IFLANET home - International Federation of Library Associations and InstitutionsAnnual ConferenceSearchContacts

61st IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 20-25, 1995

Archiving Electronic Journals From The Serial Information Providers Perspective

Wim Luijendijk, EBSCO Subscription Services - Europe, Aalsmeer, Netherlands


Good morning Ladies & Gentlemen:

A very wise man once said: "A sense of the past is a light that illuminates the present and sets the directions for the future."

Let me therefore first share some history with you.

An Italian expedition, headed by Paolo Matthiae, which started their excavations in 1964, discovered in 1975 some 4000 documents recorded on many fragments of clay tables. The excavations took place at the Mediterranean coast of Mesopotamia, close to the port of Ugarit and mankind discovered the oldest library, the library of EBLA, a city with some 250.000 inhabitants, which was destroyed some 2 300 years before Christ.

The documents found were of an economic character. how much was owed to the authorities, but their were also other texts, religious, legal and historical.

In addition, 32 dictionaries were found which translated Sumerian into the language of EBLA.

In 1850, Sir Henry Austen Layard discovered the library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh, the city of Nineveh, which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 612. b.c. Some 25000 clay tablets were found and man y of them were containing information telling us that they were copies of olden texts and this was the language of Shumer.

It is now generally accepted that the tales of men and of gods were first recorded and archived by the Sumerians, a civilisation that started 3800 years b.c., almost 6000 years ago.

The discovery of ancient civilizations has continuously astonished mankind and pyramids, carved stones, columned ruins and what have you, would forever remain puzzles to us, were it not for the Writt en Word.

The written word, engraved into, or sealed into flat pieces of wet clay that had various formats and which after inscriptions were left to dry, or some were even kiln-dried.

In administrative centres, and commercial centres and in palaces and temples, there were archives full of such tablets; also there were libraries (In the language of Sumerian the word for Library or Archive is the same: E-DU-BA) and the tablets were neatly arranged by subject, their contents entitled and their scribe named.

The Sumerians already knew that records of mankind needed to be neatly recorded, classified and kept in libraries and archives for present and future reference.

Now let me take you back to some recent historical events, before I will give you my view on the archives of electronic journals.

Nicolaus Copernicus, in the year of his death, in 1543, published his famous study: "DE REVOLUTIONIBUS ORBIUM COELESTIUM."

The concept of the world before Copernicus was based upon the writings of Ptolemeus, a Greek astronomer, who lived around the second century in Alexandria. The earth was flat and was the centre of th e universe and in addition to the earth, the sun and the moon included, there were seven planets and those planets we find back in the naming of the days of the week.

Copernicus stated that the earth is only one of several planets, that the earth is in motion around the sun and that we are living in a heliocentric system.

In the year 1781, the planet Uranus was discovered.
In 1846 the planet Neptune was discovered and in 1930 the planet Pluto.

Based upon information gathered from the Voyager missions around Neptune and Uranus, astronomers believe that somewhere there must be one more planet.

From the pictography's on the clay tablets, which were found in the Library of Ashurbanipal, we have learned that the Sumerians already knew that there are twelve planets. So we have one more to disc over.

Information, knowledge, which was once there, was lost, but it was recorded and to some large extent preserved, as some 6000 years later we were able to put the pieces together and to decipher the cu neiform and pictographic scripts. Our challenge, therefore, Ladies & Gentlemen, in archiving electronic information, we must do better than the Sumerians.

Who will now be responsible to archive electronic journals and whose mission is it going to be?

Traditionally, it has been the librarian's mission, perhaps because no one else could be counted on to do it. Today, for the most part, the oldest, most precious and most relevant historical document s are preserved and held by libraries, not publishers, subscription agents or book vendors. Subscription agencies traditionally have served mainly as intermediaries between libraries and publishers in the ordering and management of printed serial information. This activity did not seem to require the archival of this information mostly b ecause the information, or in this case the journals, were being sent directly to the libraries--the agency never saw or received the journals.

Publishers traditionally have produced the information and offered it to all who would subscribe. Apparently, they did not consider the archival function to be a related or necessary activity. But an interesting thing happened along the way. Back issue dealers surfaced to fulfill a need that wasn't being met by library suppliers. While it is true that these dealers do not archive to the extent t hat libraries around the world do, they created jobs for themselves by serving somewhat as temporary or pseudo-archivers and suppliers of journals that might not be readily available if they weren't there to sell them. Although it might be a frightening proposition for some to rely on this prediction, new businesses like this will likely surface in almost all situations where there is a need for a product or service that is not readily available. It is also possible that the back issue dealers' activities will change from storing print issues to storing electronic ones. Note that their miss ion, to provide access to previously published materials, would stay the same.

in acknowledgement of the complexities involved in electronic archival, the Research Libraries Group in North America is now studying the preservation of digital information. As many have written, th e process of archiving and later retrieving electronic materials does not seem to be as simple as doing the same with print materials. With print, the archivist must guarantee that the product will n ot disintegrate, fade, fall apart or disappear-- and this has been a challenge for archivists. But access to the information after it has been preserved and pulled off a shelf only requires a pair of eyes and the ability to read it. With electronic information, the archivist must guarantee that the product will not corrode, become erased, break or disappear-- which will be no small feat as we do not yet know the useful shelf life of all magnetic and digital media.

However, the access is a bit more tricky. If the information is stored on a floppy disk, optical disk or tape, one must first have the hardware and software to accommodate the medium--an optical read er or system with appropriate disk to tape drives, and the correct version of the software program used to store the data, for example. If the information is stored in a remote location, but is acces sible through software, one must have the necessary software to locate and retrieve or download it. Additionally, one must have the necessary software to access or read the data. This brings up many problems and questions. Electronic journals, just like print journals, are produced with a variety of software programs that run on several different hardware platforms. As electronic journals become more sophisticated to include photos, graphics or even become multimedia, the number of formats will likely increase. Many programs or formats for these journals will come and go, just like word pro cessing products have done and continue to do.

"Technology refreshing" whereby electronic information is transferred from one waning medium to an emerging one will need to be practiced. It will be a challenging task for the group or person who wa nts to archive and provide easy, universal access over the long run. However, just as back issue dealers surfaced to fulfill a need, so might software dealers to offer electronic document "can opener s" that can provide access to data saved in a variety of formats or to offer super gophers with which to find the data. A good example of this is the creation of Mosaic. The Internet came about and h ad a wealth of information--but it was not user or searcher friendly, so people had difficulty finding and accessing the information. Along came Mosaic to facilitate searching and access. Locating ne eded items on the Internet is now almost as easy as clicking a mouse button.

So who will do the archiving? From recent articles in the library trade journals, it appears that some librarians are prepared to continue their traditional archival roles. However, libraries are sub scribing to fewer journals and, therefore, have less to archive. There have been discussions about university libraries doing cooperative archiving and providing access through gophers and such. But there are several potential problems with this: relying on other library participants to archive properly and for the long run, the corruption of files held at a single site, incompatible systems in the short run, and system and access problems such and computer downtime and "lost pointers". An example of such a cooperative effort is CICNet through which several library participants download and maintain electronic journals. The participants have found this to be quite an arduous and unpredictable process.

I have mentioned the idea that publishers have not traditionally been involved in archiving journals. Until recently, many of them did not even save the electronic data associated with production of their print journals. We found this often to be the case when we began trying to license journals for full text availability on our CD-ROM and online products. We wanted to receive articles from publ ishers in electronic format instead of having to scan or retype them. We found that many publishers would use electronic production means to create their print journals but then delete the files afte r the print product released. I'm sure this is rapidly changing, however. One reason it's likely to change is that there is profit potential in electronic backfiles. In an electronic environment, it is easier for publishers to control access to previous works and therefore, assess a per-access charge. This was less possible with print products. So it may make sense for publishers now to provide this service for their journals.

As for agencies, at EBSCO we have already begun the process of archiving the electronic full text of journal articles that are available on our electronic reference products. We have been providing e lectronic full text articles in ASCII format on CD-ROM and tape for a few years now and will have both ASCII and image-based articles on our online host this year. We are archiving these items becaus e we see it as a natural extension of document delivery, which is now one of our products or activities. We must archive or have access to archives of journals, whether electronic or paper, in order to meet the document delivery needs of our customers. This is in line with our commitment to provide access to serial information and our progression into delivering information on a document basis, when needed and allowed by copyright. Of course, copyright law will impact how entity involved in the library community will preserve and provide access to data. Our document delivery company in Cali fornia has for several years held the print archives of journals for several publishers. This was done both to provide quick delivery of articles to customers and as a service to publishers. In this sense, providing access to serial information has lead us to provide services similar to back issue dealers, except in our case back articles are being provided. So agencies, most of which are gettin g involved in document delivery, will have some interest in archiving or having access to archives.

If all three parties--libraries, publishers and vendors-- feel the need to be involved in archival, there will be some redundancy at first. This is probably a good thing, as we will all be experiment ing, and some experiments are bound to fail. Eventually, however, the party that can do it the most effectively, efficiently, and inexpensively while providing the most access will be the one to do i t. This has always been the case. We at EBSCO exist because it is more efficient and less expensive for libraries to outsource the ordering and servicing of journals and documents. The archiving of E -journals will create a business or activity for whoever is best at providing that service.

Thank you for your attention.