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CUP launches digital archive

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John Murphy finds out about the challenges that Cambridge University Press (CUP) faced in digitising its complete journal archive

Online archives are the stuff of librarians' dreams. They don’t need shelf space, handling gloves or air conditioned vaults; they can be searched quickly and used by anyone with a login 24/7.

At the same time, many publishers have found buried treasure in their journal archives by putting them online. Citations start to grow and librarians recognise that archives can have historical value beyond the value of the information contained in their articles, helping them find new users for the service.

But when you have 425 years of continuous publishing history, as Cambridge University Press (CUP) has, it is sometimes not straightforward to create an archive of your full catalogue of journals right back to their first issue. At least the oldest journal was published relatively recently – in 1827 – but of course journals can change hands over long periods of time so the current publishers may never have owned a complete set. Even the best kept repositories have floods and fires, not to mention wars and revolutions if you go back far enough.

Money well spent

Nonetheless CUP believes that the investment of time, effort and money in creating a full archive of the 230 journals the company publishes, on its own or for learned societies, has been justified by the response from libraries.

Simon Ross, journals director of CUP said: ‘When I joined the company two years ago I noticed that this was one of the few publishers that had not completed its archive. Our largest serial, Journal of Fluid Mechanics, had a large archive and it had immediately proved a success in terms of its sales and usage. The next thing was to suggest full digitisation of the archives. This could become a significant new revenue stream. We don’t return profits to shareholders but we need to make profits to support other activities and ultimately to support the work of Cambridge University.’

Being a bit later than some other publishers in creating a full digital archive did have some benefits. The quality of the scanning and the meta data were extremely high, according to Ross. This means that the articles all meet the same technological standard as those in the 2009 current journals, even if the originals were published in 1827.

The archive has been branded The Cambridge Journals Digital Archive and libraries need only pay once for perpetual access. It can be bought in its entirety or as a humanities and social sciences or science, technology and medicine package.

The work took two years to complete, producing three million scanned pages from 350,000 articles from 20,000 journals in the form of searchable PDFs with digital object identifiers (DOIs) attached to each article. New journals that CUP has bought recently will be digitised as part of a second phase. The project required a lot of co-operation from partner societies and institutions. Sometimes they had the only copy of an early journal, and these rare copies required some skilled handling to prevent any damage while they were scanned.

Scouring the world

Ross said: ‘Even with the journals that you own you find that you don’t have Issue 1 of Volume 1 until you need it. We had to source them from many different places. Some came from libraries getting rid of their paper archives and going all electronic. Some came from second-hand booksellers or eBay. I think the project manager even found one at a jumble sale. We have a partner company in the USA that deals in printed editions that it supplies to libraries looking to complete their collections. In fact as a result of this process our relationship with them has got stronger and we are likely to be moving all our excess paper stock over to them.’

Ross said that there was an immediate, enthusiastic response from the market even before the final archive collection was available. He believes that paper copies are still popular amongst libraries, which are traditionally very conservative, and microfiches are still selling well. However, as library budgets are squeezed, librarians find that shelving and warehousing paper copies becomes expensive.

He also believes that the younger generation have grown up with online searching. ‘There is a generation of students who may never have picked up a hard copy of a journal,’ he said.