Monday, February 13, 2006

Thomas Krichel: a man with ideas, and drive!

Money doesn't make the world go round. Ideas do!

So said Thomas Krichel, Assistant Professor, Palmer School of Library and Information Studies, Long Island University, at the First E-LIS Workshop.

Very true, Thomas! May I add: it is people with ideas - and the drive and determination to see their ideas realized - that really make the world go round! People like Thomas Krichel - E-LIS team member, early open access pioneer, and founder of the world's second largest archive (after arXiv), RePec.

Thomas is recognized twice on Peter Suber's Open Access Timeline. On February 1, 1993, Thomas launched the Working Papers in Economics (WoPEc), with the deposit of an open access working paper (not his own), the first in economics. On May 12, 1997, Thomas launched RePEc, Research Papers in Economics, which as of today holds over 362,000 items of interest, 261,000 of which are available online.

The secret of the success of RePEc appears to a combination of vision, very hard work, and collaboration.

Vision: Thomas was working on sharing information about economics working papers in different ways, such as early e-mail lists, long before WoPEc became a reality, and also long before the world wide web! If you think it is difficult now explaining to people why we should develop archives, and encourage people to deposit their work there - picture doing this in the early '90's, as Thomas did!

Very hard work: in the years between the beginning of WoPEc and the founding of RePEc, this hobby-project of Thomas' became the largest archive of its kind. When it became obvious that a single database was the best approach, it made sense for the others to merge into the infrastructure of the largest archive.

Collaboration: WoPEC and RePEc both emerge from traditional practices in economics, which has a strong working papers culture. The distributed archives approach also reflects practice in the field. This model works so well because it fits the discipline, rather than the other way around.

RePEc works because others choose to work with RePEc. In the early years, there were a number of approaches to archives for working papers in economics, most notably Bob Parks' Economic Working Papers. The evolution of RePEc was very much a process of working collaboratively toward merger.

Currently, RePEc is at the beginning of an exciting new cycle of growth, again through collaboration. In this case, the new archives tradition has found a way to work together with the traditional publisher in a way that benefits both. The American Economics Association has been collecting information about working papers for years, but their collection was not as comprehensive as RePEc's. Now, information about RePEC is being added directly to the Association's EconLit.
Why would a volunteer-based organization like RePEc choose to give away their work to a profit-making publisher for free? Because, says Thomas Krichel, this works to the advantage of both: EconLit is more valuable, and placing your work in RePEc is the best way to ensure your working papers are included in EconLit, which enhances the success of RePEc.

If your economics faculty members would like to avail themselves of the RePEc advantage for their work, here is where they go for RePEc's very easy, user-friendly author registration.

There are a number of search tools for RePEc, all listed on the RePEc main page, such as the Ideas search provided by the University of Connecticut.

To return to librarianship, here are some thoughts for librarians and library school students: as Thomas Krichel said about E-LIS at the First Workshop: "When I started to work on RePEc, a totally free and improved A & I dataset in 1993, nobody gave it a high probably to succeed. There is no reason we can not do it again!"

Thomas' advice on what students and librarians should be learning for the future: open source software!

This post is partially based on an interview with Thomas on Feb. 8, and personal observation of Thomas' wonderful collegiality and cooperative spirit through the E-LIS team. When I first met Thomas at the OAI4 conference, this visionary genius was quite preoccupied with yet another voluntary activity, as voluntary conference photographer! Ladies take note: this handsome, mysterious European librarian-genius is still single - at least so far. For all your inspiration, hard work, and cooperative spirit, Thomas - thanks!
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