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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Winter 2010
DOI: 10.5062/F4DR2SD2


The Future of arXiv

Robert Michaelson
Head Librarian
Seeley G. Mudd Library for Science and Engineering
Northwestern University
Evanston, Illinois

Copyright 2010, Robert Michaelson. Used with permission.

All physicists and physics librarians know arXiv, the paradigm-changing preprint archive developed by Paul Ginsparg at Los Alamos in 1991, which has become a crucial repository for high energy physics, cosmology, and related areas of physics and mathematics.(1) (Note that pure mathematics is increasingly found on arXiv.  For example, Grigori Perelman's famous solution to the Poincaré Conjecture was posted on arXiv and does not appear in the traditional literature).  arXiv moved to the Cornell University Library in 2001, which now hosts it, with mirror sites worldwide.

According to a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article (subscription required), "it costs Cornell about $400,000 a year to maintain arXiv, according to Anne R. Kenney, university librarian at Cornell." Cornell's new Business Model proposes to seek financial support from the institutions that make the most use of arXiv. The Chronicle article goes on: "Some 200 institutions account for about 75 percent of the download traffic on arXiv, and it's that group that Cornell hopes will pony up first. The suggested contribution for the heaviest users is $4,000. Ms. Kenney says that most of the top 25 have said they will participate."

The suggested contribution of $4,000 for the top 100 users may seem like a large amount of money in harsh financial times, though this support is proposed as a transitional model only. We should note however that arXiv has become the world's primary conduit of information for high energy physics, cosmology, and related areas. We could not do without arXiv. We can easily do without commercially-published HEP journals, though. We know, for example, that the Journal of High Energy Physics (JHEP) was recently transferred from IOP to Springer, which raised its price to an unacceptable level as compared to the IOP package price. Research libraries have no need of JHEP, but if we have HEP patrons we need to ensure the ongoing viability of arXiv.

1 For additional information see the Cornell Library announcement and FAQ. Information on the history of arXiv is on Wikipedia

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ISTL, the Science and Technology Section, or the American Library Association.

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