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Elsevier Teams with Dutch National Library for Digitization Project
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Posted On September 3, 2002
Elsevier Science and Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB; http://www.kb.nl/index-en.html), the National Library of the Netherlands, have announced an agreement that designates KB as the first official digital archive for Elsevier journals. KB will receive digital copies of 1,500 Elsevier journals in science, technology, and medicine. Elsevier is in the process of digitizing older journal issues going back to volume 1, number 1, when possible. The files will exceed 7 terabytes of data. The two formats used by Elsevier's ScienceDirect, Adobe Acrobat PDF and a tagged, structured text format, will be included in the digital deposit.

Elsevier has been a leader in the experimentation and exploration of issues associated with digital archiving, preservation, and access to science journals in perpetuity. During the last 10 years the company has worked with universities to conduct experiments such as The University Licensing Program (TULIP) and PEAK. TULIP was concerned with the technology of journal article delivery via campus networks in nine universities. PEAK explored the economics of electronic delivery and tested various pricing models.

Archiving, preservation, and access to older electronic journal articles have been major problems for research institutions that subscribe to e-journals. In some instances, librarians believed that they had to have both paper and electronic subscriptions. The acquisition of e-journals creates difficult trade-offs for libraries and information centers. Research libraries, charged with supporting scholarship and research, are obligated to provide whatever is needed for their scholarly communities. At the same time, they face shrinking stack space and increased costs in maintaining paper collections. While the Elsevier/KB agreement does not solve the problem, it represents a significant step in assuring permanent access to scientific and technological information.

Science builds on past work. Journals contain the data and information that documents that work and are essential for the endeavors of scientists and engineers now and in the future. This documentation provides the building blocks for current and future work while helping to avoid costly duplication and wasted effort.

Karen Hunter, Elsevier Science's senior vice president of strategy and a leader in the digital archiving field, explained the importance of this agreement. "It is essential that we will be able to guarantee both authors and researchers using the journals that the electronic files will be permanently available. Journals have been called ‘the minutes of science.' As we move toward journals being available only in electronic form and being held centrally on publishers' computers, the public has the right to be assured that, should a publisher go out of business, these files will not be lost. This agreement provides that assurance for Elsevier Science titles, which constitute an essential part of the core scientific literature currently being published."

Wim van Drimmelen, KB's director general, sees the agreement with Elsevier as a priority. "Ensuring permanent availability to information and knowledge is at the heart of the KB's mission." KB, which was founded in 1798, has a long history of preservation activity. The deposit collection is based on voluntary agreements with publishers and contains a growing amount of electronic material. Van Drimmelen said: "It's an exciting challenge to find ways of coping with the fast pace of change in platforms and formats. From the start we committed ourselves strongly to this challenge. We take pride in this groundbreaking agreement with Elsevier and see it as a recognition of our achievements so far and a milestone on the way to our strategic goals."

On the technical side, KB is working with IBM to develop "a new electronic deposit system that can meet large-scale and high-quality storage requirements and support digital preservation and functionality." IBM's process involves three crucial steps: 1) archiving the electronic publications, 2) preserving the digital object, and 3) guaranteeing long-term access.

KB will provide access to the journals on a current basis to people who visit the library and are permitted access to the collections. The library will also serve as a backup for ScienceDirect if that system is inoperable for a long period of time. If Elsevier or a successor ceases to make the journals available on a commercial basis, KB would provide access to all on a remote basis. The Netherlands government funds KB's costs.

The Elsevier/KB agreement is an important first step in preserving the history of science, technology, and medicine and making this information available for future generations. Elsevier recognizes that the complex and uncertain state of the world is not likely to improve. Hunter indicated that Elsevier would be looking at other sites around the globe for electronic deposit, archiving, and preservation of e-journals. "The first goal is to get the KB project up and running. When that goal is achieved Elsevier will talk with other trusted third parties to provide additional sites."

Other publishers need to follow Elsevier's example in assuming responsibility for preservation and access. Craig Van Dyck of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. said that the Elsevier/KB program looks like a positive development and first step. "E-journal archiving is complex and costly and is important to all publishers, libraries, and users. The community is in the early stages of creating technological solutions and business models. Wiley will continue to actively participate in the development of archiving systems."

Archiving and permanent access are essential for learning and research. Preservation will ensure that future generations have the "minutes of science" and the building blocks necessary to advance science and technology. Let's hope that other publishers follow Elsevier's lead.


Miriam A. Drake was professor emerita at the Georgia Institute of Technology Library.


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