Preprints, Open Access Models and Covid-2019
As the articles collected in the volume Open Access and the Library, which Anja Oberländer and Torsten Reimer have edited, indicate, the earliest preprint servers date to the early 1990s, which predates the mainstream use of computers, e-mail and the Internet. At the same time, the Covid-19 crisis has pushed medical, health and biological science preprint services, such as bioRxiv and medRxiv, into the media limelight and scholarly focus. Both the earliest uses of preprints, such as arXiv, and the more recent ones have been driven by the need to promote the rapid dissemination of scholarly findings. What apparently distinguishes newer preprint servers, such as medRxiv, is the additional discovery- and attribution-oriented digital tools that they offer.
The urgency of the coronavirus crisis has also apparently driven collaborations with Open Access journal publishers, such as PLOS, for topical conversations, expert discussions and project crowdsourcing. The newer slate of preprint servers also not infrequently have backing from charitable or non-profit foundations, such as the Wellcome Trust or Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which distinguishes these from earlier generation servers, primarily supported by research institutes, e.g., the CERN. The main implication of this is the likely instability of preprint server funding, despite the important functions they perform.
Similarly, successful preprint models appear to be bound to specific fields of inquiry or disciplines, e.g., particle physics, so that preconditions for launching and maintaining preprint servers for other research areas, such as humanities or social sciences, are not necessarily present. The same may also apply to information distribution and discovery channels for digital collections, which may need to depend on libraries or joint initiatives, to become established.