¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 But none of these metadata and locator systems actually preserve the digital objects themselves; in addition to ensuring that our digital objects conform to durable, community-derived standards, such that they remain readable on the platforms of the future, and in addition to providing appropriate metadata, such that our texts can be found in the future, we also must ensure that the digital files themselves will continue to exist such that they can be accessed. For while, as I argued in the introduction to this chapter, the hard disk is a more durable medium of inscription than we often give it credit for being, things can nonetheless go wrong; trusting your hard drive so much that you fail to back it up could be a costly mistake.[4.28] Even more, as we move increasingly toward distributed, “cloud”-based storage systems, we can find ourselves at the mercy of a service provider’s continued viability; should they suddenly go out of business , the files they house could become inaccessible.[4.29] Preserving our digital future requires careful attention to the digital objects themselves, and ensuring that our access to them is uninterrupted.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 While some have claimed that preservation and access work at cross purposes, an idea that carries over from a conflict inherent in traditional physical archiving (in which public access to and use of an object has the potential to directly interfere with that object’s preservation),[4.30] in fact “digital preservation is inseparable from questions of access” (Kirschenbaum 189). This is so not only because the process of preservation is different in the digital realm from that in print — as Kenneth Thibodeau points out, the very process of digital preservation depends upon access for its success [4.31] — but also because the very point of digital preservation is ensuring future usability. For this reason, among others, we need to think carefully about questions related to access as we consider our preservation practices.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 1 The issue surrounding access that has gotten the most play in debates about digital scholarly publishing is of course the question of open access publishing; as the topic has been covered admirably in books including John Willinsky’s The Access Principle and Gary Hall’s Digitize This Book!, I’m not going to belabor the issue here. Suffice it to say that the ethical issues surrounding open access publishing have been clouded by the circulation much misinformation about the practice — for instance, that the only road to open access is an author-pays model; there are of course many other models for increasing access to published materials, as Willinsky and Hall both demonstrate. One key model is the institutional repository, which allows authors to self-archive their work. These repositories, often established through university libraries, are an important step toward establishing open access to the products of scholarly research, and as Hall among others have convincingly argued, depositing our work in open-access archives like these is a matter not just of pragmatics but of ethics. And many publishers do now support the self-archiving of journal articles, at least in pre-print, if not post-print form.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 3 Nonetheless, there are some problems associated with relying on the institutional repository (or even the disciplinary repository, such as the arXiv pre-print server) to keep our scholarly archives accessible; while preservation requires access, access is not enough to ensure preservation. As noted by the authors of the report “E-Journal Archiving Metes and Bounds,” published by the Council on Library and Information Resources, “Open ‘archives’ are primarily concerned with providing open access to current information and not with long-term preservation of the contents” (Kenney et al 24). These archives may not provide the mechanisms necessary for ensuring uninterrupted access to the materials they contain in the event of catastrophic system failure, nor do many of them have in place the ability to migrate or emulate their contents on newer platforms as needed. Moreover, while such archives do contain, at the moment, the contents of published articles, they often do not contain the published articles themselves. Some journals still don’t allow for self-archiving, of course, and many only allow this self-archiving to take place in pre-print, manuscript form. Given that research and citation practices in the humanities and social sciences still require the published version of a text to be consulted, we must ensure that our repositories contain those published versions, before we can fully rely upon them as a means of preserving the scholarly record. Repositories are an important step toward preservation, but they do not get us all the way there.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 In order to fully preserve that scholarly record, we need to consider how our publications themselves, which are increasingly delivered in digital form, are distributed and stored, how our libraries subscribe to such publications, and how that content is handled, both by publishers and by libraries. In the past, a library’s subscription to a journal resulted in the delivery of a printed copy of that journal, which was physically housed in the library and which the library continued to own even if the subscription were cancelled or the journal ceased to publish. In today’s digital publishing systems, however, that “delivery” is more often the provision of access to files on a publisher’s server than it is of the actual files themselves; the library may never “possess” those texts at all, and should the subscription be cancelled or the journal cease publication, access to those files may suddenly disappear. The question of persistent access to such licensed materials was most crucially raised in a statement by Donald Waters, reporting in 2005 on a meeting of digital library specialists and university administrators sponsored by the Mellon Foundation, in which he points out the risks involved:
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 2 When research and academic libraries license electronic journals, they do not to take local possession of a copy as they did with print. Rather, they use content stored on remote systems controlled by publishers, and economies of scale in electronic publishing are driving control of more and more journals into fewer and fewer hands. Although some — but certainly not all — licenses now recognize that libraries have permanent rights to use electronic journal content, these rights remain largely theoretical. 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. (“Urgent Action Needed” 1)
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The report goes on to advocate the creation of a cooperative means of ensuring long-term access to such digital materials in the event of publisher failure or other forms of loss, and to specify the kinds of services that such an archiving solution might provide, before going on to insist that “research and academic libraries and associated academic institutions must effectively demand archival deposit by publishers as a condition of licensing electronic journals” (3, emphasis in original). This need for archival deposit cannot be satisfied by the “legal deposit” requirement of the national libraries, as noted in the “Metes and Bounds” report:
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 First, and most important, while most of the laws are intended to ensure that the journals will be preserved, there is less clarity as to how one can gain access to those journals. In almost all cases, one can visit the national library and consult an electronic publication onsite. It is unlikely, however, that the national libraries will be able to provide online access to remote users in the event of changes in subscription models, changed market environments, or possibly even publisher failure. (Kenney et al 21-22)
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Similarly, the report argues, archival deposit cannot be satisfied by publisher assurances of persistent access: “The question, of course, is whether one can trust the publisher or distributor to keep older content accessible and unchanged, especially after the publisher stops distributing a title or the library stops subscribing to it. Hence, the second option found in many licenses: the requirement that publishers will give libraries copies of the files that constitute an e-journal” (7). Libraries that actually possess the files that constitute the digital scholarly record stand a far better chance of ensuring that the record is preserved.