Proof in preservation

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SAGE has recently released two journals to preservation initiatives. Clive Parry reveals what this experience has taught the scholarly publishing industry

The shift to online journals is accelerating, with obvious benefits for both libraries and users. Most readers of academic research journals these days find an article by searching Google or an online database, and then accessing it via a library’s online collection. For libraries it is more efficient – no shelf space, postage, cataloguing, or claims chasing – and also greener, removing the need for paper, printing, and distribution.

However, librarians worry about the long-term availability of online journals in the future, and this can make them hesitant to move towards online-only collections. ‘Librarians are eager to provide students and faculty with information resources essential for teaching and learning, but they also know it is critical to address the special long-term access risks that e-resources present,’ explained Eileen Fenton, executive director of Portico. ‘We have all encountered the experience of materials being removed, becoming obsolete, or going missing. In 2003, research published in the journal Science showed that around 13 per cent of online cited sources are irretrievable 27 months after publication.’

Over the past few years publishers have been working with preservation initiatives to ensure the long-term management of electronic records. Preservation is designed to ensure enduring discoverability, usability, authenticity and accessibility over the very long term. ‘Libraries can and are holding local physical copies of e-content, providing hands-on preservation in the way that they did with print,’ said Victoria Reich, director of the LOCKSS programme at Stanford University Libraries. ‘Libraries are memory organisations and with the permission of far-thinking publishers like SAGE, libraries are retaining this vital role for society.’

Advised to preserve

Recommendations published by The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) advise publishers to work with at least one preservation partner; to communicate preservation arrangements clearly, including in licence agreements; and grant sufficient rights to permit preservation activities. In addition, CLIR recommends that the archives themselves be transparent and auditable; communicate their holdings details; and assure that, once committed, content remains in the archive permanently.

Following this model, SAGE set out a robust preservation strategy, considering the needs of the library market, and present and future technologies. In developing a strategy we looked at the various preservation initiatives available: national archives such as the Dutch National library (KB) and the British Library; institutional repositories; community-based archives; and product solution archives. We evaluated each programme, considering strategies for future technologies, geographic area, and expertise. In the end we selected to work with three third parties: Portico, CLOCKSS and the KB. ‘In this brave new preservation world, we felt it important that we should engage with a variety of programmes for our content,’ said Carol Richman, SAGE’s director of licensing, and a member of the CLOCKSS board of directors. ‘The three programmes are well regarded, have invested in the library community and in future technologies, and SAGE has made long-term commitments to them all.’

First trigger event

Our opportunity to test these programmes came when a small journal, Graft Organ and Cell Transplantation, was discontinued, due to low subscription potential. We could have kept the published content on our own platform, however, we requested that the journal be triggered by Portico, CLOCKSS and the KB.

Portico took the lead, making the journal available first, and CLOCKSS following shortly afterwards. The Dutch KB version is still pending.

Eileen Fenton

As this was the first journal that any preservation programme triggered, there were inevitably teething problems. This included the handling of multiple DOIs (enabling users to find all available options for accessing the content). There was also the challenge of what to do where an article had never been assigned a DOI. With no precedent set, who took responsibility for assigning these? For this first trigger event, Portico took the lead to ensure that DOIs were registered and would continue to resolve successfully. A working group that includes publishers and preservation entities is now working with CrossRef to determine the best solution for these and other problems in the future.

Digitising to preserve

Since Graft was released, we have also now taken steps to trigger a second title, Autobiography. This was a print journal that ceased publication without ever having an online presence. We took the decision to firstly digitise the content, and then deposit the content to the same services. The journal can now be accessed via Portico and CLOCKSS’ websites.

While inevitably there has been some negative feedback regarding journals being closed, the majority of feedback from the market has been positive. We now have concrete evidence that preservation in dark archives works. Librarians can use this example to help justify to library committees the time and investment spent on these initiatives. ‘Gaining practical experience makes it so much clearer how digital preservation supports libraries, students and faculty – and why this work is so critically important,’ added Portico’s Fenton.

The trigger events also acted as an opportunity for the preservation services themselves to re-evaluate their procedures. ‘SAGE offered the community a tremendous learning experience by triggering these titles,’ said Reich of CLOCKSS. ‘The event gave the CLOCKSS board an opportunity to refine and simplify what constitutes an e-journal trigger event.’ As a result, the CLOCKSS board have agreed to make triggered content open access, accompanied by a creative commons licence to clarify how this content can be used.

We believe that publishers have a responsibility to ensure scholarly content and research materials, both archived and digitally-born materials, remain accessible to future scholars, researchers, and students. As well as providing guidance to publishers, the CLIR guidelines also recommend that libraries support at least one preservation initiative, regardless of library size, and that libraries urge the publishers they work with to participate with their preferred preservation partners.

The success of these trigger events gives us confidence that preservation initiatives work. We hope that these examples will help to give librarians confidence in the future of e-only journals access.

Clive Parry is sales and marketing director of SAGE.

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