Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

The Commitment to Securing Perpetual Journal Access: A Survey of Academic Research Libraries

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

The Commitment to Securing Perpetual Journal Access: A Survey of Academic Research Libraries

Article excerpt

Current and emerging trends raise questions about the extent to which academic research libraries should continue to seek perpetual access provisions for journal acquisitions. To describe the questions being raised, this paper begins by framing perpetual access commitments within the contexts of the past, present, and future. The paper then assesses current views and practices by describing and analyzing the results of a survey of librarians. The results show that, while the respondents" libraries generally espouse strong commitments to perpetual access, a combination of factors is leading many libraries to take actions that weaken perpetual access provisions.


As they transition from print to electronic collections, academic research libraries are revolutionizing how they acquire, manage, and provide journal access. Despite the scope of these changes, many assume that one constant will endure: the commitment to preserve journal collections. According to this view, changes in formats, tools, and workflows are simply new means for ensuring that current and future generations have ongoing access, which is a goal that will remain unwavering. This paper examines the question of whether academic research libraries are indeed steadfast in their commitments to securing perpetual access to journal acquisitions or if current and emerging trends are driving these libraries to become less stringent in their pursuit of perpetual access. Perpetual access is here defined in accordance with the definition of the Digital Library Federation's Electronic Resources Management Initiative: "the right to permanently access licensed materials paid for during the period of the license agreement." (1)

This paper first places perpetual access within three contexts: the traditional commitment of libraries to preserve their journal collections, the challenges libraries now confront in upholding this commitment, and emerging trends in the information landscape that raise questions about the value libraries will secure for future patrons through the pursuit of perpetual access provisions. The paper then describes the results of an online survey of librarians at the academic member libraries of three consortia: the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL), and the Greater Western Library Alliance (GWLA). The description of the survey's results is followed by a discussion of the results' implications.


The Past: Traditional Commitments to Preserve

Raven's Lost Libraries surveys the forces that have destroyed library collections across the ages. (2) From the sacking of ancient Assyrian libraries by Babylonian conquerors to the confiscation of Jewish libraries by the Nazis, Raven chronicles the destruction of collections by such perils as fires, wars, ideological intolerance, mismanagement, and simple abandonment. What unites these losses is their occurrence in environments that, to varying degrees, were characterized by a scarcity of information. In such environments, the barriers to information distribution and reproduction were high and, if bibliographic resources were not protected, access to the information they carried may be lost forever. Libraries emerged in part to prevent such losses and, for each of the catastrophes recounted in Lost Libraries, in innumerable instances libraries have preserved information that would have otherwise perished.

For most of library history, the primary means of preservation was the effective custodianship of scarce holdings. According to separate studies by Higginbotham and McDonald, today's more sophisticated and proactive preservation practices originate in the decades between the founding of the American Library Association (ALA) in 1876 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914. (3) Both studies show that, during this span, libraries gained a better understanding of the vulnerability of their collections and developed a growing sense of a preservation imperative. …

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