BiorXiv: Deposit Institutionally, Export Centrally

Physicists have been spontaneously self-archiving in Arxiv since 1991, but most other disciplines have not followed suit, despite the demonstrated benefits of providing open access in terms of research uptake, usage and impact.

It is for this reason that research funders and institutions worldwide are (at last) beginning to mandate (i.e., require) that their fundees and faculty self-archive.

For open access mandates to work, however, it has to be possible to systematically monitor and verify compliance.

Not all research is funded (and there are many different research funders); but virtually all research comes from institutions (universities and research institutes), most of which now have institutional repositories for their researchers to self-archive in.

Institutions are hence the natural (and eager) partners best placed to fulfill the all-important role of monitoring and ensuring compliance with the requirements of their own researchers’ grant requirements, via their own institutional repositories. (This also gives institutions the incentive to adopt open access self-archiving mandates of their own, for all their research output, funded and unfunded, in all disciplines.)

Researchers, in turn, should only need to deposit their articles once, institutionally — not willy-nilly, and multiply, in diverse institution-external repositories.

The solution is simple, since all open access repositories are interoperable, meaning they share the same core metadata-tagging system, and hence each institution’s repository software can automatically export its metadata to any other institution-external repository desired.

That way researchers need only deposit once, in their own institutional repository; institutional and funder open access mandates are convergent and cooperative rather than divergent and competitive; and mandate compliance can be reliably and systematically ensured by the author’s institution.

So Biorxiv is a welcome addition to the growing list of disciplinary repositories for centralized search and retrieval, but deposit in Biorxiv should not be direct: researchers should export to it from their institutional repositories. (Biorxiv can also harvest from institutional repositories, just as Google and Google Scholar do.)

Biologists and biomedical scientists, unlike physicists, do not have a culture of spontaneous self-archiving. Hence open access mandates from funders and institutions are needed if there is to be open access to their research. And those mandates have to be readily complied with; and compliance has to be readily verifiable.

So let us not lose another quarter century hoping that biologists will at last do, of their own accord, what Arxiv users have already been doing, unmandated, since 1991. In 1994 there was already a “Subversive Proposal” — unheeded — that all disciplines should do as the Arxivers had done. Harold Varmus made a similar proposal (“e-biomed”) in 1999, likewise unheeded.

Let us start getting it right in 2013, the year that funders in the US, EU and UK have begun concertedly mandating open access, along with a growing number of institutions worldwide. But let us harmonize the mandates, to ensure that they work:

Arxiv has certainly earned the right to remain the sole exception, insofar as direct deposit is concerned, being the only institution-external repository in which authors have already been faithfully self-archiving, unmandated, for almost a quarter century:

For Arxiv, institutional repositories can import instead of export. But for the rest: Deposit institutionally, export centrally.