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Unravelling the Open Access-Preservation layer cake

Lapis layer cakeDigital preservation presents its own complexity. Add the complexity of the target content, and it’s easy to get mired. This is particularly so for the case of open access (OA) content where that content is made available through institutional repositories (IRs), so-called ‘green’ open access. This is the layer cake presented by journalist Richard Poynder in one of his blog posts. Richard has long been interested in open access, and as a journalist he has a probing curiosity that leads to incisive questions directed at those in the field. In this case he wanted to know why green open access does not appear to be obviously compatible with the approach of digital preservation.

My colleague Stevan Harnad has long had a straightforward answer: OA through IRs does not need preserving (yet), for two reasons:

  1. Most IRs don’t have enough content to bother with preservation;
  2. For the target content of OA IRs, authors’ copies of papers published in journals and other peer reviewed sources, preservation is required for the primary content and is the responsibility of the content owner, the publisher.

It turns out that Stevan has been largely correct, if not necessarily for the right reasons. This all boils down to putting in place the economic drivers for digital preservation. But repositories have changed in the last 5 years or so, and continue to change, so it is necessary to reappraise the situation:

  1. IRs were originally (around 2000) synonymous with OA, but contain wider types of content now, such as data, arts and teaching materials. KeepIt was founded on this recognition.
  2. The emergence of institutional open access mandates is welcome, if belated, recognition of the significance of the institutional component of the term IR; institutions cannot be seen to be casual with content they may have required through policy.
  3. There is wider recognition that digital preservation is not simply a post-content acquistion and some-time-later activity, but is integral to the planning, policy and development of the repository.
  4. An array of digital preservation tools has emerged to enable digital preservation to be practised and applied by non-specialists outside the traditional preservation organisations.

For this reason it seemed appropriate, even necessary, to respond to Richard’s questions about OA and preservation posted to a number of email lists within the notice of his blog post. Inevitably, since nobody has a response rate faster than Stevan, this reply is also in the context of his response. This mail is available in full, rather than the slightly shorter version reproduced below. Also, see Stevan’s blog take on this, or take a moment just to absorb his title – Authors’ Drafts, Publishers’ Versions-of-Record, Digital Preservation, Open Access and Institutional Repositories – and ponder why this might present some complexity.

On Fri, 13 Aug 2010, Richard Poynder wrote:
>> [1] Should institutional repositories [IRs] be viewed as preservation tools?

On 14 Aug 2010, at 20:16, Stevan Harnad wrote:
> Not primarily. IRs’ primary function should be to provide open access [OA] to
> institutional research article output.

On 18 Aug 2010, at 10:50, Steve Hitchcock wrote:
Yes. We may have witnessed a golden age of digital preservation tools, and some of these have been built into repository software interfaces. To explore the practical application for repositories, see our structured and fully documented KeepIt course on digital preservation tools for repository managers:

Source materials

The underlying philosophy of the course is to enable users to evaluate the appropriate degree of commitment, responsibility and resource for preservation that is consistent with the aims and objectives of the institution and repository at a given time and looking forward. It follows that answers can range from high to low, even to nothing, providing the analysis has been thorough, the results documented and the decisions and consequences are fully understood.

Without commenting on priorities here, IRs are much wider than OA papers. For IR preservation it’s this broad scope that matters, then how policy deals with the specifics, rather than simply OA concerns.

>> [2] Should self-archiving mandates always be accompanied by a ā€œpreservation
>> mandateā€?

> Definitely not. (But IRs can, will, should and do preserve their
> contents.) For journal articles, the real digital preservation problem
> concerns the publisher’s version-of-record. Self-archiving mandates
> pertain to the author’s-draft.

Not an additional mandate, agreed, and it’s important that institutional and repository policy, such as OA mandates, precede preservation policy and provide the basis for it. But it’s interesting to ask whether OA mandates, since at the moment these are the most prominent form of repository policy, should make some reference to preservation. It’s notable that research funder OA policies are more likely to make some brief reference to preservation than institutional policies.

To Stevan the answer may seem obvious in the particular case of OA, but the question is whether such policies would benefit from such a reference. Or more broadly, whether repository policies need to demonstrate some degree of reciprocity, not just preservation, for the demands they appear to make of authors. Given the weight of an institution’s repository policy, it will have to address this at some stage, and omission, even from an OA mandate, since IRs are wider than OA, could begin to look curious and raise questions. The wider context is what repositories can offer in terms of responsible content management for access now and longer-term access. It will do no harm to sprinkle policies with features that will appeal to authors, where repositories can take practical steps to implement these. Stevan says IRs should and do preserve their contents; in which case, IRs simply need to specify and demonstrate what this means in practical terms, where possible, and policy is one prominent place to do this.

In this case return to [1] above, but first see conditions in [3] below.

>> [3] Should Gold OA funds be used to enable preservation in institutionalĀ repositories?

> Funds committed to Gold OA should be used any way the university or
> research funder that can afford them elects to use them (though does
> seem a bit random to spend money designated to pay for publishing in
> Gold OA journals instead to preserve articles published in
> subscription journals).
> But on no account should commitment to fund either Gold OA or digital
> preservation of the version-of-record be a condition for mandating
> Green OA self-archiving.

>> More, including an interview with digital preservation specialist Neal
>> Beagrie, here:

Stevan has long been concerned about costs and distractions, including preservation, to the core OA aim. Economics are the primary driver here. As Neil Beagrie said in the interview: “digital preservation is “a means to an end”: the benefit and goal of digital preservation is access for as long as we require it”. This can work for open access too. My experience is that repositories are not wasting time and effort on preservation where it may be unnecessary, e.g. empty repositories. On this basis, it is too stark for Richard Poynder to say: “Nevertheless it is hard not to conclude that there is a potential conflict between OA and preservation.”

For others the problem may be the opposite, of turning concern into action. There is emerging evidence that repositories will take the necessary actions on preservation where the tools are available and when the circumstances support this, e.g. these repositories:

To try and gauge what circumstances might convert concern over preservation into action by repositories I recently proposed this rough metric

When these conditions apply, again, return to [1] above.

I’ve made the case before that the issue between support for green and gold OA, from an institutional perspective, is one of chronology, and it’s the same for IRs and preservation.


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  1. Institutional repositories and digital preservation | Book of Trogool linked to this post on September 7, 2010

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