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Tag archives: server

arXiv celebrates its 20th birthday

Paul Ginsparg.gif

By Tushna Commissariat

Yesterday, on 14 August, the arXiv preprint electronic server celebrated its 20th birthday. In 1991 physicist Paul Ginsparg (right), who had then just moved to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, set up the online physics archive, initially know as the Los Alamos Preprint Server (xxx.lanl.gov), as a place where high-energy physicists could share preprints of their upcoming work. The initial idea, according to Ginsparg’s recent comment piece in Nature, was for 100 full-text articles or so to be submitted every year, each of which would be stored for three months. “By popular demand, nothing was ever deleted” writes Ginsparg.

The server received close to 400 subscriptions in the first six months alone. By 1999 when xxx.lanl.gov had changed its name to arXiv, the repository was collecting almost two thousand new articles every month. In 2001, when the server turned 10, Ginsparg moved to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and took the server with him. By 2008 the world’s favourite e-print server officially had half a million papers published on it.

In 2008, when Physics World celebrated its 20th anniversary, Ginsparg recounted the early days of the Web and looked at how it has changed scientific communication. You can read his thoughts on the subject here.

Over the years, the arXiv server has had a huge impact on physics and paved the way to open-access publishing for scholarly journals. Many scientific journals now publish their content with unrestricted online access, and this has allowed scientific information to become freely accessible to researchers and the public.

Now, the server contains “about 700,000 full texts, receives 75,000 new texts each year, and serves roughly 1 million full-text downloads to about 400,000 distinct users every week. It has broadened, first to cover most active research fields of physics, then to mathematics, nonlinear sciences, computer science, statistics and, more recently, to host parts of biology and finance infiltrated by physicists,” according to Ginsparg.

Early last year, librarians at Cornell University asked for extra external funding to support the server, as the running costs were “beyond a single institution’s resources”. Its budget – which covers personnel as well as operating expenses – was predicted to increase from $400,000 in 2010 to $500,000 in 2012. Ginsparg says that an international meeting of sponsor institutions will be hosted by the Cornell Library next month and will look into transforming the arXiv server into a more community-endorsed resource. “My hope is that the barrier to implementation of new ideas in this realm will remain low enough that, if all else fails, some young researcher elsewhere can launch another tiny ship on a fateful trip.”

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