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New Mellon Grant Preserves Digital Journals at Cornell and Columbia

Two university libraries will be working together to preserve the content from their collections of digital journals. Cornell and Columbia Universities have received a $150,000, 18-month grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to expand their efforts in preserving e-journals as a project undertaken by the libraries' 2CUL partnership.

While this is a new initiative, it results from a study conducted by Cornell and Columbia in 2011 focusing on methodologies for identifying and preserving vulnerable and important e-journals. That study found "that only about one quarter of the e-journals held by our libraries had been preserved at that time," said Robert Wolven, associate university librarian for bibliographic services and collection development at Columbia. "This led to widespread concern that more effort is needed, and thus to the current grant project."

According to Oya Rieger, Cornell associate university librarian for digital scholarship and preservation services, the primary objective of the new work will be "to increase the number and range of e-journals that will be preserved." She added that it will be "equally important to develop and promote methods that can be broadly adopted to expand our work."

The universities will be working closely with major agencies involved in e-journal preservation, including LOCKSS (hosted by Stanford University), CLOCKSS (a distributed archive), and Portico (part of ITHAKA), to get more high-priority titles preserved. Wolven said the formats will "depend on the methods of preservation used for individual titles." For example, Portico receives source files from publishers, while LOCKSS and CLOCKSS "essentially harvest content" from the Web.

Electronic serials are produced all over the world. The libraries within Columbia and Cornell have access to more than 100,000 titles in multiple fields. E-journals specifically have become the predominant means of access to current research. As libraries consolidate their print collections, the universities noted in a statement, their users increasingly rely on digitized versions of historical titles.

"Libraries are eager to see more progress, and this project is an important step toward engaging more parties in a broad effort," said Wolven.

While the idea of preserving digital content may strike some as an odd pairing, Wolven said that oddity is actually the big driver for the project. "There is an assumption that e-journals are perpetual, but they are way more vulnerable than their print counterparts due to hardware, software, and metadata issues. As we continue our exploration, we not only try to increase awareness about archival challenges but also develop methodologies to remedy the situation."

The goal is to ensure that "future access to this content isn't dependent on the commercial interests or organizational survival of its current publisher." In fact, he added, "There have already been several cases of publishers ceasing to offer specific titles online, and relying on the preserved copies held by the agencies noted above to provide continued access. As time goes on, these cases can only grow."

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