Preserving e-journals

Last Thursday a new DPC Technolgy Watch report was presented in London. Neil Beagrie wrote Preservation, Trust and Continuing Access for e-Journals . In a lively setting at RIBA almost all major players were present with representatives from Portico, CLOCKSS , the KB International e-Depot and the Keepers registry to celebrate the launch of this publication and to discuss a variety of challenges and complexities related to preserving this material.

The DPC report gives a good overview of the current state of affairs, the terminology used in this area, the way organizations acquire e-journals (either directly from the publishers or via web harvesting the publisher sites)  and the reasons why organisations like the above mentioned are undertaking this task. E-journals are seen as the basic for scholarly communication. But the publishing model has changed the situation for libraries: instead of having the paper copies on the stacks, they need  “preserving a connection”  – this phrase is from Peter Burnhill- . This is what most subscribing organisations do: they don’t own the content, only the right to distribute the subscription to their members . To avoid loss of this material, one should start preserving the collection and negotiate with publishers  the rights to preserve this. Six use cases illustrate the challenges in preserving this material and they are not so much technical challenges as well as “organisational challenges”, like publishers ceasing operation or transferring part of their collection to another publisher without notifying. One chapter is about Trust, and in this case it is not about the trust in the sense of one repository certified by the  ISO 16363 standard for Trustworthy Repositories. But it is more about how to trust that these e-journals in general will be available in the future. The total sum of the participating and in future participating organisations that preserve e-journals should lead to trusting them to have a complete set that is accessible for the community.

In contrast to websites, where nobody expects to preserve the whole Word Wide Web, with e-journals we strive ‘ to have them all’, at least to preserve all e-journals that are relevant for the scholarly communication.  To monitor this, the KEEPERS registry is there to show us who is preserving which e-journal. In his talk Peter Burnhill tried on the hand to be optimistic about the registry but showed on the other hand that we are not there. Although the e-journals of big publishers like Elsevier and Springer are preserved for example by Portico and the International e-Depot of the KB , they represent only a small part of the total. It is far more difficult to collect the rest of the e-journals, the  “long tail”, as these are often called:  small publishers with only a few e-journals .  Collecting these is costly. One need to search for them, negotiate the terms with each publisher individually and design an ingest flow, which is as time consuming for one small publisher as it is for big publishers.  Some statistics here,  from the 100.000 serials with an e-ISSN, only 21.000 are mentioned in the Keepers registry. So 79.000 are in danger, not to mention the amount without a e-ISSN (more statistics in Burnhills blog).

For preservation the challenge lies also in the technical developments around e-journals, what is exactly the “digital object” ? This topic is less represented in the DPC Tech Watch Report, but a growing problem for collecting organisations.  The time lies behind us that a publication was simply a pdf article. Nowadays it is often accompanied by supplemental material (this can still be seen as part of the article) and “context information”, like websites, altmetrics, data etc. Can this be seen as part of the object and should this also be preserved? The same discussion takes place related to “enhanced publications”. And this is different from the analogue world, where no one expected a library to preserve all the literature referred to in the footnotes of scientific publications! Preserving organisations will need to publish their policies in this respect, to manage the expectations of their user community.

Beagrie writes that “ This makes e-journals one of the most dynamic and challenging areas of digital preservation” . But how about e-books and websites, are they less challenging? Let’s not categorize the objects to preserve (“who is doing the toughest job”), time will show that all digital genres will offer us similar challenges!

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