Journal Archives: How Many Copies Do We Need?

A recurring joke amongst archivists (at least back in the day when I was a practicing archivist) centers around issues of National Geographic. Many, many people have stored the entire run of National Geographic is attics and basements and (usually when moving an elderly relative) decide to donate the issues to their local archives because they think they are priceless artifacts. The archivist must keep a serious face, thank the donor for thinking to share this treasure with them, and explain that the local library already has a complete run of National Geographic (doesn’t nearly every library?). I’m not saying that the National Geographic is worthless kindling, but how many copies are too many copies?

I have been struggling with the question of how to archive journals for quite awhile now. Although I don’t know if I have the right answer, I have come to a comfortable decision of sorts. My institution has a forest of bound journals in the basement; hundreds of thousands of volumes that, for the most part, are accumulating a thick layer of dust. My library does not have space for this still growing forest, and the need to weed out titles is ever looming. This realization enables me to step back and think that it’s fine if we don’t keep everything because scholarship is constantly evolving. My institution is not a major research university. We need to keep a certain amount of current scholarship accessible for our faculty and students and no more.

While my institution is somewhat off the hook: we won’t be saving the world’s scholarship; libraries around the world do need to come up with a plan. I see OCLC’s WorldCat database as playing an important role in this plan. I think each institution needs to step up and not only preserve the journal titles most important to their curriculum and history, but they need to indicate (via WorldCat) that they are going to keep print copies (or participate in CLOCKSS to preserve electronic content) for a particular title. This plays out in Wisconsin via a policy known as “last copy.” If your institution holds the only copy of a journal run, your library is expected to keep it. This policy has no formality, however, and without a way of indicating that a library is the last copy holder, this great idea has languished. I think American libraries need to get serious about formalizing this system.


February 14, 2008. journal archiving. Leave a comment.

Harvard & Open Access: Has the Tide Turned?

Have you heard the news out of Cambridge this week? Read the quick and dirty version at the Boston Globe. To summarize, faculty at Harvard will be required to deposit copies of  scholarly articles with a yet-to-be-named Office of Scholarly Communication (within the library of course). This office will then add each paper to an institutional repository, making the research available to anyone in the world who cares to read it. Faculty who wish to publish their research in journals that do not allow them to retain their copyright can file a waiver.

I am cautiously excited about this news. If other universities (University of Wisconsin anyone?) quickly follow suit, I think the open access movement will gather some inspiring momentum.

The blogging world has already contributed many thoughtful pieces on the Harvard decision. If you are interested in reading further, try Dorothea Salo’s piece in Caveat Lector and Peter Suber’s post from Open Access News, which includes background and the full text of the Harvard statement.

Rock on open access, rock on!

February 14, 2008. Open Access. 1 comment.