Formaldehyde and Function

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 30 Mar 2006 22:11:42 +0100

On Thu, 30 Mar 2006, Helen Hockx-Yu wrote:

> I should be grateful if anyone can provide me some evidence to back the
> following statement:
> "Concern of longevity has contributed to the lack of active engagement from
> many researchers [with institutional repositories]. Guarantee of long-term
> preservation helps enhance a repository's trustworthiness by giving authors
> confidence in the future accessibility and more incentives to deposit
> content"
> I guess longevity here also applies to the financial sustainability of the
> repository itself as a business operation, in addition to its content.

The statement is (1) not based on evidence at all, but pure speculation
and (2) speculation not on the part of the content-providers (i.e.,
the authors, who are presently only spontaneously self-archiving their
published articles at about the 15% level) but on the part of others,
whose a priori concept of an institutional repository is that it is for
long-term preservation (rather than for immediate access-provision and
impact maximisation)

One pretty much gets out of such subjective speculations what one
puts into them (including the requisite confirmatory moans from

JISC author surveys have given the empirical answer as to why only about
15% of papers are being self-archived spontaneously today (although 49%
of authors have deposited at least once): Authors are too busy to do
it until/unless their employers and or funders make it a priority by
mandating it -- and then 95% of them will duly do it:

    Swan, A. (2005) Open access self-archiving:
    An Introduction. JISC/ Key Perspectives Technical Report.

But it would be absolutely absurd of their employers and funders
to mandate self-archiving for the sake of long-term preservation!
Preservation of what, and why? Articles are published by journals. The
preservation of the published version (PDF/XML) is the responsibility of
the journals that publish it, the libraries that subscribe/license it, and
the deposit libraries that archive it. None of that is the responsibility
of the author or his institution, and never has been. Hence it is
ridiculous to think the reason authors are *not* self-archiving today
is because they are fretting about preservation!

Nor is there the slightest evidence that the 15% of articles that *has*
been self-archived spontaneously in central or institutional repositories
has vanished or is at risk! Arxiv content is still there today, a decade
and a half since its inception in 1991, under nonstop use. CogPrints
contents likewise, since its inception nearly a decade ago. Ditto for
the IRs that have been up since GNU Eprints was first released in 2000.

The pertinent feature of all of these archives (even the oldest and
biggest) is the pathetically small proportion of their total annual
*target* content -- for Arxiv, all of physics+, for CogPrints, all of
cognitive science, for PubMed Central, all of biomedical science, and
for institutional IRs, all of each institution's own annual research
article output -- what a pathetic proportion of their respective target
contents they are actually capturing.

But there are exceptions, and the biggest of them is CERN, which is far
above the spontaneous 15% self-archiving baseline and rapidly approaching
100% for its current annual output (while making remarkable progress
with its retroactive legacy output too):

So too are Southampton ECS, U. Minho, and QUT. And the reason is that
these four institutions (3 institutions plus 1 institutional department)
have *self-archiving mandates* for their own output. And the rationale
for the mandates (although of course these archives, like all IRs,
are duly attending to the preservation of what contents they have!) is
not long-term preservation but immediate access-provision for the
sake of maximising usage and impact before their authors' bones are
in preservation.

So while preservationists lose themselves in speculation about the fact
that maybe authors are not depositing because their secret yearnings for
preservation are even more exacting than the preservationists', so they
are abstaining until they can be absolutely guranteed of immortality for
their texts as well as their institutions, the reality is much simpler:

They have (and should have) no special interest in preservation for their
authors' drafts. They do have an interest in citation, but not enough
to bother self-archiving until/unless their institutions and funders
require it. Silly, and short-sighted (sic) but there we are.

Let us hope that their institutions and funders will have the good sense
to adopt policies that require (and reward) their researchers for doing
what is in their own best interests (as well as the best interests of
their institutions and funders) -- just as they already require and
reward them to publish (or perish).

Nor is the reward the imperishability of those authors' refereed final
drafts that they will be self-archiving (not the publisher's proprietary
PDF), but their own scientific immortality (which would slip away fast if
they were to keep waiting to immortalise their publishers' PDFs instead, as
the preservationists -- embalmers? -- are imagining they are doing).

Do I sound impatient?

Chrs, Stevan
Received on Thu Mar 30 2006 - 22:17:35 BST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:48:17 GMT