While the switch from print to digital publishing has been embraced by younger researchers and students, older faculty are a little more nervous about the impact of this (nearly complete) transition. This is somewhat related to the loss of print copies to hold in their hands and read, but for many, there is a larger issue. These faculty understand that when many libraries keep a physical copy of a book, the preservation of these materials was more likely due to the existence of multiple copies: If my library is destroyed by a tornado or a flood, other libraries would most likely have access to the same scholarly journals.

With digital information, it is less clear to the user how this information will be preserved and archived for future generations. After all, many of us have unreadable media floating around our offices or houses:

  • A faculty colleague has hundreds of research images on a CD-ROM his computer can’t read
  • My masters thesis was carefully preserved on a zip-disk.
  • A few faculty even confess to hanging onto the punch cards they created during the research for their dissertation.

If digital information is not properly curated and preserved, it can become impossible to access over time. Digital information is also more subject to changes in the publishing business. If a publish goes bankrupt, what will happen to their publications?

There are currently several initiatives to help preserve digital content, and to help preserve access to content. These initiatives require cooperation between libraries and publishers to ensure that content is safely archived and accessible:

  • LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe), based at Stanford University
  • CLOCKSS (Controlled Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe), An independent non-profit organization
  • portico, From Ithaka, the same folks who bring you JSTOR

Preserving digital material requires consistent effort (read: money and people), cooperation between many types of institutions, and a commitment to maintaining access to scholarly material.