Alice Meadows, Director of Community Engagement, and Jill O’Neill, Director of Content, NISO
Preprints have come a long way in the past few years. The granddaddy of digital preprint platforms is, of course, arXiv (launched in 1991). But although it was joined by a handful of others over the years, including SSRN way back in 1994, it’s only recently that preprints have really taken off, driven in part by support from major funders such as the Wellcome Trust, the US National Institutes of Health, and others. Today, there are global preprint platforms serving most broad disciplines (and some narrower ones) — from agriculture to philosophy — as well as a number of regional platforms.
So far, so good for those of us who support the open and early sharing of research. But, with this kind of growth — across disciplines and regions — comes a need for some level of standardization, to help both researchers, whose work is often cross- or inter- disciplinary, as well as the platform providers themselves. To date, this has been largely, if not entirely lacking, which is why we made preprints the focus of a recent NFAIS Foresight Event in Washington, DC. Open Access:The Role and Impact of Preprint Servers was attended by 35 participants from across the information community — publishers, librarians, repository managers, and others. And it’s also why we will be participating in the upcoming ASAPBio workshop on best practices in preprint infrastructure.
NISO is built on three central tenets — interoperability, engagement, and education — and the outputs of our NFAIS event fall neatly into the same three areas of focus.
All attendees agreed that the information community could and should develop a common nomenclature (including for metadata) and a set of definitions for scholarly outputs across all disciplines, and for the stages of the research workcycle they represent (such as interim research data, preliminary results, initial article draft, preprint, and so on, through the final version of record). The group therefore recommended that we work with our community to update the NISO Journal Article Versions (JAV) recommendations from 2008 to take account of preprint requirements.
They also identified several other areas that they felt would benefit from best practice guidelines, including:
- Metrics and appropriate tracking of usage
- Licensing of preprint submissions, content
- Degree of validation associated with a particular submission
- Implementation of single sign-on access
The need to be mindful of the differences between how each research community functions came across loud and clear from the attendees at this event. Conversely, however, this fragmentation may also result in confusion for people who aren’t researchers, but who are using open access materials — journalists, patients, carers, students, and others. Engaging with representatives from all the key stakeholder groups will, therefore, be essential if we are to succeed in developing the best practices we need. As we move forward with some or all of these recommendations, we will be inviting community participation and welcome your comments and suggestions.
Attendees also flagged the need for better community education and understanding of preprints. This includes developing and implementing appropriate indicators of the trustworthiness of content, properly vetted by the scientific community, and appropriate for mass consumption. Attendees felt strongly that we need to do a better job of ensuring that automatically-assigned identifiers, such as DOIs, are not perceived as an indicator of quality, of responsible peer-review, or of the version of record. We already work closely with persistent identifier organizations including Crossref, the International DOI Foundation, ORCID, and others, and we see this as a great opportunity to build on these relationships.
Everyone at NISO looks forward to working with the community to develop an agreed set of best practices for metadata and processes to support the discoverability, reuse, and interoperability of preprints — and I personally look forward to learning more about your needs at the ASAPBio workshop!