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Libraries divided over preservation urgency

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A new survey of library directors has revealed that the issue of preserving e-journals is not a top priority in all circles

The potential loss of e-journals is unacceptable, according to a recent study of library directors carried out by Portico and Ithaka.

Their survey of 1,371 library directors of four-year colleges and universities in the USA also revealed that a significant majority of library directors believe their own institution has a responsibility to take action to prevent an intolerable loss of the scholarly record.

Nearly three-quarters of the respondents felt that it would be unacceptable to lose access to e-journal materials permanently, and 76 per cent agreed that ‘libraries need to support community preservation initiatives because it’s the right thing to do.’

Only four per cent of respondents felt that preservation could be achieved simply by publishers holding redundant copies of their e-journals. However, the news from the survey is not all good for advocates of digital preservation. The survey uncovered significant differences between beliefs and actions on this topic. While 43 per cent felt that e-journal preservation was a ‘must have’ for their library, even more (49 per cent) considered it as just ‘nice to have.’ The study also found that two thirds of respondents are not yet participating in an e-journal preservation initiative.

This gap was most pronounced among institutions focused on teaching, where 76 per cent are not yet taking action, compared with libraries with a research focus, where the figure is 53 per cent.

Sensing the urgency

The study found several reasons that might explain this lack of action. Firstly, there was a wide range of opinion on the level of urgency of e-journal preservation. Institutions that are not participating in an e-journal preservation initiative were evenly split on whether it was acceptable – or unacceptable – to take no action on e-journal preservation within the next two years. Many library directors expressed a desire to wait before taking action.

Secondly, many of those not currently participating in a digital preservation initiative see the topic of e-preservation as complicated.

Half of the non-participating libraries agreed with the statement ‘The e-preservation landscape is extremely complicated; our library doesn’t really understand our Libraries divided over preservation urgency A new survey of library directors has revealed that the issue of preserving e-journals is not a top priority in all circles options in this area.’ Opinions were also divided about which types of libraries are ultimately responsible for the digital preservation of e-journals. Many see preservation as solely the responsibility of the libraries at institutions that focus solely on research or equally on research and teaching.

The level of interest from other parts of the institution might also be a contributing factor. Of those libraries that participate in an e-journal preservation initiative, 74 per cent reported having been approached by a faculty member about the topic of e-journal preservation. On the other hand, only 34 per cent of those institutions that are not participating reported that a faculty member had approached them about this topic. The data suggest that librarians may have greater impetus to take action on campuses where there is active discussion of the topic.

The responses also suggested that preservation of e-journals has not yet become a strategic budgeting priority for many libraries. Half of the respondents who are not participating in an e-journal preservation initiative agreed that budget constraints kept them from ‘adopting new products or approaches until we see they are broadly adopted by the library community.’ And when asked ‘If your library were to expend financial resources on e-journal preservation, from which budget area would monies most likely be drawn?’ only nine per cent said that monies would come from a ‘preservation’ budget.

‘The preservation terrain is a complicated one, in need of definition and clarification,’ concludes the report. ‘While the academic library community at large believes that digital preservation of e-journals is important, there is still significant confusion about how to pursue it and how urgent it is.’