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John Harvard's Journal

A Foray into Digital Preservation

March-April 2002

Scholarly journals today are born digital, and in increasing numbers of cases, no paper edition is ever published. Typically, only one institution holds an e-journal--its publisher. The costly replication and redundancy characteristic of paper publishing are absent. But what if the publisher goes out of business, or up in flames? The prospect gives librarians and scholars the willies. When a journal exists in both paper and electronic form, a library may decide to pay the cost of having it both ways--electronically for convenient current access, on paper for peace of mind about long-term availability.

Last spring the Harvard University Library, partnering with three major publishers of scholarly journals--Blackwell Publishing, John Wiley & Sons, and the University of Chicago Press--got a $145,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to plan an electronic-journal archive. Their work has gone well, says Dale Flecker, associate director for planning and systems in the University Library. (For a thorough discussion of issues related to e-journal archiving, see an article by Flecker at www.dlib.org/dlib/september01/flecker/09flecker.html.)

Harvard and its partners are so pleased with their planning that they intend in April to present a proposal to Mellon for funds to make a third-party archive, at Harvard, to hold copies of e-journals, perhaps for fail-safe uses only.

"The archiving and preserving of digital materials is a huge issue in the library world," says Flecker. "We will have failed if we can't guarantee the long-term preservation of digital material. This archiving project is our first foray into the field. There will be many to follow."