Preprints, Postprints, Peer Review, and Institutional vs. Central Self-Archiving.
Arxiv is a Central Repository (CR) in which physicists have been self-archiving their unrefereed preprints and their peer-reviewed postprints since 1991. There is now a growing movement toward distributed Institutional Repositories (IRs). Thanks to the OAI Protocol, all OAI-compliant IRs and CRs are now interoperable: their metadata can be harvested into search engines that treat all of their contents as if they were in one big virtual CR. What authors self-archive is their peer-reviewed publications, not just their unrefereed preprints. An archive is merely a repository, not a certifier of having met a peer-reviewed journal's quality standards. Since the research institutions themselves are the primary research providers, with the direct interest in maximising the uptake and usage of their own research output, the natural place for them to deposit their own output is in their own IRs. Any central collections can be harvested via OAI. Institutions are also best placed to monitor and reward compliance with self-archiving mandates, both their own institutional mandates and those of the funders of their institutional research output. Arxiv has played an important role in getting us where we are, but it is likely that the era of CRs is coming to a close, and the era of distributed, interoperable IRs is now coming into its own in an entirely natural way, in keeping with the distributed nature of the Net/Web itself.
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