Millions of dollars are invested annually by universities and research organizations, public and private, in subscriptions to electronic journals and databases. Unlike investments in traditional library collections, electronic subscriptions secure access to resources that are “hosted” elsewhere, often by third parties, outside the control of the subscribing institution.
Many publishers and other producers of content also entrust the management of their databases, online information, digital collections, and other digital assets to independent, third-party organizations. Even heritage materials in electronic form, such as news broadcasts and legal documents, are now managed and archived in ways that challenge conventional ways of ensuring that library collections will be available to future scholars. In addition, many countries have legal requirements for the deposit of digital materials that must be addressed by both libraries and publishers (see www.nla.gov.au/padi/topics/67.html for more information on legal requirements for the deposit of digital materials.)
Given the scale of such investments, the reliability of archiving institutions and their systems and processes is critical. It is important to be able to determine that an issue of an electronic journal or newspaper will be maintained by the archiving entity and will be able to be presented, with all important characteristics intact, at a future date.
Although accepted practices exist for the valuation and auditing of other kinds of assets, few means enable libraries and publishers to assess and manage the risks they incur in investing in access to electronic knowledge resources. Such investments cannot be subjected to the same kind of auditing and validation as other financial investments of a comparable scale. In the absence of reliable certification, moreover, libraries and publishers now subsidize costly fail-safe strategies that involve the warehousing of voluminous and redundant print holdings.