AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXX, No. 2, Fall 1998


How Will Future Historians Get Access to Electronic Journals?

Ever since computers began to proliferate, historians have dreamed of using them to retrieve and search large bodies of text. In fields where the amount of text is limited, like Shakespeare studies and ancient history, online searching is already widespread. For historians of science, however, most of the important literature is not digitized. Projects like a recently announced plan to digitize all the back issues of the journal Science will gradually open up text resources. For future historians, the significant journals of our times are now routinely digitized--for example, this year all the journals published by the American Institute of Physics went online. But this raises a severe problem.

A few decades from now, will a historian be able to find and read, in its original form, a scientific article published electronically today? Paper can last thousands of years, but it would not be surprising if future libraries dispense entirely with their paper copies of journals. CD-ROMs and similar media may well become unreadable with the passage of a few decades. Thus the continued availability of an electronic archives is crucial.

Many publishers recognize the problem. In particular, this June the Executive Committee of the American Institute of Physics, after extensive study and discussion, adopted a policy on "Archiving and Use of AIP Electronic Information" which addresses issues of concern to historians. "Because of the still emerging nature of electronic publishing, there are many technical and financial uncertainties about how archiving will be accomplished," the policy statement notes, but "AIP's intent to maintain an archive of all its electronic journals is clear."

Some of the key provisions:

Original information content will never be altered, but may be annotated or supplemented by clearly noted errata, references and other developments that occur subsequent to original publication....

AIP will hold a primary source material archive and be responsible for the periodic refresh of this archive (to assure its continuing availability) and its replication to additional archives.... At least one complete archive will be maintained outside AIP at a site separate and distant from the primary archive.

AIP will ensure access to relevant retrospective archives via subscriptions or other means. If publication of a journal is terminated, AIP will continue to maintain and migrate that journal's database archive and will charge appropriate access fees....

Information will be migrated to new formats when current formats are in danger of becoming obsolete or unsupportable, or when new formats provide substantial improvements in features with no loss of content....

Subscribers will be given an option to purchase a physical archive copy of that term's material at the end of each subscription term....

For 1999, the physical archive delivery format will be CD-ROM. Other publishers have adopted--or we hope will adopt--similar policies, which must be backed up by solid long-term financial arrangements. The full text of AIP's policy can be found on the World-Wide Web at

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AIP History Center Center for History of Physics
Phone: 301-209-3165
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