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The PubMed Central Project

What is PubMed Central?

PubMed Central is the barrier-free NIH repository for peer-reviewed primary research reports in the life sciences, which began accepting journal articles in January 2000.

In the months since the NIH first proposed E-biomed -- a system that would make results from the world's life-sciences research community freely available on the Internet -- they heard from hundreds of people and have had discussions with dozens of interested organizations. Whether the people supported or opposed the proposal, these comments have been incorporated into this NIH's overall view of the PubMed Central project.

Although the fundamental principles that motivated the original proposal remain, specific aspects have evolved in significant ways. First, the scope of the content has expanded to include the life sciences in general, including plant and agricultural research as well as biology and medicine. Second, the screening of non-peer-reviewed reports will be the responsibility of groups that have no direct relationship to the NIH.

The NIH will has established a Web-based repository for barrier-free access to primary reports in the life sciences. This repository, PubMed Central, will extend its coverage of the life sciences and continue its linkage to external online journals.

PubMed Central archives, organizes and distributes peer-reviewed reports from journals, as well as reports that have been screened but not formally peer-reviewed. In addition, it will coordinate with similar efforts to establish servers internationally, including those overseen by the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO). Scientific publishers, professional societies, and other groups independent of the NIH will have complete responsibility for the input to PubMed Central. Copyright will reside with the submitting groups (i.e., the publishers, societies, or editorial boards) or the authors themselves, as determined by the participants.

Peer-reviewed reports will be provided to PubMed Central from participating publishers and societies that have mediated the review process. The submission of content to PubMed Central can occur at any time after acceptance for publication, at the discretion of the participants. Although early deposition offers the greatest benefit to the scientific community, and the NIH recognizes the concerns of publishers about financial consequences of rapid submission and will welcome content submitted at any time.

The non-peer-reviewed reports will also enter PubMed Central through independent organizations, which will be responsible for screening this material. Many of the non-peer-reviewed reports will be "preprints," both deposited in PubMed Central and subjected to formal peer review by journal editorial boards. In other cases, these reports may never be submitted to a journal for traditional peer review, yet will be deposited in PubMed Central because, in the judgment of the screening organization, they provide valuable data to the research community. Some publishers and societies have already planned preprint servers, and it is believed that such groups -- and other responsible groups yet to be constituted -- can bring diversity and experience to the oversight of the non-peer-reviewed material. This material will be clearly distinguished from the peer-reviewed content of PubMed Central.

NIH's responsibility will be limited to maintaining this central repository, specifically:

  • Facilitating the input of SGML-tagged content from submitters;
  • Developing technology for enhanced retrieval, presentation, and navigation;
  • Improving the access to and utility of the content in PubMed Central for other information resources, publishers, and database groups;
  • Coordinating with the repository efforts of international partners in the system; and
  • Archiving the content and working to guarantee accessibility in the future.

An international advisory committee will be constituted by learned societies interested in fostering the development of PubMed Central and the collaborating international repositories. One of the important functions of the advisory committee will be to establish criteria for certifying groups that may submit peer-reviewed or screened material to PubMed Central. In the meantime, the initial criteria will be:
  • Any journal currently indexed by the major abstracting and indexing services: EMBASE, Biosis, MEDLINE, Science Citation Index, Agricola, PsycINFO, and Chemical Abstracts.
  • Any organization with at least three members who are principal investigators on research grants from major funding agencies and foundations (for example, NIH, NSF, DOE, NASA, or HHMI in the United States, and equivalent organizations abroad).

In order to facilitate participation in this initiative, some of the expenses associated with publication may shift from readers to authors. As they do with journal subscriptions, page charges, and reprints, NIH grantees (and those of other funding agencies) may choose to use funds to pay any additional expenses, e.g., submission and document preparation charges.

Participating journals and other organizations will submit complete research reports to PubMed Central and access to the entire report will be free to individuals through PubMed Central. The status of all reports -- peer-reviewed or screened -- and the identity of the contributing organization will be clearly indicated. The PubMed Central staff will work with the publisher to establish an efficient data flow and make this content available as soon as possible. They will also work to satisfy publishers' needs to preserve the distinctive appearance of their journals' contents in PubMed Central without compromising the overall utility of the repository. Appropriate links to the publisher's site will also be included. PubMed Central will solicit the views of participating publishers to best serve their needs and enhance the value of the overall resource.

The NIH invites the scientific community to engage in the venture. PubMed Central became available on January 2000. Publishers, societies, editorial boards and other organizations interested in depositing content in PubMed Central are now urged to contact them at

Who can participate in PubMed Central?

All material in PubMed Central will be contributed by journals currently indexed by one of the major abstracting and indexing services, or journals that have three or more research-grant holders from major funding agencies on their editorial boards. More...

Organizations that support PubMed Central

Several organizations have expressed support for PubMed Central, and some are interested in putting their journals on PubMed Central. Those organizations include:

    Association of Academic Health Science Libraries
    Association of Research Libraries
    Community of Science
    Current Science Group
    emedicine, Inc.
    Medical Library Association

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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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