon, Nov 06, 2000 at 05:46:57PM +0000, Stevan Harnad wrote:
> I am afraid I cannot follow this at all. Are you saying that the
> "maintainer" of a free public archive of refereed research has an
> interest in NOT having that research "assimilated" into still larger
> public archives, if it increases their visibility, accessibility and
> impact?

My position is borne entirely out of practical experience and not
theory, and I am not saying exactly that. For a subject-based archive
(as opposed to institutional), the maintainer has an interest in retaining
credit for his efforts. He may also have at least a perceived interest in
retaining control over the archival procedures. If an outside archive is
assimilated into the huge arXiv, certainly it increases the visibility,
accessibility, you-name-it-ability, of the individual papers. However the
former maintainer's name may well fade into the background. At best
asking a maintainer to merge with the arXiv is asking him to change his
duties (if he stays on as an arXiv moderator or an overlay maintainer).
At worst it's asking him to retire. The math advisory committee has had
dozens of negotiations to merge material into the arXiv. We consider
all such negotations to be delicate.

After all, Stevan, suppose that we told you that CogPrints would be better
off as part of the arXiv and you should surrender your collection and
your responsibilities. Would you immediately agree, or would you want
some time to think about it?

Some might ask, what is there to decide about how to run an archive?
For example, the arXiv's policy is that DVI is unreliable as an input
format, although it does offer it as output. The arXiv requires TeX
source for new submissions if they are written in TeX. There are other
subject-based archives out there that accept *only* DVI as a submission
format. The maintainers of these archives feel that TeX source is an
unreliable input format, and moreover that TeX source is confidential
for some authors. It is very difficult to defuse this seemingly minor
issue, and it is only one of several such issues.

For institutional preprint series the issues are a little different,
but they are equally obstructive. Usually an institutional maintainer
is less interested in retaining credit, but more concerned, sometimes
correctly, about following his mandate. If we suggest to university
U that they contribute their papers to the arXiv, the maintainer at U
may say "our faculty gave permission for me to list their papers in our
preprint series, but not to contribute them to your arXiv." That can
lead to yet another bureaucratic thicket.

Right behind these superficial issues are more significant ones like
permanence. The fact is that many institutional and subject-based
archives do not want the responsibility of permanence. Some of them
explicitly repudiate it. A standards-based virtual archive approach,
such as OAI, aspires to please every side and sweep all such issues under
the rug. I wonder if this is rushing in where angels fear to tread.

> There is no (not-readily-solvable) "permanence question." At this
> point, getting the literature on-line and free is the most important
> thing to do, now. The collective interests that this will generate in
> KEEPING it all on-line and free will ensure that all proper steps are
> taken to ensure permanence.

Again, experience tells me otherwise. Thousands of math preprints have
come and gone on the web. Let me also give you a quote from a help page
of a non-arXiv math archive:

    When your paper is ultimately published we would greatly appreciate
    being informed. At that time we will remove the preprint and leave
    a pointer to the journal in which it was published.

This flatly contradicts your vision of "freeing the literature". But OAI
itself does not pass judgement on such policies.

> The OAI-compliant archive-creating/maintaining Eprints software has the
> same notification service as CogPrints -- indeed, it is a generic
> adaptation of the CogPrints software!

Yes, but it *only* notifies the subscribers of that one little archive.
The OAI standard leaves OAS agents with no clear notification mechanism,
because there is no guarantee that the agent will be notified in a
timely manner by the foundational archives.
  /\  Greg Kuperberg (UC Davis)
 /  \
 \  / Visit the Math ArXiv Front at
  \/  * All the math that's fit to e-print *
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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