Sustainability is also a serious matter for open access electronic publications.
The Committee on Electronic Information and Communication of the International Mathematical Union shares some thoughts about the future availability of electronic journals. It is not only a matter for mathematics.
One of the biggest issues with online publication is archiving: how can we ensure that authoritative copies of published papers are permanently available?
In traditional publication models, this task is undertaken by librarians, with extra security from the redundancy of having copies in many libraries. In electronic publishing, the responsibility often lies with the publisher, who may quit or lose interest over time.
A recent study (“Open is not forever: a study of vanished open access journals” by Mikael Laakso, Lisa Matthias, and Najko Jahn) finds 176 open access journals that have not only quit publishing new papers, but in fact stopped distributing published papers. Some of the journals seem to be somewhat marginal, but they are nevertheless a real loss for the scholarly community.
How many journals?
The data set from the study shows that two of the journals are in mathematics. How many more journals might the mathematics community lose in the future?
In principle, we know how to solve this problem. Every electronic journal publisher should partner with a trustworthy, long-lived organization that will commit to preserving and distributing published material forever, potentially long after the publisher disappears (examples include LOCKSS, Portico, CLOCKSS, and PKP PN; see Table 1 in the study cited above).
A few organizations
Furthermore, standardization is important: it’s best to centralize on a modest number of widely known organizations, so that we don’t simply shift the problem to “what if an obscure preservation service disappears?”
Editors of online journals should confirm that a reliable archiving plan is in place, and communicate this information on the journal’s website. Otherwise, it’s difficult for the community to identify unprepared journals.
Henry Cohn, chair of the Committee on Electronic Information and Communication of IMU.
This post has first been published by IMU-Net.