Re: Central vs. Distributed Archives

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 9 Nov 2000 18:35:13 +0000

On Thu, 9 Nov 2000, David Goodman wrote:

> Steve, I think you misunderstand Greg's concern (and mine) We do not
> disagree with what you want to do; we want to add to it. We are
> assuming, I think, that something similar to the plan you advocate will
> be the basic process.
> I do not think it enough to say distributed = secure. It's only the first
> step to security. In addition to being distributed, there also needs to
> be a reliable caretaker--not just to do the housekeeping, but to ensure
> that the archive is kept compatible with changing technology.

I agree completely.

I didn't say distributed = secure (there's a lot more to security than
that). I said being freely accessible now, in distributed institutional
Eprint archives is a powerful new way to complement being freely
accessible in centralized Eprint archives, which are still growing much
too slowly. It should not be delayed for one moment by security
concerns, not one moment.

> I suggested that the archives be organized redundantly both by
> discipline and by university (and possibly by geographic/political
> entity, as well as what anyone wants to do).

Again, complete agreement.

> There are undoubtedly well-organized academic departments that can do
> this. There are also academic departments that cannot be relied on to
> do this right, because of size, interest, or finances. The same goes
> for professional societies. Certainly no individual can be relied on:
> all humans are mortal. All of this goes as well for refereed as for
> unrefereed, preprint as for reprint, officially published as for
> unpublished.

Agreed, and digital librarians are clearly the pertinent experts.

> As a librarian, I do not assume it is good enough that our refereed
> papers are already, as they are, safely in the hands of journals and
> libraries, ...

Yes, but let us not again mix up agendas. There could have been --
independent of any movement to free the refereed literature online -- a
movement to increase the security of the on-paper corpus (both papers
and books) on-line.

That's fine, desirable, but unrelated to this Forum's agenda, which is
to FREE the refereed corpus online. Concerns about strengthening the
paper literature's current security should not be wrapped into the
freeing (now!) initiative for the refereed literature; nor should
freeing (now!) be made in any way conditional on first meeting a priori
security concerns. Although it is an oversimplification, it is best to
treat the freeing initiative as a pure freebie, a windfall, over and
above what we have already. We are talking about archiving, not
publishing, an extra version of what is already published (on-paper).

This face-valid, immediate goal should be kept as distinct from
preservation concerns as it should be kept from peer-review-reform
concerns (likewise worthy, but orthogonal, and indeed even at
cross-purposes if yoked in any way to the freeing initiative).

> There are very few library copies of many journals, and though there is
> excellent backup from national libraries, even their collections are
> incomplete. The literature published up to now will be much more secure
> when it too has been digitized and placed on free publicly available
> mirrored servers, with all the additional precautions. Besides
> security, this will also make them generally available with all the
> additional advantages of plans such as yours.

David, the securing issue is a separate one from the freeing! The
material on the shelves now is not free; nor is it, let us agree, as
secure as it might be. Increasing its security by distributed digital
back-up is one thing (and need not be freely accessible either);
freeing it online is quite another.

Please, please keep these two separate or you will only encourage more
Zeno's Paralysis!

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature online is available at the
American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00):

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Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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