Project background

Author: Søren Bertil Fabricius Dorch

Copenhagen University Library in Fiolstræde: The traditional access

Research and publishing from Nordic scholars within the arts and humanities are among the best in the world and it may thus seem counter intuitive, that these areas are facing severe problems related to quantifying the quality of their research (especially in relation to recent local research assessment exercises). However, these problems are largely a result of the visibility deficit of research, e.g. as a consequence of the poor representation of these subjects in international literature databases: Even though citation and literature databases in principle exist for the arts and humanities (e.g. through ISI Thomson’s A&HCI), these only cover a small fraction of the published Nordic research. This is in part because Nordic language publications (Nordic journals) are not yet indexed by international databases and because of the lack of electronic access to research publications: The traditional reading pattern is still largely dependent on the availability of print and the publication pattern primarily involves books and book chapters (rather than shorter articles and papers) and e-books are still rarely available in Nordic languages and from Nordic publishers.

Furthermore, unpublished or locally published research (e.g. working papers, conference reports, invited reviews etc.) are generally not accessible at all or are at best only made available through private contacts. In summary, in terms of electronic and online research, the Nordic arts and humanities are presently not clearly visible and accessible.

The concept of an international subject archive have long been available within the natural science area, and hence proof of concept has been achieved there: For almost two decades the well established arXiv.org, now hosted by Cornell University Library, has been an integral part of the publication pattern for some of the exact natural sciences (physics, mathematics, computer science etc.). The archive contains research publications in many publication stages: From unpublished, over submitted to accepted and peer reviewed or even rejected journal papers, conference proceedings etc. Due to the large number of full text records submitted by individual researchers to arXiv.org (over 400,000), it has been possible to perform solid analyses of publication patterns and citation trends. Studies show, that research that is visible and accessible through arXiv.org is read and cited more, than research that is only accessible at a publisher or journal website (or only available at a library, in print): E.g. the so called citation advantage resulting from Open Access to arXiv.org papers turns out to be roughly a factor of two, and the immediate visibility of newly submitted research (through automatic email and RSS news updates) results in a Early Access advantage over non-submitted research.

Additionally, it has been demonstrated, that authors who submit their research as full text to arXiv.org submit themselves to a “self-bias”, meaning that they submit only research material, that they think will hold up to the scrutiny of fellow researchers, or that has not already been submitted in some other form. Additionally it is worth mentioning, that publishers and journal editors belonging to the publication-sphere of the sciences that regularly use arXiv.org actually condone or even encourages individual authors to submit their research papers to the archive, although sometimes after an embargo period. This holds true even for research for which the copyright has in principle been exclusively transferred to the publisher: No known author has ever been submitted to legal measures by a publisher for making her research available (through either arXiv.org or on her own web page).

The basic idea proposed here, is to provide the same technical infrastructure to the Nordic arts and humanities that has been available to the international natural science community since 1991. At the same time it is recognized that the arts and humanities traditionally employ a different publication pattern than some natural science subjects. Because the publication pattern of the arts and humanities may differ as a whole from that of other areas care, should be taken in not restricting the proposed infrastructure (the e-print archive) to a too confining mould: The traditional publication pattern should at the one hand be accommodated, while the archive on the other hand should allow the publication pattern to evolve. Hence, the initial part of the proposed project will be allocated to establishing a common building ground with respect to both the technical specifications of the e-print archive, as well as the policy of its use.

Much scientific research is by nature international: Kierkegaard and his works are studied with just as much interest in China, as he is in his own native Nordic country – and sometimes even in the native Scandinavian tongue – and the same is true for many other fields of research. Therefore this project does not exclusively take the local, regional or even the national view point on the accessibility and visibility of research: In stead the Nordic research community within the arts and humanities in an international context is in focus – hence this project will expose Nordic research to a much larger audience. Neither is the proposed e-print archive intended to compete with or replace the current institutional and national initiatives that aim to construct institutional repositories harvested into national archives: The e-print archive will be a supplementary technology that should be seen as a complementary tool and resource to researchers within the arts and humanities.

The e-print archive will in general not be able to provide full publication coverage of any institution, the entire publication record of any individual scientist, nor is that the idea: Authors should be able to submit what they find to be the most relevant of their research to the archive, and other researchers should be able to readily find and download full text versions of the research that is of the most value to them. Hence the archive can not be used (directly, at least) to perform quantitative citation analyses of individuals or institutions, nor research management and assessment etc: That is the role and strength of institutional and national repositories. This said, the archive should be setup in such a way that its content may be easily harvested and/or linked to, from both institutional and national repositories and literature databases as well as research websites. Similarly it should be technically possible to submit or harvest copyright cleared full text resources from national repositories into the archive if desired: This may be relevant in the case of Norwegian arts and humanities, where a nation-wide Open Access initiative aims to systematically collect research into a common Norwegian repository – such a situation, however, does not exist in the other Nordic countries – nor in many other countries for that matter.

Finally, the e-print archive is meant primarily as a research archive, so that while it may contain material relevant for higher education, for outreach and for the media, it will in general not contain material that is not of particular interest to the research community: It is the strength of institutional repositories that these provide a single entrance to the complete production of an institution, while it is the strength of research e-print archives that they provide complete access to the research that the researchers themselves find the most interesting and relevant, as well as news updates on submitted research through e.g. automatic email and RSS lists.