Permanence Isn’t What it Used to Be.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Electronic publishers go to great lengths to assure librarians that the databases they purchase and subscribe to will persist. What "perpetual access" actually means can vary, from delivery of database content on portable media to entrusting that content to third party repositories like Portico, CLOCKSS and Scholars Portal. The fact is that these measures only go so far to ensure access to digital content for the long term, let alone for eterni.

Perpetual Access: Myth and Reality is the latest of several excellent webinars organized by Ann Okerson, CRL Senior Advisor for Electronic Resources. The webinar examined the complexities of the topic from the perspective of three thought leaders:  James J. O'Donnell, University Librarian, Arizona State University Libraries, and Chair of the Board of Directors, American Council of Learned Societies; Kevin M. Guthrie, President, ITHAKA, and JSTOR founding director; and Ivy Anderson, Interim Executive Director, California Digital Library.

Kevin Guthrie spoke about the “system wide economics” of perpetual access. He pointed out how capital costs for digital content differ from those to maintain physical collections, requiring new approaches to financing digital resources to ensure persistence. His presentation essentially exploded the myth that digital resources can be “purchased” in any meaningful way. 

James O’Donnell asserted that the commitment to the constant renewal required to prevent the obsolescence of digital scholarly content can be provided only by libraries, whose core purposes are longevity and service to scholars. He urged therefore that the issues of governance and funding “for a more consolidated and integrated community of libraries” be addressed.  

Ivy Anderson spoke from the practical standpoint of the consumer or licensing agent, reporting on the current status of the safeguards that can be put in place to optimize the assurances that publishers provide.

The presentations are now available online.  (See the link on the event site.) They provide a wealth of insight on the state of the art, but will unsettle anyone who values certainty about the future of scholarly resources. 

Bernard F. Reilly
President (2001-2019)
Center for Research Libraries