v23 #4 Preservation’s Role in the Transition from Print to E-Resource Collections

by | Oct 5, 2011 | 0 comments

by Patrick L. Carr  (Head of Electronic and Continuing Resource Acquisitions, Joyner Library, East Carolina University)  <[email protected]>

The transition of library collections from print to electronic formats has presented extraordinary challenges to traditional concepts of preservation.  Although these challenges have been a point of emphasis within the profession’s literature and conference programs, I believe that the profession’s focus has often been distorted by a fundamental misconception that preservation is an end rather than a means.  To see this misconception, you need only look at how libraries frequently opt to articulate their core missions as being twofold: first, to preserve and, second, to provide access.  For example, the American Library Association and Association of Research Libraries have purported that “The mission of libraries is to preserve and provide access to information, regardless of format.”1  One result of such claims is the formation of what I have elsewhere termed the “dual mission paradigm.”2

Some would argue that purveyors of the dual mission paradigm don’t actually hold that preservation is an end in itself; instead, the argument goes, these purveyors are just trying to emphasize that libraries must preserve their collections as a means for the ongoing accessibility of those collections.  But, regardless of what is meant, what is actually being said suggests that libraries have two missions, preservation and access.  This lack of clarity in the language used to describe library missions has contributed to a corresponding lack of clarity in the profession’s thinking about the role of preservation in the emerging post-print era.

I believe that, too often, libraries pursue preservation of their e-resource collections (in particular, commitments to perpetual access provisions for new acquisitions) as an end in itself rather than as a strategy for providing access to patrons that are anticipated in the future.  The result is that libraries often have difficulty thinking critically about preservation’s utility in an emerging long-tail information marketplace or of preservation’s place among competing priorities for the allocation of personnel and funding.

I accepted an invitation to guest edit this issue of Against the Grain with the intention of shedding light on e-resource preservation’s proper role in an environment focused on seamless and immediate access.  The issue includes six articles from authors representing a cross-section of communities with a stake in the evolving role of preservation in libraries.  By considering the authors’ varying perspectives, I hope that readers’ views on e-resource preservation will be enriched with added depth and dimension.

T. Scott Plutchak (Director of the Lister Hill Library of the Health Sciences, University of Alabama at Birmingham) contributes an article prompted by the ten-year anniversary of Nicholson Baker’s controversial critique of library preservation practices, Double FoldPlutchak discusses the book’s relevancy today and then expands to consider broader difficulties and opportunities associated with e-resource preservation.

Thomas Herron (Associate Professor of English, East Carolina University) offers a perspective that is too often absent from librarianship’s professional literature.  He gives a firsthand account of what a working scholar of English literature most values about libraries, and he shares his concerns about attributes that libraries risk losing as they transition their collections from print to online formats.

Wm. Joseph Thomas (Head of Collection Development, Joyner Library, East Carolina University) considers e-resource preservation from the hands-on vantage point of a collection development librarian.  He discusses the rationale and processes by which his library uses online archival access to make decisions about print deselection.  Further, Thomas advocates that libraries demonstrate and advance their investments in strategies for e-resource preservation.

Steven R. Harris (Director of Collections and Acquisitions Services, University of New Mexico) extends the focus on library collection development and preservation with a provocative but cogent proposal.  He suggests that, in the post-print era, it may be time for libraries to abandon antiquated concepts of collection ownership in favor of demand-driven rentals of content.

Amy Kirchhoff (Archive Service Product Manager, JSTOR & Portico) addresses one of the most significant and pressing preservation challenges: the eBook format.  She explains some of the distinct difficulties of eBook preservation and discusses solutions that Portico has developed for overcoming these difficulties.

Robert W. Boissy (Manager of Account Development & Strategic Alliances, Springer Science + Business Media) shares his perspective on e-resource preservation rooted in his experiences as a member of the publisher community.  He traces the impact that the transition to electronic formats has had on perceptions of preservation responsibilities and describes how publishers and libraries are partnering to develop solutions to the many problems of preserving e-resource collections.


1.  The American Library Association and Association of Research Libraries, “The ALA and ARL Position on Access and Digital Preservation: A Response to the Section 108 Study Group” (Nov. 9, 2006), www.arl.org/bm~doc/the-ala-and-arl-position-on-access-and-digital-preservation.pdf (Accessed July 3, 2011).

2.  Patrick L. Carr, “The Dual Mission Paradigm: A Ranganathanian Critique,” Against the Grain v.22, #6 (Dec. 2010-Jan. 2011): p.44-45.


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