Generating Actionable Evidence on E-journal Archiving

This Wednesday, the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) is hosting an e-Journals ‘summit’ and webinar in London on Preservation, Trust and Continuing Access for E-Journals.  This post is supplementary to one of the presentations, ‘Solving the E-Journal Problem: What does the Keepers Registry tell us?’

At a previous DPC meeting with the same theme in January 2012 we noted that the six organizations reporting into the Keepers Registry were ingesting content for 16,558 titles. With 97,563 online resources assigned ISSN at the close of 2011 the ratio of 17% of e-serials provided a simple key indicator of the progress being made to archive e-journal content; 83% still to do.

The DPC meeting this week is opportunity to provide an update in that estimate, together with some additional published and provisional results:

Taken from the intended presentation ‘Solving the E-Journal Problem: What does the Keepers Registry tell us?’

Progress, But …

The good news is that the number of titles reported as being actively archived is up significantly, by 5,000, to 21,557 titles. This is due both to ongoing archiving activity among the six participating ‘keepers’ at the end of 2011 and to the addition of report of archiving activity from two additional ‘keepers’. This should be further improved when e-Depot (Netherlands) resumes its notification process (it stopped temporarily in April 2012 to change systems) and when the Scholars Portal (Ontario) begins notification of its archiving activity.

It is also good news that the number of 113,000 ISSN assigned to online resources in the ISSN Register has increased from 98,000 – even if that means that the simple key indicator is only up from 17% to 19%.

So, progress but still some way to go: Over 80% of online resources are not accounted for on the digital shelves of those reporting into the Keepers Registry, and therefore must be presumed at risk of loss – not forgetting that there are missing volumes and issues among the c.20% that we do know about.

Determining The Priority ‘Scholarly Record’ Titles

Of course not all of those online resources with an ISSN can be counted as part of the scholarly record, perhaps fewer again could be considered essential for today’s research and education. On the other hand, not all points of issue of digital scholarly content are yet assigned an ISSN – a topic for a later blog post. Defining the boundary of the scholarly record and the extent of resources of scholarly interest is problematic, with methodological challenge to create a priority list of titles that would command consensus.

We have been considering three approaches, with respective focus on those e-serials that:

  1. contain ‘peer reviewed’ articles, or are otherwise indexed as ‘scholarly’
  2. academic and research libraries regard as important, or list in their library catalogues, or
  3. users regard as important, through their behaviour (e.g. requests, accesses, citations).

1) There are no results to report here about the proportion of ‘peer-reviewed’ e-journals that are archived. There are commonly thought to be about 30,000 refereed journals (a figure of 29,907 in Ulrichsweb was given by Yvette Diven of SerialsSolution at Mid-summer ALA 2011). Were it the case that the 21,557 titles recorded as ‘preserved’ in the Keepers Registry represented a large proportion of those then there might be cause for comfort. Some direct cross-check is probably in order but from what is disclosed in the findings presented below there is no such comfort to be had.

Some Published Findings About Library Lists

2) We explored the second approach to estimate that only about a quarter of the online titles in library serials lists were being archived, with the caveat that for only about half of the titles listed for each library was an ISSN included (being either missing or not yet assigned). We did this during trials of a facility that we intend to introduce in the next release of the Keepers Registry, one that would allow any library to check the archival status of the e-serials (with ISSN) they regard as important. As indicated below, this is based on serials lists supplied by three large research libraries in the US: Columbia, Cornell and Duke Universities:

This table also appeared in a paper presented this August at IFLA (Burnhill and Pelle 2013), at which two stark scenario for 2020 were considered: one in which today’s e-journal content had been preserved and was being used successfully; one in which important literature has been lost.

And Now Some User-centric Findings

3) Over the summer of 2013 we decided to try the third approach and to check the archival status of the online titles requested by researchers and students. From this we estimate that less than one third of the online titles consulted during 2012 were recorded as being archived.

We turned to the UK OpenURL Router, a heavily used piece of middleware connecting library users to the appropriate digital copies based on their institutional affiliation. The UK OpenURL Router, generally invisible to end users, was devised and is operated by EDINA, which delivers it as part of Jisc support for UK research and education. We analysed this UK OpenURL Router activity data for the whole of 2012, checking their archival status in the Keepers Registry in August 2013:

Taken from the intended presentation ‘Solving the E-Journal Problem: What does the Keepers Registry tell us?’

The OpenURL Router logs are published and available online. They record 10.4m OpenURL requests from researchers and students at 108 university-level institutions in the UK. The bibliographic data included the ISSN for 8.5m records and with additional use of the ISSN-L, the linking field for ISSNs assigned to different media (e.g. print and electronic) for the same title, those resolved to 53,311 online titles.  By deduction, two-thirds (36,326) of the online titles regarded as of some value by researchers and students in the UK are seemingly ‘at risk of loss’.

Call for Action Based On Actionable Evidence

The majority of the online serials are not in the safekeeping of organizations with archival intent, let alone on the shelves of libraries. Library e-connections should not be called library e-collection while library stewardship for the scholarly record is incomplete.

This is not good news but at least there are some data becoming available, with global coverage. The trick now is to turn this into evidence that enables appropriate action by groups of libraries and policy makers – regionally, nationally and internationally.  The overall aim is to improve the archival coverage of the scholarly record to a significant extent. For that we want to publish our findings from the Keepers Registry in ways that will put the spotlight upon the titles that are still at risk of loss, together with what we can know of their publishers, in order that effort is directed towards what has priority and what is more or less tractable.

For that we need your feedback, on our provisional results, on how we should expose the benefits of the Keepers Registry and on how these can be transformed into ‘actionable evidence’.


The project (PEPRS) to create the Registry was funded at the initiative of Jisc following a commissioned scoping report. It brought together EDINA and the ISSN International Centre building upon their experience with SUNCAT and the ISSN Register.  The real heroes of the story are the archives that act as our digital shelves and that share information through the Keepers Registry. Thanks also to Caroline Brazier (BL) for those choice words, library e-connections & e-collections, made during conversation at IFLA 2013.


About Peter Burnhill

Director of EDINA and Head of Edinburgh University Data Library.
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