September 12, 2012

C.U. Library Creates New Business Model for Research Database

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The Cornell University Library has developed a new business model to make arXiv — a free, online database of research articles based at Cornell — financially stable for the future.

Prof. Paul Ginsparg Ph.D. ’81, physics and information science, created arXiv — pronounced “archive” — in Los Alamos, N.M., and introduced it to Cornell when he began teaching at the University in 2002. He told The Sun the database “was primarily intended to level the playing field, permitting researchers worldwide to have equal access to breaking research info.”

In addition to being a source of data, arXiv allows researchers to share and test their personal fieldwork with other scientists and mathematicians without delay. It can take up to three years for work to gain approval for publication in scholarly journals, but on arXiv, researchers can share their preprints, or drafts, immediately.

“In the old days, we would mail photocopies of the manuscript to 100 colleagues around the world. It is not uncommon for an article to take sixmonths [or] even a year before it is accepted,” said Prof. Chris Henley, physics.

To ensure that it can remain a free resource for the public in the future, arXiv has adopted a new business model, a University press release announced Aug. 28. Institutions that choose to support the program can pay a membership fee to arXiv, with groups that download the most articles paying greater fees.

The new model’s membership program separates the 200 highest-ranking institutions into three tiers of membership, which are determined by number of articles downloaded. Institutions in the highest tier are asked to pay the highest membership fees.

By voluntarily agreeing to pay for membership, institutions help keep arXiv a free resource for the public, librarians said.

“Each institution is paying to keep arXiv free and also to help arXiv advance and prosper,” said Oya Rieger, associate University librarian and the program director of arXiv.

arXiv has also received additional support through the Simons Foundation, which has pledged to donate $50,000 per year for five years, beginning in January 2013.

Due to the Simons Foundation’s funding, arXiv has decreased its membership fees. In addition to lowering fees, the Simons Foundation has encouraged more institutions to pledge their support to the database by promising to match up to $300,000 per year in donations to arXiv, according to Reiger.

To date, more than 120 membership partners have given money, according to arXiv’s website.

The number of articles downloaded and submission rates are steadily increasing, with over 50 million downloads and 76,000 submissions in the past year alone, according to arXiv’s website.

arXiv’s global reach is apparent when analyzing the site’s user statistics: It’s top three most frequent users are based in Europe and Japan.

Because of the funding from the Simons Foundation, arXiv has begun considering adding work from additional disciplines like engineering to its database, according to Rieger.

“We are building capacity,” Rieger said. “We have been getting requests from different fields … We want to have a methodology so that when a group of scientists come in, we have a system to decide: Can we do this? What would it take to do it?”

Ginsparg also said that he hopes the database will be able to expand its resources.

“I’m hoping we’ll be able to facilitate transitioning to new document formats, data-mining and auto-linkage to other relevant online resources,” Ginsparg said.

Since anyone can submit or download materials from arXiv, the database “monitors all submissions to verify that they are coming from well-established institutions with academic credentials,” Reiger said.

This helps reduce concerns about plagiarism in articles submitted to arXiv, Rieger said.

“Frankly, plagiarism applies to all digital content. When authors submit their article, they accept certain conditions and know that it is open access,” Rieger said.

Cornell staff involved with maintaining arXiv said that their main concerns with the database’s future revolve around making sure they can keep the database free for the public in the future.

“Given the economy, I can understand if people cannot continue collaborating. When you work with technology, the opportunities for innovation are endless, so the risk is being able to carefully charter arXiv’s future so we do not get too ambitious,” Rieger said.

Prof. James Alexander, physics, said he hopes that the National Science Foundation will one day recognize arXiv’s importance to research by offering government funding to sustain the database.

“In the long run, one has to wonder whether the support of a resource as important as arXiv should be left to the kindness of strangers,” Alexander added.

Original Author: Alexa Davis