A recent study by Laakso, Matthias and Jahn looked at the number of journals that had “vanished” from the internet. The study is a timely reminder of how vulnerable publishing outputs are. Although the scale of vanished journals is likely smaller than the study indicates*, there is an urgent need for a group of organisations to come together to find a solution and minimise this risk. Three organisations well-positioned to do this are CLOCKSS, Internet Archive and DOAJ.
That journals disappear has long been known by DOAJ. It’s the reason that questions on archiving and digital object identifiers were added to our criteria back in 2013. It was an attempt to push publishers to avail themselves of these technologies, where they were able to. That has been very successful. Many journals, on their way to getting the DOAJ Seal, started to use DOIs and archiving services. (Percentage of journals using DOIs in 2013: 35%; in 2018: 73%)
We want to warn against the conclusion that may be drawn from the study: that only “open access” journals vanish. As the authors state: ‘the phenomenon of vanishing journals is not limited to OA but also affects digital-only subscription journals’. We also want to emphasize that the journals vanished were identified by studying a list of journals that had already been removed from DOAJ and had then since disappeared.
One of the points identified in the paper which saddens us but is not surprising is that the percentage of Social Science and Humanities (SSH) journals that have disappeared (52.3%) is larger than other journals (See Figure 4). We see this time and again: SSH journals under-resourced, overlooked and eventually gone.
DOAJ, CLOCKSS and Internet Archive are uniquely positioned to be instruments for change and to support publishers to archive and preserve their content. We are committed to finding and implementing a solution that is easy for small journals to take advantage of, without financially disadvantaging them. The solution would then be ratified by ISSN Keepers Registry, an important service which monitors active archiving of content into a set of services.
Craig Van Dyck, CLOCKSS Executive Director, said: “The CLOCKSS Archive is preserving about 25,000 journal titles. When we trigger a journal for access, we always make the journals open access. We look forward to collaborating with DOAJ, Internet Archive, the Keepers Registry and others to significantly reduce the number of journals that are not protected by preservation services like CLOCKSS.”
Jefferson Bailey, Internet Archive’s Director of Web Archiving and Data Services said: “At the Internet Archive, in concert with many partners, we are leveraging the methods and automation of global-scale archiving of the public web to provide preservation infrastructure for open knowledge. We are excited for this next stage of our work with DOAJ, CLOCKSS, and others in preserving open access scholarship and maximizing cost and process efficiencies for open access publishers and authors to ensure these journals remain available to readers.”
There are challenges with any solution: technical and financial barriers; poor metadata quality or a lack of metadata altogether; unstable websites; format incompatibilities. However, those challenges are surmountable–although not insignificant–and we are determined to find a solution.
Why aren’t more journals archived and preserved?
The publishing technologies employed to address preservation and archiving are mostly US or European initiatives where the solutions come with a price. For traditional commercial or society publishers, the fees to implement such a service and then deposit in them are supportable, compared to the income from subscriptions or open access publication charges. For small, scholar-led publishers or for single journals, often with no steady revenue stream, the fees can be an obstacle.
Then there is the technical and time aspect of implementing such a solution. To get the content into a service can require specialized knowledge and often involves some form of testing and sampling. The individuals running these journals may not have the time, skills or funding to be able to do this.
*The study states that ‘less than a third of the journals indexed in the DOAJ (4,057 out of 14,068 journals; DOAJ, 2019)[are] journals [that] participate in preservation schemes’. However, the authors missed a further 1824 journals that are archived so the real figure of DOAJ-indexed journals being preserved is much higher than that: 5881 journals.