There are two imperatives at work with the preservation of digital works. The first of these has scholarly and/or cultural motive. These works form a part of the scholarly record and of the cultural heritage of their time and place. The interest that they last and remain usable is felt most keenly by scholars. The other imperative is based upon their asset value for those that put time and effort into their publication, with financial motive in ensuring that they last and continue to deliver a return on that investment. The first imperative remains whether a digital work requires payment for access or is available for free on the web. The second is less so when there is no immediate and visible financial benefit, as is the case for Open Access content. It follows that the responsibility to ensure that Open Access publications are preserved for long-term use rests upon the shoulders of scholars, archivists and librarians.
Fortunately a number of organizations are giving priority to the preservation of the digital scholarly record and cultural heritage. These ‘Keepers’ participate in what is known as the Keepers Registry which has the ISSN Serials Registry at its core. The Keepers Registry serves as a crucial role by ensuring internationally shared knowledge of long-term access arrangement for electronic serials. The individual Keepers and of the associated institutions and individuals who work with them have produced a shared statement of interest and plan of action to further the preservation extent for electronic serials. Building upon the archival arrangements that have been made for the paid-for content serial content from the larger academic publishers, content which delivers a return, there is some prospect of progress with Open Access content from that source. However, the greatest challenge for the Keepers lies beyond the gardens of those large publishers, for the wildflowers that grow outside and which need special care and attention for their long term survival.
The Keepers place a strong emphasis on the ‘long-tail’ of serial publications, which fall outside the scope of the large publishers and naturally includes a large amount of Open Access serial publishing. An important subset of Open Access content is expected to be archived by a recent recruit to the network of Keepers that is emerging, the Public Knowledge Project which specializes in providing a publication platform for Open Access serial publishing: this can encourage good preservation practices by its Open Access publishers. However, each one of the Keepers expects to play an important role, alongside its colleagues at research libraries, whether with national or university remit. As noted in the Keepers’ Statement, these research libraries are well placed to prioritize the Open Access they regard as important and to work with the ISSN Network to identify such content and with the Keepers to encourage active preservation. In particular, national libraries can use their “national collecting mandate to ensure the preservation of content produced by small, local and regional publishers, which is at significantly greater risk of loss than the content of larger, international publishers”. Ensuring the preservation and long-term access of Open Access publications requires a revision in strategy, but both the will and the infrastructure exist. As with paid-for resources, the preservation of the Open Access wildflowers can be accomplished if we work cooperatively.
My thanks to Peter Burnhill, ISG Director of Business Development and Innovation, University of Edinburgh, for his input for this post