The self-archiving sweepstakes

Stevan Harnad harnad at ecs.soton.ac.uk
Fri Feb 7 09:20:44 EST 2003


On Thu, 6 Feb 2003, Tim Brody wrote:

> It would be good to see the success (or not) of projects judged by how much
> *content* they expose, rather than technical achievements. In this respect I
> believe Europe is lagging far behind the US - arXiv.org, LoC & OCLC dwarf
> most of the other repositories out there. This is a failure to convince
> those who control the content that open access is a Good Thing - a challenge
> far greater than preservation, metadata formats, or any other technical
> issue.

My very talented and productive colleague Tim Brody is quite right that
-- insofar as the self-archiving branch of the open-access movement is
concerned -- the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd priority is content, content, content,
and that hence we are all spinning our wheels if we focus instead on
technical features that are putatively missing and hypothetically needed
before we can turn to content, content, content: Both Eprints and Dspace
have *all* the essential features needed for self-archiving, so that their
users can now proceed to self-archive at full speed, and any further delay
because of feature-fussing will -- I am ready to stake all of my credibility
on this -- be seen historically as having been an utter waste of time,
at a time when the real need was, in hindsight, so obviously 
and overwhelmingly content, content, content.

But we're not talking about just *any* content. Self-archiving and
open-access are not about *all* digital content. So Tim's remark about
Europe's lagging is comparing apples and oranges:

The open-access movement (BOAI http://www.soros.org/openaccess/ )
-- including both its branches, BOAI-1, self-archiving, and BOAI-2,
open-access journals -- is not about digital content in general:

    "The literature that should be freely accessible online is that which
    scholars give to the world without expectation of payment. Primarily,
    this category encompasses their peer-reviewed journal articles, but
    it also includes any unreviewed preprints that they might wish to
    put online for comment or to alert colleagues to important research
    findings." http://www.soros.org/openaccess/read.shtml

Hence in Tim's Europe/US comparison, LoC and OCLC are completely
irrelevant! They don't belong in the list. They are concerned with *all*
digital contents, not peer-reviewed research preprints and postprints
in particular.

ArXiv (http://arxiv.org) is indeed the biggest OAI-compliant
self-archiving Archive on the planet -- but it is also only *one* such
archive, the first of its kind, up since 1991, growing since then at the
same unchanging linear rate http://arxiv.org/show_monthly_submissions,
and consisting mainly of physics and mathematics content. Most important,
ArXiv is mirrored all over the world  -- http://arxiv.org/servers.html --
and being self-archived in by physicists and mathematicians all over
the world! Hence it can hardly be described as an example of Europe
lagging behind the US in content!

So what (if anything) is the relevant point of comparison between
Europe and the US? One possible one (though I don't think the exercise
would be terribly illuminating) would be to look at the archives in
OAIster -- http://oaister.umdl.umich.edu/o/oaister/ -- with 1,089,937
records from 142 institutions -- and (1) either count the number of
records by European vs. US authors or (2) (perhaps more interestingly),
set aside the central, international archives in it, like ArXiv, and
count only the university archives: How many are European and how many
American? And how do they compare in average content-size?
(And don't forget to compare also with counts from BOAI-2: open-access
journals.)

But before drawing any conclusions from that, remember to normalize it
for the relative size of the research output of the two geographic
contenders!

Moral of the story? Leave it to the historians to calculate whether
Europe or the US happened to be leading in open acces in early 2003,
and concentrate instead on accelerating self-archiving (and open-access
in general) as soon and as much as possible, wherever you are: content,
content, content.

Amen.

Stevan Harnad




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