A new report from the Mellon Foundation that urges action on preserving scholarly electronic journals strongly suggests the need for digital deposit and for having locally controlled copies of digital information. This parallels issues that the government information community should address as well.
- Urgent Action Needed to Preserve Scholarly Electronic Journals, Report of a meeting at the Mellon Foundation, October 15, 2005, Edited by Donald J. Waters, Program Officer, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (There is also a pdf version.)
While the report focuses on electronic journals, I believe that many of the points it makes apply equally to government information. It says, for instance, that the problem originates when libraries “do not to take local possession of a copy as they did with print…” and that this drives “control of more and more journals into fewer and fewer hands.” The report notes that “owning a copy” provided “long-term maintenance and control” that is absent when we license “access.” Here are some other excerpts:
If a publisher fails to maintain its archive, goes out of business or, for other reasons, stops making available the journal on which scholarship in a particular field depends, there are no practical means in place for libraries to exercise their permanent usage rights and the scholarly record represented by that journal would likely be lost.
[R]esearch and academic libraries and associated academic institutions must effectively demand archival deposit by publishers as a condition of licensing electronic journals. Standard form clauses need to be crafted and implemented that require publishers to transmit all files upon publication either directly to a qualified archive or to the licensing library for deposit in a qualified archive. [emphasis added]
The report focuses on the academic environment and suggests solutions that may work well in that environment. Nevertheless, I believe that the basic issues it addresses and some of the solutions it proposes might well provide part of a solution for long term preservation of and access to government information. As the report notes, “These actions may not be easy, but in a scholarly environment that is increasingly dependent on information in digital form, preservation of electronic journals is necessary and urgent.” One could say the same for government information that is essential, not just to scholars, but to all citizens.
Interestingly, the report says that building an infrastructure for sustaining access to electronic journals could “serve as a model for the preservation of other forms of digital information.” Surely, if such an infrastructure can be built for copyright-protected information, it could also be built with fewer obstacles for non-copyrighted government information.
Another copy of the report is available from ARL
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