Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Preserving Licensed Electronic Resources, or - What to Do if You Don’t Own It

In addition to the myriad challenges of preserving digital content, which I outlined in my previous posts on digital preservation (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5), ensuring long-term access to subscription-based resources presents additional challenges. The issue with subscription or license models for electronic resources (such as e-journals, e-books, and databases) is that rather than purchasing the content outright, we instead pay for online access to the content. That access is provided to Dartmouth students and faculty either by the publisher or by third-party platforms.

From an access point of view, this is often an excellent acquisition and delivery method. We can license much more content than we would easily be able to manage ourselves, and we can rely on the publisher to handle many back-end technical aspects of getting content to users (although, even under a subscription model there is considerable work on the part of our collections services staff to ensure seamless access from our Library catalog and webpages).

However, from a preservation standpoint, all of this licensed material is content that we do not own or manage. If the publisher were to go out of business or stop providing access to content (and yes, while infrequent, this does happen), our scholars could lose access resources that are very important to their research. Of course that would be quite a problem, and it’s one we want to avoid if possible.

Fortunately, there are several methods we can use to ensure access over the long-term. One method is participation in a membership-based e-journal archiving service. We are currently members of two such services, Portico and LOCKSS, both of which exist to preserve electronic content for the library community. I won’t go into the details here, except to say that these services give us peace of mind for a significant number of electronic resources to which we subscribe.

Another method is to negotiate with the publisher and verify that they have ensured long-term preservation of their content, either through a different third-party service or using their own preservation strategies. While this can be effective and is sometimes the only option, it’s not ideal because, again, the publisher could go out of business and then long-term access isn’t necessarily guaranteed.

The final method is to obtain copies of the digital content and manage it ourselves. This is a more involved process because…well, because we have to do the work of managing the content! So I’ll continue with a detailed description of exactly how we do that in a later post. Stay tuned for more info…

Written by Helen Bailey

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