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Best Current Practices:
Recommendations on Electronic Information Communication (2002)
Endorsed by the IMU Executive Committee on April 13, 2002 in its 69th session in Paris, France
Communication of mathematical research and scholarship is undergoing
profound change as new technology creates new ways to disseminate and
access the literature. More than technology is changing, however; the
culture and practices of those who create, disseminate, and archive
the mathematical literature are changing as well. For the sake of
present and future mathematicians, we should shape those changes to
make them suit the needs of the discipline.
1. Structure and Format. Logically structured documents
correctly reflect the content of a mathematician's work, setting
forth results, arguments, and explanations to make them
understandable to readers. But a logical structure also makes it
possible to retrieve and eventually to update the document.
Identifying the constituent parts of an electronic document is
essential in order to move from one format to another without human
intervention. Authoring documents should be more than setting down
mathematical research in a pleasing format.
2. Linking and Enrichment. An electronic publication can offer
much more than a print publication. Electronic publication gives the
user the ability to move effortlessly among the various parts of a
paper or even from one paper to another. In order to make this
possible, however, someone must add the necessary information to
establish links in the electronic version.
3. Versions. Online publication can lead to severe problems in
citation, because the posted paper can be updated continuously until
it bears little resemblance to the original, as an author corrects,
adds, and deletes material without indicating that changes were made.
As the mathematical literature grows, references to non-existent
papers and results will eventually jeopardize its coherence.
4. Personal Homepages. Mathematical communication is more than
merely posting or publishing papers. Information about the
mathematical community and its activities is valuable to all
mathematicians, and it is now easier than ever to circulate and to
find such material.
5. Personal Collected Works. Mathematics ages slowly. Access
to older literature is important for most mathematicians, and yet
much of the older literature is likely to remain unavailable in
electronic form in the immediate future. Mathematicians can change
that by taking collective action.
6. Preprints and archives. Mathematical writing is ineffective
if it is not communicated. A generation ago, the photocopier made it
easy to send preprints to one's peers. Today, as a substitute, we
have departmental servers, homepages, and public archives. [The arXiv
(http://www.arxiv.org/) is one prominent example.]
Copyright. While copyright is a complex subject that is far removed
from mathematics, copyright law and policy can profoundly affect the
ways in which mathematics is disseminated and used. Copyright is
important for mathematicians.
8. Journal Price and Policy. Libraries have
limited budgets, which often grow more slowly than the prices of
journals, forcing libraries to cancel subscriptions. The cumulative
effect of cancellations goes beyond individual institutions because
it shifts costs to an ever smaller number of subscribers,
accelerating the process of price increase and cancellation. Journal
prices matter to all mathematicians.
Publication and peer review processes are increasingly detached. The
emergence of overlay journals, archival preprint servers, and other
new structures of publication raise new and pressing questions about
the appropriate forms of validation. These are important issues for
all scholarship, but even more important for mathematics since it is
essential to know which parts of the mathematical literature are
10. Statistics. Electronic delivery of information has changed the
nature of statistics available to assess the usage and the 'value' of
academic literature. Gathering statistics from the Internet is
notoriously complicated, and even those who are knowledgeable about
the pitfalls can be inadvertently or intentionally misled. As
librarians and other decision makers increasingly rely on web
statistics (such as the number of hits, page accesses or downloads)
it is important to be informed about the nature of such measurements
and the difficulty in gathering and interpreting them. Moreover, the
value of a particular resource is often not best measured by simply
counting the number of times it is currently used in some way. This
is especially true in a field like mathematics in which current
research continues to play such a significant role far into the
11. Partial Access. Many
journals restrict access to (paying) subscribers. As the web of
mathematical literature grows, however, it will be increasingly
important for all mathematicians to navigate that web, whether or
not they have access to complete articles. This allows
mathematicians to learn basic information about an article, even when
they do not belong to institutions that have the financial resources
to support the journal. It is especially advantageous to
mathematicians from the developing world.
Eventual Free Access. The scholarly enterprise rests on the free
exchange of ideas, and scholars need to have easy access to those
ideas. Many journals, however, rely on subscriptions to recover
costs and to provide an incentive to publish, forcing them to limit
access to subscribers. Access should be a balance between those two
needs, of scholars and of publishers.
13. Archiving format.
Ensuring the success of longterm archiving is more than storing the
electronic data on reliable media in multiple locations. As software
and formats change in the future, the data will require modification
and updating. Not all electronic formats are suitable for these
responsibility. Traditionally, maintaining the older literature has
been the responsibility of librarians rather than publishers. Even in
the electronic age, scholars and the librarians who represent them
have the greatest motivation among all of the affected parties to
ensure the preservation of older material.
15. Licensing and Bundling. Some licensing and bundling
arrangements for journals accelerate the transfer of control of our
literature away from mathematicians and research librarians. When
institutions are forced to accept or reject large collections of
scholarly literature covering many different disciplines, the
decisions are less likely to be made by scholars. As a consequence,
the normal processes that promote the highest quality journals become
Postscript on Developing Countries. Today,
active mathematicians depend on access to electronic information
online journals, databases of reviews, and preprint servers. More
than access, research mathematicians need the tools to create and
edit documents in standard formats [such as LaTeX, Postscript, and
PDF]. This is true for mathematicians everywhere, including those in
developing countries. Implementing many of the recommendations in
the preceding document makes little sense if mathematicians are not
connected to the Internet or have no tools to create electronic
Committee on Electronic Information Communication
Remark: The above recommendations have been stated in very general form. Whenever reference to existing formats [e.g., LaTeX, PDF], to archiving systems [e.g., arXiv], or to information and communication systems [e.g., Math-Net] has been made this is meant for illustration and not to promote these formats and systems. The IMU EC has asked CEIC to enhance, whenever appropriate and useful, individual recommendations by adding links to web pages that explain some of the technical issues involved, provide additional information, or contain (possibly controversial) discussions of the topics addressed. These links will be under the responsibility of CEIC and are not subject of the IMU EC recommendations.
Last Update: Aug 19. 2002
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