Select Committee on Science and Technology Tenth Report

8 Archives

The digital problem

192. Archiving, whilst it has always been costly and time-consuming, was at least a straightforward process in a print environment. In theory, digitisation makes archiving more efficient: digital archives take up less space; they are less at risk from fire, flood and theft; and they are easily searchable from a single point of access. Yet digital archives pose a substantial technical challenge. Digital publications are not identifiably "items" in the way that print publications are. Especially in the ephemeral environment of the internet, digital articles can be difficult to track. Furthermore, the technologies used to create and read digital journal articles are quickly superseded. This rapid rate of change makes preservation difficult: archives have to be continually updated, or their articles migrated to new formats, to ensure their continuing readability. We heard that the preservation on paper of print outs of digital journal articles would be insufficient. Julia Morris of IoPP told us that "you cannot print the New Journal of Physics because you cannot use the three-dimensional images and the video, some of the things which are really crucial to explaining some of the very complex concepts in the papers".[331] Witnesses on all sides agreed that a secure central archive for digital publications was essential to ensuring that today's research findings were not lost to the future. The development of this archive and the evolving technologies needed to maintain it is an expensive process.

193. Several memoranda make the point that usage is an effective way of ensuring preservation. In oral evidence, Vitek Tracz told us that "as long as the data is available and used and appears in many places, as long as it is used, it tends to be preserved. Formats change and users adapt and change their format. Usage is the key to preservation of data".[332] This is frequently used as an argument for the author-pays publishing model, which, by disseminating research as widely as possible, attempts to increase usage. As archives that are open, institutional repositories would also help to ensure that data is used. Institutional repositories should be a key component of any long-term strategy to ensure the preservation of digital publications.

194. In the UK, the British Library plays a central role in the development of systems and technologies to secure the long-term preservation of digital content. With JISC, the British Library co-founded the Digital Preservation Coalition. The aim of the coalition is to secure the preservation of digital resources in the UK and to work with others internationally to secure the global digital memory and knowledge base.[333] The British Library is also collaborating with higher education institutions on pilot projects under the JISC FAIR programme (see paragraph 109 of this Report). The Library is currently developing a digital object management system intended to ensure the long-term preservation and access for digital material.[334] Many publishers have also invested substantially in developing archives for their own digital publications. These parallel projects act as a useful safety net, although they would be vulnerable in the event of company collapse. We heard that "one of the crucial things is that it is preserved in more than one place, so that if a disaster should befall the British Library or anywhere else, that is not the only electronic copy; that is a vital aspect to electronic preservation".[335]

195. The British Library proposes to invest £12 million over the next four years in addressing the challenges posed by the preservation of digital material. To this end it intends to build up substantial in-house expertise.[336] It is "seeking specific recognition from Government of this particular funding requirement in the forthcoming Spending Review and would welcome the Committee's endorsement of that requirement".[337] In making this request, the Library has strong support from all sides. Sally Morris of ALPSP told us that "a great many publishers are looking to the British Library as being the primary source of long-term preservation of electronic material, want to work very closely with them, want to be sure that they have the funds to do it, which is going to be a big question mark".[338] Similarly, the Royal Society of Chemistry told us that "sadly, the incorrectly held view that electronic = free or cheap to deal with, that is often levelled at publishers, is in danger of affecting the consideration of the British Library's funding requests".[339] If this is true, it is of some concern to the Committee. The preservation of the national intellectual record is crucial for the maintenance of a strong research base in years to come.

196. The British Library has a crucial role to play in the preservation of digital publications, both strategically and practically. This is an expensive process. Whilst the publication of this Report is too late to have any influence on funding decisions made as part of the 2004 Spending Review, we strongly support the British Library's call for extra funding in recognition of the work that it has carried out in this capacity. Failure of the Government to give adequate funding to the British Library could result in the loss of a substantial proportion of the UK's scientific record.

Legal deposit

197. Legal deposit is the act of depositing published material in designated libraries or archives. Publishers and distributors in the United Kingdom and Ireland have a legal obligation to deposit published material in the six legal deposit libraries which collectively maintain the national published archive of the British Isles. The six legal deposit libraries are:

198. The purpose of the system of legal deposit is to "ensure that the nation's published output (and thereby its intellectual record and future published heritage) is collected systematically and as comprehensively as possible, both in order to make it available to current researchers within the libraries of the legal deposit system and to preserve the material for the use of future generations of researchers".[340] Until recently, legal deposit legislation covered only print publications. A substantial and growing proportion of published output in the UK, however, is in digital format. In recognition of this change, the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 enabled the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to make regulations extending the system of legal deposit to non-print material. As an interim arrangement, in January 2000 a Voluntary Code of Practice was established between the deposit libraries and three bodies representing publishers, the Publishers Association, ALPSP and the Periodical Publishers Association, to provide for the voluntary deposit of digital publications. Under the Code, publishers are requested and encouraged to deposit their digital publications but are not obliged to do so.

199. Under the terms of the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003, DCMS is responsible for drawing up the regulations requiring the deposit of non-print material. Each set of regulations will be made subject to a public consultation. One of the assurances given by DCMS to the publishing community during the passage of the Act was that no regulations would be made until the department had appointed a Legal Deposit Advisory Panel, comprised of members of the publishing and library communities and independent experts. In the Government's submission it is noted that "DCMS is consulting on setting up the Advisory Panel and aims to have it in place by the end of 2004. Work on regulations can begin then and legal deposit of non-print material is likely to start in 2005".[341] Since the current arrangements for the deposit of non-print material are voluntary only, the speed at which this process can be carried out is extremely important. In answers to supplementary questions, the British Library told the Committee that it hoped that we would "encourage Government to ensure that the Advisory Panel is set up without undue delay".[342] It is vital that work on regulations for the legal deposit of non-print publications begins as soon as possible. We cannot understand why DCMS has not yet established the Legal Deposit Advisory Panel. We recommend that they appoint the panel and begin preliminary work on the regulations at official level immediately.

200. Whereas print publications are relatively easy to define and to trace, these processes are more complicated in a digital environment. The British Library has attempted to define non-print publications, using the following categories:

  • Publications accessed over the internet, e.g. electronic journals;
  • Websites;
  • Publications on media other than paper, such as microfilm or fiche; and
  • "Hand-held" electronic publications on media such as CD-ROM or DVD.[343]

This list is not exhaustive, and is likely to expand as new technologies bring to light new formats and possibilities. One of the issues that needs to be addressed in the regulations is how they can capture digital publications that are not easily categorised or defined as such. Similarly, the British Library noted in answers to supplementary questions, that, "in the making of Regulations, it will be necessary to arrive at a definition of a United Kingdom publication, especially in an online environment, which simultaneously recognises the need for an appropriate territorial limitation […] but also prevents any significant 'deposit gap' opening up in respect of material which could legitimately be regarded as constituting part of the UK's intellectual and cultural record".[344] We recommend that the first task of the Advisory Panel is to establish definitions of a digital publication and a UK publication that are flexible enough to capture material from a range of sources in a range of formats.

201. In order for a print publication to be accessible from all six legal deposit libraries, a copy of it has to be deposited separately in each library. This is not the case for digital publications. In its memorandum the Government noted that "the establishment of a secure network between the deposit libraries […] would allow access to non-print material from any of the deposit libraries, following the deposit of just one copy. The details of how such a network may operate […] would be subject to consultation and be covered in the regulations".[345] The existence of a secure network between the legal deposit libraries would create greater efficiencies in the deposit system and would have the potential to increase access to deposited material. We recommend that provisions for such a network are made in the regulations with these two aims in mind. The deposit libraries should be funded to establish the network.

202. Legal deposit collections are not intended to be a means for readers to obtain free access to publications as an alternative to using existing supply channels. Print publications that have been deposited under current legislation are available to readers within the buildings of the relevant deposit library. In addition, as is discussed in paragraphs 30—31, the British Library currently operates a Document Supply Service whereby readers can pay a small fee to be sent articles that they need on request. Digital technology offers the deposit libraries the option of delivering deposited articles direct to the reader's desktop. There is concern amongst the deposit libraries, however, that the regulations for deposit are likely to prohibit such arrangements. Cambridge University Library told us that the regulations "will restrict access to the legal deposit versions of electronic journals, probably to just one workstation within each legal deposit library building".[346] The National Library of Wales told us that "the Act and its Regulations will prohibit the networking of legal deposit material outside the walls of the LDLs themselves. (This is a particularly severe restriction in the case of the National Library of Wales because of its remote geographical location.)"[347] Whilst we agree with the British Library that "a judicious balance must be struck between the national interest (which requires access) on the one hand and the protection of the legitimate economic interests of the publishing industry on the other", it would be disappointing if the deposit libraries were not able to exploit the technology available to improve access to non-print publications.[348] We recommend that the regulations make provision for the deposit libraries to deliver digital articles remotely to desktops on the same payment basis as Document Supply.

203. It was brought to our attention that, because the deposit of non-print items is currently carried out on a voluntary basis only, the deposit libraries will have potentially significant gaps in their holdings by the time that the new regulations come into force. There is no bibliographic control of UK publications that would allow the libraries to be certain of the extent of these omissions. Nonetheless, the British Library told us that:

  • "Of hand-held electronic publications the Library was already receiving a high proportion of published output, possibly in the region of 75%
  • For electronically-delivered publications (mostly electronic serials) coverage was much less good with the BL receiving a smaller proportion of all published output, ie possibly as much as 45-50%".[349]

As the National Library of Scotland told us, these gaps could present considerable expense to the libraries: "in this interim period if publishers are unwilling to deposit voluntarily, the Library will be required to pay for material it received free when it was in print form, or else cease to take it and accept having significant gaps in its holdings".[350] Gaps of up to 60% in the deposit of electronically-delivered publications, including STM journals, represent a significant breach in the intellectual record. It is imperative that work on recovering and purchasing the missing items begins immediately. The six deposit libraries will need additional funding to do this.

331   Q 126 Back

332   Q 198 Back

333 Back

334   Ev 357 Back

335   Q 127 Back

336   Q 262 Back

337   Ev 357 Back

338   Q 123 Back

339   Ev 211 Back

340 Back

341   Ev 382 Back

342   Ev 458 Back

343 Back

344   Ev 458 Back

345   Ev 383 Back

346   Ev 372-3 Back

347   Ev 280 Back

348   Ev 357 Back

349   Ev 459 Back

350   Ev 252 Back

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