The Keepers take the long view

Recently Edina and ISSN International jointly organised a Keepers Extra conference and workshop in Edinburgh, Scotland (7-8 September 2015) under the title: Taking the Long View: International Perspectives on E-Journal Archiving. Edina is the center for digital expertise and online service delivery at the University of Edinburgh. ISSN International is a UNESCO Category II Institution that is responsible for the attribution of international identifiers for serials. A short report.

University of Edinburgh.

Long-term preservation of journals

The Keepers is a group of, currently, ten organisations that work together to support the long-term preservation of journals by providing easily accessible information about inclusion of journals in archiving services and highlighting those e-journals for which no arrangements exists. In this work the ‘LOCKSS principle’ (Lots of Copies Keep Things Safe) is leading. In the Keepers Registry you can check which institutions take care of what journals. The ‘102 Monitor’ – to take the first in the list – is archived by the Hathi Trust. De Journal Voluntas, published by Kluwer and Springer is kept in no less than seven archives.

More partners needed

At their meeting, the Keepers discussed smaller and bigger problems concerning the Register. Amongst the smaller problems is that of incomplete series: the Register could help to identify gaps in the runs and help in filling these. More important is the broadening of the network; the participating organisations feel the need to get more partners involved, especially from other continents than North America and Europe. The participation of experts from China and Vietnam in this meeting was important in this respect.  Another problem is the participation of smaller publishers. The register reveals that the most ‘safe’ journals are those of the big international publishers like Elsevier or Springer. For smaller publishers it is much more difficult to fulfill all the necessary administrative tasks that are needed to deposit their journals. Plans have been made to devise model agreements for these publishers.

Outside the nucleus

So, thanks to the Keepers Register, we have good overview of the current state of preservation. This seems to be fairly good for those journals of which can be said that they are in the center of the scientific world: digital journals in English, with a global readership that are published by big international publishers. They have the best chance of survival. The Keepers are not satisfied with this, and the concept of the ‘long tail’ was often discussed: how do we improve the chances of journals that fall outside this nucleus? The Keepers are also aware that ‘grey literature’, serial or non-serial publications that do not have an ISSN-number are of growing importance for the scientific communities they serve, but again, they are less safe than the well-established publications.

PERSIST and Memory of the World

The Netherlands National Commission for UNESCO was invited to the meeting to present the PERSIST project. This project has wider aims, but The Keepers Register is an interesting example for UNESCO. The Keepers monitor the chances of survival for a small, but very important part of the global digital heritage. For other parts of the digital heritage similar mechanisms would be very welcome. The Memory of the World Programme could intervene for documentary heritage much more effectively, if UNESCO would know more about what initiatives are developed globally to safeguard this heritage. It is hoped that the ‘UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Preservation of, and Access to, Documentary Heritage in the Digital Era’ that the General Conference will hopefully adopt in November, will do good in this respect. It will come with a reporting mechanism that could give UNESCO important, global data on the activities of Member States in this domain.

Shared heritage

It is worthwhile to investigate whether the model agreements of the Keepers Register could be brought somehow under the aegis of Memory of the World or the new Recommendation, so that its link with UNESCO’s name and logo will help to bring them into quick and wide circulation. The changes of survival of the global records of science, which constitute a shared heritage of all people, would be significantly enhanced.

Digital information is difficult to preserve over longer periods of time. Carriers like hard disks have a short life span, and even if one manages to keep the bits and bytes, the risk that current hard- and software is unable to process the old data is very real. Archives, museums and libraries are acutely aware of these problems, yet they cannot find solutions on their own. The UNESCO PERSIST Project stimulates the debate between these institutions, government and the ICT-industry in order to promote digital sustainability. In its first phase PERSIST was coordinated by the Netherlands National Commission for UNESCO.

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