E-journal archiving and open source: two problems may have one solution

IFLA 2009 is in Europe.  Attending the IFLA conference is a chance to visit some of the great libraries of the world.    These libraries have superb collections of books as well as exceptional collections of journals.

For those journals targeted for long term retention, care is taken to ensure that complete annual issues of journal subscriptions are received, with follow-up on misssing issues. At relevant intervals these issues are bound for good retention.

But ask this question of the library you next visit:  do you archive  your electronic subscriptions.  The common answer is “No”.  The  reason for this varies: uncertainty about copyright, trust in the service provider, lack of a digital archiving infrastructure, hope that ‘someone in the US’ is looking after it, or simply lack of attention to this issue.  Of course, not all subscriptions  will have long term retention value for a library.  Some libraries will, sensibly, retain the print version of the subscription for archive purposes.

The contrast between the attention to practice between print and electronic subscriptions is remarkable.  There are no specific technological issues around gathering and storing content in a digital archive.   There are, indeed, some interesting open source solutions, including the well-established LOCKSS.

Of course, there are some issues around long term management of the content through content and format conversion – but this is a less problematic issue for e-journal content.  Indeed, while there are problems to address – such as problems of long term format conversion, – there is no reason not to be working on these issues right now.  Two challenges face libraries: to work on and publicise projects in this area; and to challege restrictions to archiving that exist with many e-journal publishers.  To have a single digital repository (eg OCLC) is not sufficient, although regional initiatives on this front and escrow or archive repositories is certainly one quite workable approach.  Another is simply to demand archiving rights as part of a subscripton.  Some default, restrictive, publisher e-journal subscription licences should be challenged.    The open source approach faces a problem of acceptance; however, this obstacle is receeding as open source systems are increasingly accepted in a number of other library service areas.

Smart libraries can link this process in with a strategy of open access (for their own publishing activiteis) and with open source (for archiving solutions).   It is time for more libraries to work on this area and perhaps to contribute to new open source solutons also. Preservation of print collections is well understood part of collection building policies of libraries.   Our challenge is to make e-journal archiving just as automatic: an unchallenged assumption of normal practice of digital collection building.

Edmund Balnaves – ITS Information Officer

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