LOCKSS in use in an academic library #DMU

A survey of UK LOCKSS Alliance members is taking place. Since I have to prepare my answers to the likely question, I thought I would share them with anyone interested. Different libraries are using LOCKSS in different ways to protect their access to electronic resources (See Neil Beagrie’s White Paper on e-journal archiving for UK HE libraries for case studies). So I am not trying to pre-empt the results of the survey, just illustrate some of the things we have been thinking of at De Montfort University (DMU).

Describe your library and journals collection

From a student’s point of view we have access to journal articles immediately (as e-journals), with a slight delay involving a visit to the library (printed copied held in the Kimberlin or Law libraries) and with slightly longer delay via Inter-library loan. We have just sent SUNCAT a list of over 60,000 electronic journals and over 400 printed journals where we have current subscriptions.
The electronic journals are looked after by the Content Delivery team in the library. This team covers a range of inter-related areas such as authentication (logging into electronic resources), copyright and licenses, renewing subscriptions to journals, collating usage statistics, running an institutional repository and trouble-shooting electronic resource access problems.
LOCKSS, as way of protecting the content we care about, fits neatly into this team’s work.

Describe your use of LOCKSS and the purpose it fulfils

DMU has been using LOCKSS since the initial Pilot Project around 2006. Since then we have collected 4800 Archival Units (roughly journal volumes) from 381 different journals. Since the start of 2012 we have been adding access points to the LOCKSS content to our SFX journals A-Z and openURL resolver. The count now stands at 293 and will continue to rise.

How we use LOCKSS at DMU

At pretty regular intervals lists of new Archival Units (AUs) available to LOCKSS get issued. We have started to use the spreadsheet version of this list in our workflow:

  • Check which Archival Units are either subscribed to by DMU or available as Open Access journals.
  • Pass this list on to subject librarians so that they can identify which AUs should be collected by LOCKSS
  • Activate the selected AUs in LOCKSS
  • After a week or so, check that the expected content has been collected
    • If it has, the Journals A-Z list (SFX4) should be edited to add new titles or update the date ranges covered.
    • If not, we should try to work out why collecting the content has not been successful

Problems encountered and how we have overcome them (or not)

Having the journals archived in LOCKSS appearing on the journals A-Z list is a big step forward in getting recognition for this as a live and important service. Preservation issues are one of the considerations in the library’s Collection Development policies, especially when it comes to withdrawals and cancellations. Having LOCKSS as a live service highlights a number of areas:

Where content is not available for archiving

There are some journals that we care about, such as Diversity in Health Care, edited and frequently contributed to by DMU staff, which are not available for archiving in LOCKSS, or, when the Keepers Registry is checked, anywhere else. Is there a mechanism where librarians can vote on the journals they would like to see in archiving services like LOCKSS?

Available, but not configured

Some journals may be available for archiving in LOCKSS, but not selected for configuration at DMU. Another newish possibility for us is to compare the usage statistics collected in the Journal Usage Statistics Portal (JUSP) with the content selected for archiving from any individual publisher. Current usage may not be an guarantee of future demand, but could help to highlight important overlooked journals.

Configured, not collected

Some journal AUs have been configured in LOCKSS, but collection has proved impossible. Most likely this is because the LOCKSS robot is being turned away where we have no access rights. LOCKSS is proving to be an excellent live training project for staff new to the world of electronic journal access. By probing why expected access is not being recognised, whole areas of subscription rights, embargoes, rolling subscription walls and aggregator services are uncovered.
Even when all these are taken into account it looks as though we will find occasions where we are being blocked from collecting content where we have a right to do so. As yet we have no workflow for resolving such questions. Who should we be calling: the publisher or the UK LOCKSS Alliance helpdesk?

Collected, but not displayed

I have been testing the results from the collecting process and making sure that the results display properly before adding titles to the journals A-Z list. I have identified a number of titles where some browsers do not handle the content properly. The usual symptom appears to be a webpage with missing stylesheet. The required article may be available, but difficult to find and the page is not arranged on the screen properly. Fortunately, I can forward examples of this to the UK LOCKSS Alliance helpdesk for them to investigate. Tweaking DMU’s LOCKSS box settings has helped, but not resolved all the issues encountered yet.

Displayed, but not accessible

Perhaps the main outstanding issue is that the preserved content is only available within the DMU campus. Staff and students at home, even when this is a student hall just across the road, are blocked from viewing the content preserved for them. Adding an authentication layer to LOCKSS, preferably using the same Single Sign On system as for other electronic journal sources could be the next major step forward in usability.

The key functionality of LOCKSS from our perspective

LOCKSS enables the library, in partnership with the publishers, to ensure continuing access to the content it cares about.

Subscription journals

Many of the journals important to our users are paid for through library subscriptions. These subscriptions, in turn, are valuable to the business models of the publishers supplying the journals; but what happens when library budgets are under pressure? Librarians worry about the difference between a printed journal, bought, bound and placed on a shelf and an electronic journal apparently rented from entities in a capitalist system subject to Darwinian pressures. Having archived copies of journals in LOCKSS is an important reassurance that today’s research will be available for the long-term.

Open Access journals

The competing business model for journals, where researchers or their funders pay up-front for the open availability of their articles is no less vulnerable to market uncertainties. LOCKSS can also help to ensure long-term access to open access journal articles.

What value does LOCKSS provide for members of DMU?

For students, it means uninterrupted access to material on reading lists or required for their research.
For teaching staff, it means that assignments are not scuppered through the unexpected withdrawal of access.
For librarians, it means that they can be confident of their investments in subscriptions to electronic journals, especially where this involves a move to electronic-only access.
For Content Delivery staff, it means all this can be achieved through a relatively simple workflow.

What could LOCKSS do better to meet our needs?

There was an interesting report recently on a case of fraud in the UK National Archives: 29 fakes behind the rewriting of history. A researcher managed to publish a book with exclusive hitherto un-noticed material on the outbreak of World War 2, unnoticed because the researcher is suspected of planting the material in the archive themselves. This is the kind of threat that the LOCKSS model with its ‘lots of copies’ is designed to protect against.
This model could be extended to cope with the threats to other electronic formats, like e-books or the items contributed to institutional repositories. Comparing the preservation status of the journals listed in our A-Z or in SUNCAT with the Keepers Registry may help to highlight publishers so far beyond the reach of any of the preservation agencies.
It could also be made more usable, by simplifying the steps needed to be taken by administrators to activate new content or check on the health of archived material. Being able to upload spreadsheets of AUs to collect, rather than ticking them in batches would be nice.

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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