Perpetual Access, Perpetually Confusing? C-EBLIP Journal Club, August 25, 2014

by Charlene Sorensen
Services to Libraries, University of Saskatchewan

I’m really enjoying the C-EBLIP journal club and I’ve been trying to figure out why since I’ve never been one for book clubs. It certainly helps that journal articles are short but that isn’t the whole reason. I find all areas of librarianship so interesting, but I don’t have enough time to explore areas outside of my own (technical services and collections). So the exposure to others’ article selections, combined with the small time commitment to read the articles and attend the meetings, is very exciting to me.

The third meeting of the C-EBLIP Journal Club was held on August 25, 2014 to discuss this journal article of my choosing:

Bulock, Chris. “Tracking Perpetual Access: A Survey of Librarian Practices.” Serials Review 40, no. 2 (2014): 97-104
http://doi.org/10.1080/00987913.2014.923369

I chose this article because it was from the area of the library literature that I typically follow but would probably be a topic unfamiliar to the journal club members. It was also relevant to a project I am involved in and it was short (do you see a theme here?). I also liked it because the research study was pretty straightforward and was an example of what any one of us might undertake.

The author undertook a survey that asked librarians about their practices with respect to tracking perpetual access to e-journals, e-books, and multimedia resources. That is, even if perpetual access is contained with a license agreement, the perpetual access entitlements must then be tracked and holdings must be adjusted if changes occur. The author concludes that librarians seem committed to securing the perpetual access rights, but they were less dedicated to maintaining the access as evidenced by the fact that a great many weren’t actually tracking the access.

The conversation started out innocently enough. We identified a couple of inconsistencies in the paper and yearned for better definitions of some of the concepts. But the discussion took off from there and we wondered if the advent of electronic resources has changed our perspective on long-term access of any online resource. Libraries struggle with electronic resources every step of the way, from selection and acquisition, to description and discovery, right through to current and long-term access. We are so very good at managing these processes for print materials, but are nowhere near having the same control over e-resources. BUT maybe we just can’t have the same ‘control’ over these materials and should dial back our expectations. For example, I have a shoebox of letters I received throughout my life up until 1996, when email came along and now correspondence with friends and family is regularly deleted. Many of us have photos on our phones that will be deleted accidentally or on purpose. Maybe history matters less now that it’s harder to preserve?

But are libraries supposed to stand up to these difficulties and be responsible for the long-term access to its resources for the benefit of the university community? The author of this paper isn’t very hopeful and concludes:

“It remains to be seen whether librarians will develop the tools necessary to bring their practices into alignment with their ideals, or whether the goal of perpetual access will simply fall by the wayside” (p. 103).

I personally believe that libraries do have the responsibility to ensure perpetual access, though the ideal may be different from that of print materials. I look forward to further discussions on this topic throughout the library.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

One thought on “Perpetual Access, Perpetually Confusing? C-EBLIP Journal Club, August 25, 2014

  1. An interesting post that brings a forgotten and unresolved operational issue to the forefront. Makes one wonder about other such issues related to electronic resources. Do we consider electronic resources to be part of library’s digital assets? If so, can libraries realistically afford to treat all assets the same when it comes to digital preservation? Is ensuring perpetual access through external partnerships a good enough compromise to reconcile ideal and real? The underlying issue of preservation of “access” versus preservation of “assets” also requires our thought and exploration.

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