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Preservation of Digital Resources

Despite the remarkable versatility that digital access affords libraries and users, much digital content is unprotected and unpreserved for future access. Who is responsible for the preservation of electronic content? How is the integrity of the data maintained? How is long-term preservation sustained? Can we depend on publishers to maintain perpetual archives? How do we ensure access after subscription cancellation? This takes on added significance as Washington University Libraries and Becker Medical Library invest heavily in digital-only resources of many types. In some disciplines the complete elimination of current print journal issues is a fast-arriving reality. The transition away from print has brought new models of publishing and new challenges for preservation of scholarly communication for future generations.

Issues surrounding preservation of digital resources can be divided into three overlapping areas of concern:

1. Long-term survival and storage of digital-only material

XML or other text software that doesn’t require any specific software is the approach that most people agree is best for long-term survival of digital files; otherwise digital files must be migrated regularly to new platforms to ensure survival over time. Such migration or conversion from existing files (often PDF) to XML may not be cost-effective or possible due to publisher licenses, etc. Several approaches for digital preservation are currently being investigated and implemented at many institutions. The Keepers Registry lists several agencies now archiving eJournals.

The Electronic Access Subcommittee has focused on three electronic archiving options with a specific emphasis on electronic content from journals. These include: Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe (LOCKSS); Controlled LOCKSS (CLOCKSS); and Portico. Washington University currently participates in Portico which focuses on preservation of publishers’ digital material and access when it is no longer available from the publisher. LOCKSS is local copies of licensed and free content available on the Internet, when publishers agree to this. Such local copies are kept in the same format as they are harvested.

Digital repositories preserve digital-only material also. Digital repositories also sometimes create digital content from print or other formats and then preserve it and provide access to it. There are a number of digital repositories such as WU Digital Gateway Collections, Digital and Gallery Exhibits, Making of America Collection, Internet Archive, JSTOR, Hathi Trust, and many more.

2. Long-term access, sometimes called “perpetual access” or post-cancellation access

While not strictly a preservation measure, long-term access is a vital area of concern too. Most of Washington University’s access to digital resources is reliant on publishers to maintain and provide access to their archived content. As such, negotiation of our licenses and a shared understanding of rights and responsibilities is an important piece of preservation of digital resources. The Shared E-Resource Understanding (SERU) project is an effort to make this process easier for all involved parties.

3. Back-up print copies

Back-up of print copies is based on the concept that when a publication is produced in print format, it is systematically stored a few places in the world. “…it is essential that a sufficient number of print copies are maintained, to serve as backups against digital losses and for the unique characteristics of the original artifact.” (Ithaka 2006, p. 18)


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