Re: Central vs. Distributed Archives

From: John MacColl <john.maccoll_at_ED.AC.UK>
Date: Wed, 8 Nov 2000 09:34:48 -0000

Greg Kuperberg wrote:

> > So should we mathematicians trust individual math departments to
> > permanently preserve their e-prints? I don't think so. Our own math
> > preprint series at UC Davis is an arXiv overlay - all articles are
> > automatically contributed to the math arXiv. One of my
> arguments for this
> > arrangement is that we can't promise to babysit these preprints forever.
> > We could easily forget our obligation.

Stevan Harnad replied:
> The Department could easily forget; the institutional library is unlikely
> to do so. It has a lot of prior practise with stability/permanence! (And
> it has a good deal to gain from maintaining robust institutional Eprint
> Archives: The prospects of serials-crisis relief, as other
> institutional libraries do the same thing, with their own Eprint
> archives --

I would concur with this response, and would wish to develop a couple of
points about why libraries are important in the freed literature scenario.
Interestingly, the notion of 'forgetting' gives a new dimension to the
notion of libraries as 'memory organisations'. They are no longer simply
memory organisations in the sense of storing knowledge, as in a memory, but
particularly as that knowledge becomes networked they are becoming
organisers of access, for which function their contribution to their parent
institution is to understand information structures, sources and
presentations. This requires that they are memory joggers as well as memory
fillers. That has always been true, but internet publication has increased
both the complexity of these structures, and the rate of publication. More
and more the challenge for academic libraries is to preserve the roles of
hunters and collectors of knowledge in the age of internet publishing: that
requires that they take a much more active approach to identifying and
maintaining knowledge than was required in the age of print, when libraries
had adapted to the culture of publishers, and had settled into a role which
was primarily passive.

But as Stevan says, interoperability in the world of eprint archives has not
been tried before (and therefore cannot be criticised as the wrong model).
More than that, it is at present the only model really capable of surviving
in the world of internet publishing, and it conforms to the way librarians
see publishing culture moving, which is why the library profession is so
concerned with metadata - the key to the knowledge structures which are in
transition. In the passive model, academics and researchers ordered books
and journals via the library, and the library sought to ensure that the
material which arrived in the form of physical product was organised
optimally. Now, we find academics and researchers creating web sites with
links to internet sources, and themselves interacting with such sources (as
they will with open archives) without needing to act via the library. Our
role as librarians is to keep pace with these changes and evolve new methods
for providing not only 'permanence and stability', but also description and
classification to ensure that sources are findable by other researchers,
students and teachers. So - to take Greg's point about centralisation -
whether an institution wishes to create an open archive for itself as an
institution, or whether a single department wishes to do it, is a matter for
them to decide, but either way it is in their interest to let the library
know that the archive exists, as a knowledge source to which access is

And the reason libraries are so important to the argument for freeing the
research literature is because they spend large sums of their institutions'
cash. A freed research literature will reduce that outlay very considerably.
And quite apart from the benefits that will bring - to the library as well
as to other parts of the institution - it will result in a new 'value for
money' standard for the purchase of research literature, appropriate to what
Stevan calls the 'post-Gutenberg' age, replacing the economically absurd
current situation. What should research literature cost, now that print has
become merely a (deluxe!) option? The library is by far the best-placed
department of the institution to oversee the transition to that new


John MacColl
Sub-Librarian, Online Services
SELLIC Director
Science & Engineering Library, Learning & Information Centre
University of Edinburgh Tel: 0131 650 7275
Darwin Library Mobile: 07808 170075
The King's Buildings Fax: 0131 650 6702
Edinburgh EH9 3JU
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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