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The Next 25 Years: With User Survey, arXiv Looks to the Future

Nearly 37,000 users of arXiv, the preeminent open-access scientific digital archive, responded to a recent survey seeking their insight about its direction, and a majority of respondents urged arXiv to remain committed to its core mission of free and open dissemination of the latest scientific research.

As arXiv celebrates its 25th year as one of the scientific community’s most important means of communication, the site’s leadership is looking ahead to ensure it remains indispensable, robust and financially sustainable. While nearly 95 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with arXiv, many said they would like to see improvements that would make the site easier to use, without changing its essential format.

“We were amazed and heartened by the outpouring of responses representing users from a variety of countries, age groups and career stages. Their insight will help us as we refine a compelling and coherent vision for arXiv’s future,” said Oya Rieger, Cornell University Library associate university librarian for digital scholarship and preservation programs, and arXiv’s program director. “We’re continuing to explore current and emerging user needs and priorities. We hope to secure funding to revamp the service’s infrastructure and ensure that it will continue to serve as an important scientific venue for facilitating rapid dissemination of papers, which is arXiv’s core goal.”

The full survey report can be found here.

Most respondents to the survey cautioned against changes such as allowing users to rank papers or comment on them, fearing that turning arXiv into a social-media site could erode its quality. One respondent wrote: “Do not make arXiv into a social-media platform or something complicated. Keep working on improving your core, which is what we use and love!”

Though some users suggested new or additional features, a majority of respondents emphasized that the clean, unencumbered nature of the site makes its use easier and more efficient. “I sincerely wish academic journals could try to emulate the cleanness, convenience, and user-friendly nature of the arXiv, and I hope the future of academic publishing looks more like what's we've been able to enjoy in the arXiv,” one user wrote.

Improving the search function emerged as a top priority, as the users expressed a great deal of frustration with the limited search capabilities currently available. “I really think the search engine would be the best place to focus - time-ranking and basic keyword search aren't really enough for the complexity and diversity of search terms in technical papers,” a user wrote.

Regardless of their subject area, users were in agreement about the importance of continuing to implement quality control measures, such as checking for text overlap. Users also expressed strong interest in better support for submitting and linking research data, code, slides and other materials associated with papers. “arXiv is a wonderfully simple and elegant tool,” one respondent commented. “I think the best path forward is one which improves the service by making the kind of tweaks that enhance what it already does without significantly changing the way users interact with the website.”

arXiv is funded by the Simons Foundation, Cornell University Library, and about 190 member libraries from all around the world. The site is collaboratively governed and supported by the research communities and institutions that benefit from it most directly, ensuring a transparent and sustainable resource. As use grows and submissions increase in the face of an aging code, arXiv is exploring additional funding options to improve the site’s outdated technical infrastructure.