Recognition of the importance of digital preservation has grown significantly over the last few years: what progress has been made, and what challenges do we face today?
Digital publishing has fundamentally changed the distribution and preservation of serial publications. While preservation and stewardship of print was recognised as a core function of libraries and archives, today publishers manage and provide access to digital content, and libraries subscribe to access publications through publisher platforms.
In 2005, the Association of American Research Libraries issued a statement calling for urgent action to ensure the preservation of scholarly electronic journals (Waters et al. 2005). Detailing the risks inherent in the new journal distribution and licencing models that have emerged in the shift from print to digital, the authors argued that research and academic libraries must work to establish ‘trusted archives in which the published scholarly record in electronic form can persist outside of the exclusive control of publishers, and in the control of entities that value long-term persistence.’ Now, just over a decade later, many of the key actions that the statement deemed essential are underway.
Academic and research libraries today recognize the importance of preservation. They understand that archiving is a necessary form of ‘insurance’ and the only means to guarantee long-term, perpetual access. Many libraries now have sustainability policies that encourage investment in archiving services and many raise preservation as a concern during their subscription negotiations with publishers. Publisher awareness of the various benefits of participation in an archiving service is growing. The ‘qualified preservation archives’ that were beginning to emerge in 2005 have become established, and their number has grown significantly. Regional and national initiatives, some led by research library consortia, now operate alongside large globally active third party archiving services.
The development of this emergent ‘archive layer’ has been supported through a variety of investments and initiatives. In the US, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation made significant investments in Portico and in the LOCKSS programme, and supported ‘Strategies for Expanding E-Journal Preservation’, a 2013 project run by the 2CUL partnership between Cornell and Columbia University libraries. Jisc has continued its investment in this area, supporting the development of the Keepers Registry and constituting an e-Journal Archiving Implementation Group (JARVIG) in 2011, whose recommendations form the basis of the Jisc-supported Keepers Extra project (2014-2016).
Although progress has been made, a series of significant challenges remain. First among these is the challenge of the ‘long tail’. Scholarly publishing is a diverse sector in which a variety of organisations operate. These range from large multinationals such as Elsevier or Taylor and Francis at one end of the spectrum, to scholarly societies and individual academics publishing online journals at the other. In order to establish broad collections and ensure that they are archiving high quality content, preservation agencies have tended to initially focus on working with major publishers. This is productive not only because larger publishers are more likely to have resource that can be diverted into ensuring their content is preserved, but also because there is an economy of scale that means a single negotiation can yield significant quantities of content.
Work with smaller publishers is considerably more expensive, requiring the same amount of initial resource but sometimes returning as few as only one or two titles. Moreover, while larger publishers are both technically astute and increasingly aware of the benefits of archiving their journals, small publishers may not have resources to invest and may not be able to access the same levels of information and support.
Yet it is widely recognised that important and high quality academic content is published across the spectrum, and that if the long tail of smaller publishers is not preserved it will constitute a very significant loss to future scholarship.
A second key issue is sustainability: agencies operate in a difficult environment and archiving is typically seen as a lower priority than access. While publishers are increasingly aware of the importance of archiving, many do not have the resource to commit to archiving their content. The output of small publishing houses and Open Access publishers, whose content does not enter established acquisition streams, is particularly vulnerable to the risk of loss.
As the final report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation (2010) points out, there is little incentive for individual institutions to take action on preservation, and strong incentives to wait for other institutions to act. But the responsibility is truly a shared one. Increasing sustainable preservation coverage of the long tail is an urgent challenge and one that archiving agencies cannot tackle alone.
Over the last two years, the Jisc-supported Keepers Extra project has been working to facilitate discussion and explore opportunities for collaborative action. In September 2015, Edina and the ISSN IC hosted a workshop designed to bring together Keepers and other key stakeholders to identify the next steps that can address the challenge of the long tail (the report is available here). A second workshop of this Keepers network is planned for June 2016, after which we aim to announce our vision for an international action agenda.