Boston College Libraries Faculty Newsletter



Electronic Journal Archives: Laying a New Foundation for Research

Electronic journals have emerged as a major source of information for the Boston College community in recent years, in many cases eclipsing the long-established tradition of print journal usage in certain disciplines. Faculty and students have come to rely on e-journal features that print journals could never offer. Users can access journals from outside the library and off-campus, more than one user can access the same journal issue, users can be alerted via e-mail when articles relevant to their research are published, articles can link to video and audio clips, and e- journals can be searched full text. Moreover, checking footnotes and references is more easily accomplished because article citations can link to the full text articles being cited. Similarly, major journal indexes which are in electronic format can now have their citations linked directly to indexed articles. Given the many advantages of e-journals over their print counterparts, it is no surprise that e-journals enjoy a rising popularity on campus. Indeed, students and faculty have been requesting access to more e-journals and e-journal backfiles.


For the library, this emergence of e-journals as a highly valued and popular research resource offers an added advantage: a solution to the problem of space shortage. For the past ten years, the library has transferred approximately 30,000 volumes every year to its off-site collection facilities in order to free shelf space for new books and bound journals. Because journal collections represent not only current information but a cumulative body of recorded knowledge, it has always been the responsibility of research libraries to preserve scholarly journal back issues. The durability of bound journals in the print format is a proven fact librarians and researchers have come to rely on. Can the same be said of electronic journals? Will e-journals published in 2005 be available in future decades or centuries the same way print journals from the 19th and 20th centuries still fill library shelves? Much evidence argues against a positive view about e-journal archives. Our common experience of the web’s volatility can undermine any certainty about being able to return to web pages found last month or even yesterday.


The durability of e-journals is an extremely important question for researchers and librarians. If e-journals are deemed to be impermanent resources, libraries will need to continue building print journal collections to serve as reliable back issue archives. Libraries would then be collecting duplicate content, albeit in different formats, and spending valuable funds and staff hours to do so. However, academic libraries are making decisions to cancel print subscriptions when electronic journals are available, thereby realizing savings in funds, staff time, and space. According to one survey, the majority of libraries surveyed expect to replace print with electronic journals within the next ten years. What are some of the reasons and facts used to support these decisions which some may think are risky and premature?


First of all, it is important to be clear about the type of e-journal being considered as a reliable resource. Access to full text e-journals in index databases (also known as “third party” aggregators) like Expanded Academic or Business Source Premier is not guaranteed. Such e-journals can be removed from the index at any time; there is no contractural obligation on the part of the index database vendor to maintain access to any given e-journal title. Research libraries prefer to rely on a second type of e-journal, the kind offered directly by publishers like Elsevier and Oxford University Press and distinguished from the first type primarily by the existence of signed licenses between libraries and publishers. Such licenses include language about the continued availability of purchased content (i.e., back issues) even if subscriptions are canceled. Such licenses are an important first step in creating a legacy e-journal collection, but it is only the first step.


The creation of publisher journal archives for library users runs counter to traditional library practice. If nothing else were done, librarians and researchers would be relying on publishers rather than on libraries to preserve the knowledge contained in e-journals. Many argue that confidence in such an arrangement is a false confidence because commercial publishers cannot be held to the same principles guiding research libraries. Contractural guarantees may offer a solution, but it is only a short-term solution. The library world should be working toward a long-term solution of its own, and happily it is.


A number of initiatives have been undertaken and are still underway to investigate the technology needed to create stable e-journal archives and the economic models required to sustain them. Organizations like the Digital Library Foundation, the Council on Library and Information Resources, and the Coalition for Networked Information began facilitating practical experiments in archiving. Examples include Stanford University’s LOCKSS project (“Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe”) and the JSTOR Electronic-Archiving Initiative which is now being further developed as E-Archive, an entity within a larger project called Ithaka. A number of reports are available on the web describing in detail the efforts and results of such initiatives. The foundation for an archival infrastructure for e-journals based on traditional library values is being laid.


Given the positive support given by users at Boston College for increased e-journal access and the need to address space and budgetary challenges, the Boston College Libraries are proceeding with a Journal Duplication Review. It will involve librarians and faculty members reviewing print counterparts of e-journal titles that are currently accessible by licensed agreement with publishers. The goal is to eliminate duplication as much as possible by canceling the print versions. In a report published in D-Lib Magazine titled “Library Periodicals Expenses Comparison of Non-Subscription Costs of Print and Electronic Formats on a Life-Cycle Basis,” the authors conclude:

The transition to the electronic format seems likely to afford reductions in libraries' long-term financial commitments to non-subscription costs. This is good news for the many libraries that are well along into this transition and would find it difficult to step back. This finding may also be useful to the libraries that have been more reluctant to move towards this new format. Each year, a library that has transitioned to the electronic format for periodicals may have the opportunity to avoid immediate costs and long-term financial commitments on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars.


The long-term benefits of the Journal Duplication Review and resulting print cancellations will free up money currently spent on processing, binding, and shelving journals, i.e., non-subscription costs. This means that there will be more funds and free space for acquiring and shelving unique information appearing in monographs and other formats. In starting the Review, BC faculty and librarians will have taken a significant step toward laying a new kind of foundation for future research at Boston College.


NOTE: More information about the Journal Duplication Review may be found on the library’s Research Collections pages.


Jonas Barciauskas

Head of Collection Development


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