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 the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).
That journals disappear has long been known by DOAJ. It is the reason that questions on archiving and digital object identifiers were added to its 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, have started using DOIs and archiving services.
DOAJ has also warned 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’. It has also been emphasized that the journals vanished were identified by studying a list of journals that had already been removed from DOAJ and had then disappeared.
One of the points identified in the paper is that the percentage of Social Science and Humanities (SSH) journals that have disappeared (52.3%) is larger than other journals.
DOAJ, CLOCKSS and Internet Archive are uniquely positioned to be instruments for change and to support publishers to archive and preserve their content. DOAJ is 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.
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.
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 require specialised 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.
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