Librarians and others who assist researchers and organize information often need to categorize published articles. As an example, a librarian may need to categorize a series of papers, including one by Robert Lucas. The paper is part of the literature in economics, so it should not be that problematic to attribute it to the right person. Well, it turns out that there is a Robert E. B. Lucas, a Robert F. Lucas and a Robert E. Lucas, Jr. To make things worse, the last two both work in the same sub-field, macroeconomics.
Luckily, economics is rather well organized for this task thanks to the RePEc project. RePEc stands for Research Papers in Economics and was founded in 1997 on the foundations of NetEc, itself dating back to 1992.The goal of RePEc has been to improve the dissemination of research within thefield of economics. It does so by letting publishers and research institutions index their works and then disseminates them through email and the web. This is done at no cost for all parties.
The need for such a service arose because publication lags are extremely long in the field of economics—the review process alone is measured in years—so that a pre-print culture has established itself. At least until 1992, pre-prints were, however, disseminated only among those within a close circle. The consequence was that the frontier of research became apparent to those outside this circle through journal publication many years after the actual research was conducted. The lags made it very difficult for outsiders to contribute to it.
RePEc has democratized the dissemination of research in economics, both for authors and readers, and made it possible for anyone to beaware of the research frontier. An important collateral effect of the project has been theRePEc Author Service, in which authors create personal accounts and identify their works among the papers listed in RePEc. Important complementarities between the bibliographic aspect of RePEc and the RePEc Author Service, along with properly aligned incentives for all participants, allowed RePEc to grow to encompass all major publishers and an impressive number of authors.
This paper describes RePEc, how it collects its bibliographic metadata and how the RePEc Author Service (RAS) played an important role in it. We then look a bit more into the detailed workings of RAS. Finally, wediscuss how the concept can be expanded to the scientific literature in general, with proper modifications.