SCOOP: Preserving Open Access Literature is a Shared Responsibility/
May 06, 2021
Last year, European researchers traced 174 open access (OA) journals listed in bibliographical indices but no longer extant on the web. Their findings suggest that “vanished” OA journals are a relatively small percentage of OA journals produced, but the numbers remain alarming in absolute terms. They also touch directly on the concerns of Atla members, insofar as scholar-led publications in the humanities and social sciences, as well as those published in North America, were found to be among those at greatest risk of disappearance.
In response, leading organizations in the OA, digital preservation, and Internet registry spaces have accelerated their joint action to strengthen preservation mechanisms and recover what can be recovered from existing gaps. The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine was a key tool used in the study to locate vanished papers. One of the first fruits of these new initiatives has been the launch of Internet Archive Scholar — a tailored search interface for retrieving academic literature from the IA’s caches. (This, in turn, rests on Fatcat — an open catalog built by the IA to help identify and highlight gaps in preservation.)
Small Changes with Big Impact
These organizations are working for systemic changes, but all of us can be part of smaller-scale solutions. The study observed that many researchers deposit preprints in archives to provide a green OA alternative when their work appears in paywalled journals. The authors further recommended that this become a standard practice even when publishing in OA journals so that the preprint (or, where terms allow, a duplicate of the published article) can serve as a backup. Many researchers have the opportunity to deposit in repositories and archives through their institutions, societies of which they are members, or other means. A small effort by individual researchers to ensure that copies of their work are kept in these locations can both ensure its longevity and enhance its discoverability.
The surge of preprint infrastructure driven by the pandemic may aid this process in novel ways. Commercial publishers are now experimenting with incorporating preprint deposit into submissions procedures (often undercutting its preservational benefits in the process by creating in-house preprint archives on the same servers as their journals). However, these mechanisms could, in the future, be adapted to allow OA publications to auto-deposit preprints to independent, open archives. Working in the other direction, some journals are now using a preprint overlay model, in which the vetting and curation of the journal’s content occurs on top of already-archived preprints, and the version of record is redeposited to those same archives (the mathematics journal Advances in Combinatorics is a good example). In this case, the paper may still reside in only one location, but for many small journals, leveraging robust and long-standing repository infrastructures (such as arXiv) in this way offers significant preservation advantages as compared to independent hosting.
Shifting the Culture
However, one of the most important contributions we can all make is helping to shift perceptions of the value of OA content. The European researchers noted that North America’s leading percentage of “vanished” journals correlates with recent studies showing that North America remains the most OA-skeptical region and the region in which institutions are least likely to acknowledge or reward scholars’ contributions to OA journals (through either publication or service). Conversely, Latin America — a region in which OA models have been institutionalized as standard practices for decades — has a disproportionately low rate of journal disappearance, which the researchers argue “seems to emphasize the importance of perceived value in content preservation,” especially as it contrasts with North America, where “[e]fforts around preservation and continued access are often aimed at securing post-cancellation access to subscription journals — content the library has already paid for.”
These results challenge some conventional assumptions. As recently as 2018, Dominic Mitchell, operations manager at the Directory of Open Access Journals, wrote that long-term preservation is “an extremely important business process. . . This couldn’t be more applicable than in the Global South where financial support and rigorous standards around journal publishing aren’t always available and, sadly, journals tend to just disappear from the Internet without warning.” While journal loss in the Global South is a serious concern, these most recent numbers suggest that it is not always in the Global North, where funding and resources are most available, but sometimes in the Global South, “where the principles of community and OA are embedded into academic culture,” that knowledge is, on average, most secure.
The funding and resources that initiatives like the Internet Archive, the Directory of Open Access Journals, and others can bring to bear are crucial in meeting the challenge of preserving OA scholarship, but the experience of our colleagues in Latin America and elsewhere reminds us that the cultural dimensions of any solution are just as crucial as the technical. The pandemic has focused attention on the benefits of OA for rapid production and dissemination of knowledge. Now we, as a community, must work together to make the case for OA publishing not only as a method of present expediency but as a literature of enduring worth.
- The Digital Preservation Coalition produces a Digital Preservation Handbook that includes a section specifically devoted to e-journals.
- Though published in 2012, Rick Anderson’s reflections in The Scholarly Kitchen — asking “how important is it that we archive all of the scholarly record?”— remain relevant and sobering.
- Regan (2016) shares insights from Columbia and Cornell University Libraries, including “techniques for identifying at-risk e-journals, integrating preservation into license negotiation with publishers, tracking the preservation status of e-journals, and developing relationships with existing preservation agencies.”
- Pagotto and Zhao (2019) offer an instructive case study of Ontario’s consortial archiving system, Scholars Portal Journals.
The SCOOP, Scholarly COmmunication and Open Publishing, is a monthly column published to inform Atla members of recent developments, new resources, or interesting stories from the realm of scholarly communication and open access publishing.
Enjoying the Atla Blog?
Subscribe to receive email alerts of new blog posts of a specific type. Members, subscribers, publishers, or anyone interested in the study of religion & theology are welcome to sign up to one or all alerts to keep up to date with the Atla community. If you or your institution are a member, the Atla Newsletter delivers a monthly curated email of top posts to your email inbox.