The Munich Personal RePEc Archive (MPRA) has been started three years ago. It has developed into one of the largest archives within the RePEc network, comprising roughly 9000 items at the time of writing. Christian Zimmermann has suggested that I share some toughs about its history and functioning.
The initial idea occurred to me when I heard that the Economics Working Paper Archive (EconWPA), run by Bob Parks, was discontinued in 2005. EconWPA offered the possibility for individual authors to make their contributions accessible to the community through the RePEc network, given that only institutions can set up RePEc archives. Although we have in Munich our discussion paper series integrated into RePEc, not all economists are so fortunate, and the need for a personal archive (as distinct from an institutional archive) was apparent.
Given that we had successfully established our department’s discussion paper series with the EPrints software, it appeared technically feasible to clone the software and use it for a personal RePEc archive. Discussion on the internal RePEc list led to the name “Munich Personal RePEc Archive,” the main concern being to clarify that the archive was intended as a RePEc service, rather something original, and that the name would not exclude other personal RePEc archives in other locations. (If one of the other Munich universities wants to start another personal archive, we may get into a problem…)
I asked Volker Schallehn from the University Library, who has implemented the EPrints software for our university archives, about the possibility to help with such a project. He agreed to help. The next step was to convince the president of the university as well as the director of the library to agree dedicating some resources to the endeavor that would not serve people from Munich at all. They were in favor, and so we got started on September 19, 2006.
From a technical point of view the main problem was to automatize as much as possible, as we could not supply manpower: The generation of title pages, the creation of metadate in the ReDif format required by the RePEc harvester, and the linking to the RePEc author service. With the help of Thomas Krichel, Christian Zimmermann, Kit Baum, Sune Karlsson, Ivan Kurmarov, and others we manged to solve these problems and set up the website. We found editors. They do the main job now. The English editors handle often more than 50 submissions per day.
As the Eprints software permits to establish series in different languages, we decided to use these feature and to offer the service in all languages for authors who deal with country-specific issues and want to make their research available in their local language. However we require for all submissions English abstracts such that all users can obtain an impression what economists writing in other languages do and, if necessary, contact them. This feature has lead to quite a number of submissions in languages like Spanish or French, and to some smaller sets in Turkish, Arabic, and others. (Some of them look extremely pretty.) Maybe this feature creates a sense that all economists world-wide see themselves as members of a community with the common purpose of helping to improve living conditions around the globe.
A central motivation for establishing a pre-print archive like MPRA was to enable authors to secure the copyrights for their pre-print versions in case the copyright for the final article goes to the publisher. This permits open access to their work, even if publishers try to make the final work inaccessible for the non-paying public. This is a great convenience for academics and, I hope, generates a countervailing power that keeps a check on journal prices. Further, this arrangement provides a means for the authors to make their work accessible to others through the RePEc services.
As an unintended by-product some authors have obtained requests from publishers to publish their contribution in a volume or journal. This may indicate a trend for the future: While authors submitted their works to publishers (and paid for it), in the future simply put your stuff on the net, and publishers approach you in order to create collections that generate value added beyond mere publication, such that people and libraries a willing to pay for it. If MPRA could contribute to such a development, this would be nice.
It is quite astonishing to me how many good papers we obtain, in spite of the fact that we do no refereeing at all. (The editors check only some formal aspects, making sure that the submission is of academic nature, and a certain convention has emerged in this respect.)
MPRA offers a public forum for publishing papers, but not only that: It offers the possibility to publish comments on papers in the archive. This feature is not used. Maybe somebody has a suggestion how to organize discussions around papers such that people actually feel inclined to use such a feature.
So much about MPRA. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to communicate and discuss them on this blog.