As the creation and use of digital information accelerate, responsibility for preservation is diffuse, and the responsible parties—scholars, university and college administrators, research and academic libraries, and publishers—have been slow to identify and invest in the necessary infrastructure to ensure that the published scholarly record represented in electronic formats remains intact over the long-term.
Urgent Call to Action
Academic libraries have been slow to respond to the vulnerability of e-journal literature, because competing demands have taken precedence, because they have not fully embraced collective and shared responsibility for the safety of digital content, and because few options presented themselves. The landscape is changing and, as this report shows, several viable choices for exercising good digital stewardship for e-journals are emerging. Are these perfect solutions? No. Do they address preservation needs? Sort of. Do they adequately cover the domain of peer-reviewed e-journal literature? Somewhat. Are they worthy of support? Yes. Could they benefit from academic library input? Absolutely.
As we consider recommendations for the future, let us start with some givens:
- It is a matter of when, not whether, e-journal publishing programs will suffer significant trigger events that put at risk ongoing access to vital scholarly resources.
- Academic libraries cannot address all e-journal archiving needs at the local level. The requisite resources are simply not there.
- Current guarantees included in e-journal licenses are inadequate: a perpetual-access clause does not equate to digital preservation, and the requirement to receive copies of the digital files on disk or tape is tantamount to buying pork bellies short on the commodities market and having them delivered to one's front door.
- For the first time, viable options are emerging that address academic library needs and interests.
- No single program can assume full responsibility for all e-journal preservation. Multiple programs are necessary, but they should cooperate with each other as part of a larger network.
- Academic libraries have an opportunity to influence how these programs operate and whether they will succeed.
- Academic libraries that do not support e-journal archiving programs in the near future risk incurring costly and delayed access to essential resources. E-journal archiving is not just a problem for large libraries.
- Current laws are inadequate to support digital archiving. Each country should enact legal deposit laws to provide a much-needed national safety net.
- Coverage of scholarly literature is uneven across disciplines. STM journals are more heavily represented than are those in the humanities and social sciences; large commercial publishers are well represented; smaller, independent publishers are not.
- Publishers and e-journal archiving programs alike need greater transparency of support, coverage, technical approaches, business practice, and contractual relations.
Our scan of the landscape highlights the need for action to address e-journal archiving challenges by three key players—publishers, archiving entities, and libraries. Looking ahead, what would progress look like? Publisher Web sites and other communication vehicles would highlight, even tout, their archiving arrangements, partners, and developments. Publishers would provide specific, comprehensive, and current information about archival strategies that is targeted at stakeholders beyond the library community and compliant with archival trends. Archiving would be a central and visible component of their digital asset management. The strategies and practices of e-journal archiving programs would be well known through publicly available and comprehensive documentation; the extent of their holdings in terms of publishers, titles, content included, and date spans would be current and readily accessible. A core group of archiving programs would be routinely audited and certified as adhering to prevailing standards and practice and would provide digital preservation models. Archiving programs would share information and collaborate to ensure that the main goal for preserving e-journal content and its scholarly successors is achieved. Libraries of all sizes and types would include explicit references in their mission statements to their ongoing investment and participation in e-journal archiving initiatives that both contribute to archiving programs and target specific categories of at-risk content. The extent and progress of e-journal archiving participation would be mainstreamed and would be a measure of success for libraries. In our ideal future scenario, key players would work together to codify standards and practice governing e-journal archiving. We have in mind something similar to COUNTER, a collaborative effort of publishers, libraries, consortia, intermediaries, and industry to measure the use of online resources through an agreed-on set of international standards and protocols governing the recording and exchange of online usage data. The COUNTER Codes of Practice provide these standards and protocols and are published in full on its Web site, as is a list of compliant vendors.
Recommendations: Academic Libraries and Organizations
- Libraries and consortia should press publishers hard to enter into e-journal archiving relationships with bona fide programs and to convey all necessary rights and responsibilities for digital archiving to them as part of their license negotiations. There should be community agreement that the same rights are conveyed in all archiving arrangements. Research libraries should collectively agree not to sign new licenses or renew old ones for access to electronic journals unless these conditions are met.
- Libraries should share information with each other about what they are doing in e-journal archiving, including their internal assessment process for decision making.
- Institutions should become members of or participate in at least one e-journal archiving initiative; it is the only way a library can ensure it will have continued access to journal content. The institution must be prepared to commit the resources and organizational support needed. Participation in more than one program can ensure that different approaches and strategies are tried and assessed. A broad range of academic and research libraries should be encouraged to affiliate with appropriate e-journal archiving programs.
- Academic libraries of all sizes should act collectively to press for digital archiving programs that meet their needs. As a condition of support, they should request details on the program's ability to meet base-level requirements for responsible stewardship of journal content and, ultimately, some form of accreditation. A first step would be to require each program to complete the audit checklist being developed by RLG and NARA, and to report the results. An archival program should also be able to provide a definitive list of titles and date spans covered, the level of content completeness, a description of institutional obligations, and a list of prevailing standards and best practices used to protect materials; it should specify the circumstances under which access to content is provided, and the timing of such access. Any initiative whose primary purpose is to deliver current journal literature should be carefully assessed for its preservation capabilities. Those that focus mainly on preservation should be examined for their ability to provide access in a timely and cost-effective manner following a trigger event. Access and preservation are not automatically at odds—but there is the danger that focusing on one could be to the detriment of the other.
- Much of the e-journal literature remains outside the protection of the archiving programs. Libraries should participate in developing a registry of archived scholarly publications that indicates which programs have preserved them, following such models as the Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR), which lists 667 open-access e-print archives around the world, and ROARMAP, which tracks the growth of institutional self-archiving policies. This registry could then be used to identify gaps in publisher or content coverage.
- Libraries should lobby e-journal archiving programs to participate in a network that shares information, codifies best practices, and promotes sufficient redundancy but also shares responsibility for preserving peer-reviewed e-journals that are not currently included.
- Publishers should be overt about their digital archiving efforts and enter into archiving relationships with one or more e-journal archiving programs of the sort described in this report or their equivalents. Smaller presses appear to be at most risk.
- Publishers should provide enough information to e-journal archiving programs to ensure that the scope, content, date span, and title coverage are adequately recorded.
- Publishers should extend liberal archiving rights in their licensing agreements with content aggregators and consortia. Digital archiving of e-journals should be a distributed responsibility.
Recommendations: E-Journal Archiving Programs
- Archiving programs should present compelling public evidence that they offer at least the minimal level of services for well-managed collections. They should be open to audit, and when certification of trusted digital repositories is available, they should be certified.
- Archiving programs should be overt about the publishers, titles, date spans, and content coverage included in their programs. They should make this information easily accessible on their Web sites.
- Archiving programs should ensure that once content is ingested it becomes the repository's property and cannot be removed or modified by a publisher or its successor. If there is an alleged breach of contract, there should be a process for dispute mediation to protect the longevity and integrity of the e-journal content.
- A study should be conducted to examine rights and responsibilities necessary to ensure adequate protection for digital archiving actions so that these rights are accurately reflected in contracts. Archiving programs should periodically review contracts, because changes in publishers, acquisitions, mergers, content creation and dissemination, and technology can affect archiving rights and responsibilities. Continuity of preservation responsibility is essential.
- Archiving programs should consider that some content they store might eventually enter the public domain and negotiate all agreements with publishers to take this possibility into account.
- Archiving programs should form a network of support and mutual dependence to exchange information on content coverage, technical implementations, and best practices; to obtain the necessary contractual rights to preserve and eventually provide access to content; to create a safety net for one another for succession planning and secondary archival functions; and to share responsibility for identifying and preserving peer-reviewed e-journals that are not currently protected. As a first step, we recommend funding a meeting of the principals of these programs to identify areas of collaboration.