Why is RePEc 25 years old?

I once read a quote that claimed that the reason why humanity has never reached its full potential, and never will reach it, are meetings. Interesting enough, RePEc was “made” at a meeting. That meeting took place on 12 May 1997. It is considered the birthday of RePEc. Now that is 25 years ago.

RePEc really started with the NetEc project. An account of February 1997 is in my note “About NetEc, with special Reference to WoPEc” at http://openlib.org/home/krichel/hisn.html. This gives a reasonable idea of the state of play before the meeting. In some ways that piece is an infomercial. It highlights the role that JISC funding played at that time.

What it does not mention are the the plans to build Swedish branch of WoPEc. The idea arose at a meeting in London where I met Frans Lettenström. He worked for Swedish Royal Library. I suggested they fund Sune Karlsson for a project to bud a Swedish economics working paper system.
On January 16 of 1997, Sune reported

“We had a meeting with our potential funders today and have reached a preliminary agreement on what to do. The idea is that we, as a pilot project, should get all the economics working paper series in Sweden on-line and into WoPEc.”

On March 1997, I received a cold email from Thomas W. Place of the library of Tilburg University. He was the technical lead for the DEGREE project. This project coordinated the publication of economics working papers by Dutch universities. I was aware of the project. I had tried to contact them on several occasions before, but never read from them. He proposed to furnish me data directly in the internal format used by WoPEc. This was an unprecedented act. As far as I can remember, until that point, Jose Manuel Barrueco Cruz (henceforth: JMBC) and I always has to take data from a provider and do conversions ourselves. But rather than accepting this offer with extreme enthusiasm it deserved, I wrote

“In the medium term I think we need to think over the whole structure of a distributed, mirrored archive system. I have already proposed that we use the list wopec-admin@mailbase to discuss a successor format to the WoPEc format. That would allow for administrative metadata, series descriptor, archive descriptions, permissions to mirror etc. This is longer term effort. I will publish some reflections soon.”

In fact, the email from Thomas W. Place gave me the impact to actually proceed in the direction outlined above. On 15 April I wrote to him

“My plan is to radically overhaul the structure of what we are doing, and I am writing a document that contains proposals for doing this. I have shown a draft to JMBC and he thinks it is very unclear at this stage … It is called the Guildford protocol.”

Thomas W. Place indicated he would be in London for a meeting on the May 13, so the 12 or 14 May would be good for him. Sune expressed a preference for 12 May. He used travel funds from the Swedish project and couched surfed at my flat in Martyr Court, Guildford. Sune arrived on the 8th at about 16:00. We went out for a walk to St. Martha’s Hill. On the hike, I popped the question to him. What did he think about my drafts? I was much relieved when he revealed that he thought they were reasonable.

The meeting as such was rather uneventful. The attendees were Corry Stuyts, who was the head of DEGREE, JMBC, Sune, Thomas, and myself. My office was too small and had too many computers in it, so we met in David Hawden’s office across the corridor. We basically set down and worked through the documents I had prepared. That’s all we did. We did not finish them. Thomas and Cory had to leave early. We went in great details through the two documents I had prepared. They are ReDIF specification and the Guildford protocol. Both documents are still the basis of RePEc. Sune contributed important corrections on May 16.

RePEc is a grass-roots initiative. Typically, grass-root initiatives take time to grow. Thus the precise start of such initiatives is not that easy to fix. The date of May 12, 1997 is generally accepted as the birthday of RePEc. But 25 years later, we need new directions. I have ideas but unfortunately, I am funded at this time to work on other business.

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