Skip to main content

Strategies for Expanding E-Journal Preservation

Academic libraries are increasingly dependent on commercially-produced, born-digital content that is purchased or licensed. For instance, CUL’s e-journal title count increased by 100% between FY07 and FY13.  As libraries consolidate their print collections in order to open up space for new programs or to downsize physical footprints, users increasingly rely on the digitized versions of historical e-journals.

During the last decade, several e-journal preservation initiatives have been launched to secure the future of this important genre of scholarly and cultural record. For instance, The Keepers Registry is a service to provide information about inclusion of journals in preservation services and highlight those e-journals that have no preservation arrangements in place. It incorporated data from several preservation organizations, the key ones being Portico, CLOCKSS Archive, and the Global LOCKSS Network.

chartEvidence indicates that the extent of e-journal preservation has not kept pace with the growth of electronic publication. Studies comparing the e-journal holdings of major research libraries with the titles currently preserved by the key preservation agencies have consistently found that only 20-25%, at most, of the titles with ISSN’s currently collected have been preserved. In early 2011, the libraries of Cornell and Columbia conducted a study as part of the 2CUL collaboration, and found, for example, that LOCKSS and Portico combine to preserve only a relatively small percentage of these libraries’ e-journal holdings, less than 15% of Cornell’s e-journal titles as a whole.[1] In the fall of 2012, a study using The Keepers Registry comparing the e-journal holdings of Columbia, Cornell, and Duke with the e-journals preserved by seven different agencies, yielded similar results, showing that only 22-27% of the subset of titles with an assigned ISSN had any volumes archived. Furthermore, the extent of volumes archived for any given title varied greatly and was often sparse.[2|

With a recent grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Cornell and Columbia University Libraries are involved in an 18-month project to increase the number and range of e-journals that will be preserved. The key project goals include:

  • Identify important and vulnerable e-journal content from the perspective of the research library through a quantitative and qualitative methodology;
  • Select a set of representative titles from high-priority categories to develop, test, and promote appropriate archival strategies based on content type and origin;
  • Document and share findings to facilitate the continued expansion of e-journal preservation through ongoing assessment of priorities and documented practices;
  • Engage libraries, publishers, societies, and other key stakeholders in analyzing current impediments to securing preservation agreements and test methods of working with appropriate parties (publishers, professional societies, e-journal aggregators, and preservation agencies) to overcome these obstacles;
  • Create forums for exchanging information about relevant preservation strategies and their implications and the roles of libraries in advancing the e-journal preservation front in order to encourage streamlined processes for attending to the archival status of e-journals.

Individual libraries, despite their concern for preservation, often lack effective means for taking action. One of the revealing findings of the initial 2CUL e-journal preservation study was that many staff at Cornell and Columbia only had a superficial understanding of the relevant preservation strategies and their implications – and of the roles of libraries in advancing the e-journal preservation front. Selection and acquisition processes may not involve any direct interaction with the publisher; many titles are acquired as parts of large packages, with no comprehensive provision for preservation. One of the proactive strategies proposed in the current project is developing language for a model license addressing preservation and sharing it with the publishing and library communities to set a timeline for implementation (e.g., in five years, all ARL libraries will aim to use the same licensing language).

As we work to address the archival challenges of traditional e-journals, publishing continues to change rapidly and it includes enriched content that is layered, interactive, and dynamic. We risk falling behind. As our dependency on e-publications increase, it is critical that we conduct in-depth studies to understand and assess the evolving preservation strategies, services, and policies.

More information about the new 2CUL e-journal preservation is available at:

Oya Y. Rieger, February 2014



Comments are closed.