Save Tonight (and Fight the Rot of Bits): Open Access and Digital Preservation

by Heidi Winkler, Digital Preservation Librarian and Scholarly Communication Team member.

April 23-29, 2017, marks the American Library Association’s annual Preservation Week, a celebration of all things library preservation. In my work as Digital Stewardship Librarian here at the TTU Libraries, my focus lies behind the scenes in what we call our “dark archive,” making sure that the digital collections that we create or accept are capable of surviving and being used generations beyond our work here. And I’d like to take a little time to pass some of the things I’ve learned about digital preservation onto our readers.

What is digital preservation, and why does it matter?

The Library of Congress defines digital preservation as “the active management of digital content over time to ensure ongoing access.” Basically, digital preservation entails the series of steps we take to ensure that the digital content we create today – our Word documents, PDFs, digital images, etc. – are still accessible and usable decades from now.

Why does digital preservation matter? First, digital files are fragile, often much more fragile than just any piece of paper. Digital materials will deteriorate on their own at a faster rate than any physical book. Far greater than that, though, is the threat of human error. People have a spectacular habit of crashing hard drives, accidentally deleting files, and losing external storage media. It’s vital that we cover our tracks ahead of time.

Digital preservation and open access

I am writing to you about digital preservation, but this is a scholarly communication blog. So, let’s delve into what preservation has to do with open access. SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) defines open access as “the free, immediate, online availability of research articles, coupled with the rights to uses these articles fully in the digital environment.” The simple answer to what digital preservation has to do with access is that we are not only advocating for open access in the here and now but also for continued access in years to come.

In the traditional sense of open access, I will encourage you to pay attention to what open access publishers say about what they intend to do with the work that you submit to them. LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe) and CLOCKSS (Controlled LOCKSS) are examples of programs designed to provide publishers with digital preservation tools and networks to ensure the safety of their content. If you are submitting your articles to a publisher who is openly involved with LOCKSS or CLOCKSS, then you can be reasonably assured that they have your best preservation interests at heart. But they’re not the only tools available to publishers, so be a good investigator when you explore your publication possibilities.

This introduction is the first part of two posts about digital preservation and access. Look out for the next post with four simple rules for incorporating digital preservation into your personal research routine.

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