Moves towards E-Journal Archiving in the UK

There are 20 UK Universities at the moment running LOCKSS software to ensure continuing access to electronic journals. Across the UK Higher Education Sector a substantial investment is being made in shifting from print to electronic access to academic journals, but there are worries among chief librarians and university vice-chancellors about how secure this investment will turn out to be. We like the immediacy of electronic access, but are anxious about the long term: so what can the LOCKSS libraries do as a group to increase confidence in the long-term viability of electronic journals?

I think there are 8 areas where LOCKSS libraries can think about making a difference.

1. Responding to the Beagrie White Paper

A report examining the issues and outlining best practice in e-journal archiving was issued in draft form in November 2010. The e-Journal Archiving for UK HE Libraries: A White Paper was produced by Charles Beagrie Ltd and commissioned by the JISC to promote discussion. UK LOCKSS Alliance members might have views either individually or as a group on the proposals made here.

2. JISC Archives

JISC Collections have arranged for a number of electronic journal collections to be available in perpetuity for the UK HE/FE Sectors. Digital preservation in a scheme like LOCKSS, CLOCKSS or Portico would help create some confidence in the long term viability of these services. LOCKSS may be in a good position to begin archiving some of these journals. For example, articles published by the Oxford University Press are protected by LOCKSS after 2005 (I as this without checking). In the JISC Collections deal, articles printed before 1995 are covered. It does not appear over-ambitious to extend the cover to the pre-1995 material.

In other cases where there is not an existing relationship with the publisher it might be worth investigating whether a private LOCKSS Network could be set up, much in the way CLOCKSS works, to create a dark archive of material which could be released once some agreed ‘trigger event’ had taken place.

I made some more detailed comments about these possibilities in another post.

3. The ‘Long-Tail’ of small publishers

Some research last year by Jan Erik Frantsvag looked at the size distribution of open access publishers. Where publishers produce only one or two titles there is little opportunity for gaining economies of scale in the way that large publishers can. Potentially this could create the conditions for a ‘mass extinction’ of journal titles. The UK LOCKSS Alliance could act as a forum to establish just which of the many open-access journals out there are priorities for ensuring continuing access and could begin the technical negotiations to begin archiving the selected titles.

4. Open Journal Publishing Platforms

Open Access journals are often published using a platform like OASIS or OJS. Both claim to support LOCKSS for digital preservation purposes, but most journals will not have activated this by default. Again, this is an area where librarians could be active in selecting teh journals to which they wish to ensure continuing access and liaising with the journals themselves in getting the permissions set up to enable archiving to take place.

5. Post cancellation tests

Access to electronic journals after cancellation of a subscription is one of the key areas where libraries may need to rely on a system like LOCKSS. No-one would expect continuing access to new issues of a cancelled journal, but some publishers may decide to block all access to content for non-subscribers. Where continuing access via LOCKSS is active or being tested it would be useful for libraries to share their experiences.

6. Does LOCKSS migrate content as you might expect from a preservation system?

Format obsolescence is the main threat to digital information. I think the threat is bigger for storage format than file format, but some threat still remains. I mean, I used to save my files on 5 and a half inch floppy disks and I don’t have any machines to hand which would take a disk that shape. The files saved were written using Wordstar, and it may be possible to import the files into software that could work with them, like MS Word.

LOCKSS migrates content into usable formats on demand, ‘Migration on Access‘, rather than storing many migrated files which may never be used.

7. Examine alternative models for a LOCKSS Alliance

At present LOCKSS in the UK, and most of the rest of the world, works as a kind of distributed network. Each member of teh network runs its own LOCKSS box archiving the material relevant to and selected by that institution. The technical expertise required to do this, though minimal, may be putting off some institutions from joining. A possible way round this would be for the running of local LOCKSS Boxes to be outsourced to a central service. I have bodies like EDINA or MIMAS in mind. They could run local instances of LOCKSS with selection decisions still being made by individual institutions.

8. Identify UK relevant content for archiving

Eigth, but not least, more work identifying and encouraging publishers to make content available for archiving in LOCKSS would reinforce the usefulness of LOCKSS in backing up the systems used in teaching and learning.

About Philip Adams

Senior Assistant Librarian at De Montfort University. I am interested in digital preservation and the use of data to measure a library's impact. All comments own.
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