Doubts about preservation
“Digital documents last forever –or five years, whichever comes first.”
–Jeff Rothenberg, 2001
The more important the work you publish, the more important it is to preserve it.
Fortunately, serious preservation options are neither expensive nor difficult, at least for the journals being preserved, as opposed to the services preserving them. Several of the best are free of charge, both for the journals and for users who want to access the content.
If you held off on making a preservation plan, fearing the expense and complexity, it’s not too late to adopt one now. I almost said “it’s never too late”, but that is exactly what we cannot say.
E-only TA journals face the same challenge. The difference is that TA journals have more options because they needn’t insist on preservation methods that provide OA to the preserved content.
I recommend LOCKSS (OA at least for the hosting institutions) and the DOAJ preservation system (OA for all). Both are free of charge for the journals.
Another free and stable option is to deposit your digital content with a trusted, financially secure, and well-equipped meatspace library. For example, BioMed Central has been depositing its digital output since 2003 in the National Library of the Netherlands, just as the DOAJ preservation program does today.
Many other publishers deposit their digital contents in the British Library.
National libraries and university libraries with digital preservation programs could render a great service by opening their vaults to peer-reviewed ejournals (OA and TA).
BioMed Central and the Public Library of Science routinely deposit their articles in PubMed Central. This greatly increases the likelihood that users will be able to find them again, and find them OA, if the publishers went out of business. This is smart and easy. I recommend routine deposits in a suitable repository for all OA journal publishers.
(Similarly, I recommend that authors avoid hybrid OA journals which do not allow deposits in a repository independent of the publisher.)
However, repository deposit should not be a journal’s only preservation plan. Peter Hirtle has shown why.
But repository deposit can still provide an extra layer of security for ejournals, both before they work out long-term solutions and then later alongside long-term solutions. Among other benefits, this can free new OA projects from the delay of making ironclad preservation a precondition of launch.
A decisive way to answer doubts about digital preservation is to make printouts and preserve the paper. As I argued in 2002:
So far, paper is the only commonly used medium that we know can preserve texts for hundreds of years. There are many creative methods emerging for storing digital texts electronically with at least the security of paper….The only problem is that it will take hundreds of years to monitor the outcome of present-day experiments. But we don’t have to choose between insecure storage and retreat from the digital revolution: the shortcut to preservation is to print digital texts on paper….Preservation in the digital era [can] be as good as paper, just as it was before the digital era.
Microtome is one company that offers paper-based preservation to OA journals.
Finally, let me repeat the point from #2 that libre OA facilitates preservation by granting permission in advance for migrating digital files to new formats and media to keep them readable as technology changes, and for copying files for multiple deposits. In fact, the built-in reasons why repositories (as opposed to journals) find it difficult for to offer libre OA lie at the basis of Hirtle’s argument that repositories are inadequate for preservation.
In some countries, like the US, copying for preservation is allowed by a special provision of copyright law. But this sort of copying is not allowed in all countries, and not part of fair use. Without this permission from the statute or an open license, we could only preserve a mass of content by hunting down each individual copyright holders to ask permission. The expense and delay can be deal-breakers. If you’re concerned enough about the future of your content to *want* to preserve it, then you should be concerned enough to facilitate that preservation with an open license.
Some friends of OA object that preservation is not intrinsically part of providing OA. That’s true. But the same could be said of peer review and grammatical sentences. “Separate” doesn’t mean “unimportant” or “incompatible”. Think of preservation as a separate essential, like truth, clarity, and punctuation. You can provide OA without it, but you shouldn’t want to.