Re: Central vs. Distributed Archives

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 3 Sep 2003 19:06:40 +0100

On Wed, 3 Sep 2003, [identity deleted] wrote:
> Dear Mr. Harnad,
> I am also one of these stressed diploma-writers -- but very curious and
> enthusiastic. My subject is "the future of institutional
> archives". I would be very pleased, if you could answer my questions:
> 1) Do you know anything about "non university archives", such as
> NonGovernmentOrganisations (i.e., WTO, WHO, UNESCO). Do these kinds of
> repositories already exist?

There are countless digital archives. You have to specify what *content*
you have in mind. This Forum (soon to be re-named the American Scientist
Open-Access Forum) is concerned *only* with scientific and scholarly
*research*, before and after peer-review (preprints and postprints).

Assuming that that is the content you are inquiring about, I suggest
that you have a look at the archives listed by the Open Archives
as well as those indexed by

Those are all OAI-compliant archives, and they include both central,
discipline-based archives and distributed institutional archives. With
OAI-interoperability, it doesn't matter which kind of OAI archive a
paper is in, but I am promoting university archives
rather than central ones (even though I founded a central one myself ) because researchers' institutions (and
their research funders) all share in the joint publish-or-perish interests
(and rewards) of maximizing the impact of their research output. Central
repositories and disciplines do not. (They are the common locus for
research that is competing for impact.) Hence research institutions
(and their funders) are in a position to encourage, facilitate, and even
mandate (through an extension of the publish-or-perish carrot-and-stick)
open-access self-archiving of their own research output in their own OAI
archive by their researchers, whereas disciplines and central
organizations (e.g., WTO, WHO, UNESCO) are not:

Having said that, it is still a historical fact that the first and
still-biggest open-access OAI archive is a central, discipline-based one,
the Physics Archive founded in 1991 But Arxiv's growth
rate has been steadily linear since 1991, and shows no sign of either
accelerating or generalizing to all the other disciplines. So clearly
something else was needed to hasten the open-access era, and my own
hunch is that a concerted policy university-based archiving was what
was needed.

> 2) I read about the Ingenta-Southampton cooperation concerning
> eprints-software in 2002. What has happend so far? Is there a result yet?

It's still there on paper, but Ingenta has not yet made any move to
implement or promote it. The idea had been that the Ingenta option
would be for those universities that did not want to be bothered with
maintaining their own OAI archives, and preferred to outsource it to
Ingenta. This is still a good idea, but the ball is in Ingenta's court;
Southampton has plenty to do already, with optimizing and maintaining
the GNU archive-creating software it provides free to
universities, with creating tools for measuring and demonstrating the
impact of open-access research (to help induce researchers and their
institutions to self-archive)
and with trying to shape national and international self-archiving policy.

Other archive-creating softwares have since appeared too
but what is needed now is not more software, but more self-archiving,
and a clear, focused rationale, agenda and policy for it.

> 3) Is there any other "serious" method of preservation expect OAIS?

Serious method of preservation for *what*? As noted, the Physics Arxiv,
which is OAI-compliant but not OAIS is alive and well, and has been
since 1991. But the first, second and third objective of open-access
self-archiving is *access*, right now. The main preservation burden
for all the physics journal articles that are self-archived in Arxiv as
preprints and postprints is not on Arxiv but on each physics journal
publisher's primary corpus.

Please do not conflate the problem of open-access -- which is a
*supplement* to publishing in journals, not a *substitute* for it --
with the problem of digital preservation of journal content -- which
is a problem for journals, not for authors' institutional OAI archives.
And, in the same breath, don't conflate institutional OAI archives whose
purpose is to provide open access to institutional refereed research
article output, with other forms of institutional archival content
(some of which might indeed have its primary or sole locus in the
institutional archive).

Institutional open-access research archives *are* preserving their
contents, and will continue to do so. (The historical preprint record will
be worth preserving, even after the publisher's primary postprints
are failsafe.) But that is a minor matter compared to these archives'
real problem, which is to induce researchers to *provide* all that content
in the first place, by self-archiving it. That is the "serious" problem,
not preserving the (still insufficient) archive contents, whether central
or institutional.

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02 & 03):

Discussion can be posted to:
Received on Wed Sep 03 2003 - 19:06:40 BST

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