AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXIII , No. 1, Spring 2001

 

Library of Congress Acquires Electronic
Archive of APS Publication
By Scott Carlson

The Library of Congress is acquiring its first complete electronic archive of a set of publications—journals published by the American Physical Society. The library will provide a backup archive for the Society's physics journals, guarding them in the event that the Society's main server is destroyed by a disaster or if the Society goes out of business. The Society's eight physics journals together publish about 14,000 articles every year. Under the deal, the Library of Congress will assume ownership of the material if the Society goes under or is no longer able to maintain its electronic archives. Other than the cost of buying and maintaining the server, the Library of Congress will not have to pay anything for the arrangement. Nancy Davenport, the library's director of acquisitions, says the library can't estimate the cost of setting up the server until the American Physical Society begins providing electronic copies of its journals, sometime this month. Robert A. Kelly, director of journal information systems at the Society, estimates that a server and storage unit might cost the library $125,000. Mr. Kelly says the institutions began discussing the arrangement a year and a half ago, when he ran into a Library of Congress representative during a fire drill at a National Institute of Standards and Technology conference. Although the library will not be charged for the online data, it will still pay subscription fees as long as it gets the paper versions of the journals. Library users will have access to the electronic versions. The agreement, which was announced last month, seems to begin to provide solutions to a set of nagging problems and challenges facing both organizations. "This was a very convenient set of circumstances in that APS was looking for a solution to the archiving problem, and the Library of Congress was looking at getting into electronic publications in a substantial way," says Thomas McIlrath, publisher and treasurer of the Physical Society. The Society had been looking for ways to back up the electronic versions of its journals, one of which is published only in electronic form. By the end of the year, the Society hopes to have the entire history of its publications online. Although the Society's oldest publication began in 1893, the electronic archives go back to only 1981. The Library of Congress, meanwhile, was recently criticized by the National Research Council, which reported that the institu tion was lagging behind in receiving and archiving "born digital" documents of American history and culture. Congress recently approved $100 million for digital archiving projects at the library. Of that amount, an initial $25 million can be used to start the program and form a plan for its operation, which must first be approved by the appropriations committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The library will have to work with various government agencies—such as the National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Standards and Technology—along with private electronic publishers in writing the plan. The remaining $75 million will be provided only to match donors' contributions, which the library will have to raise before March 2003. Guy Lamolinara, a spokesman for the library, says it is too soon to say where the library will solicit funds. Ms. Davenport says the arrangement with the Physical Society was not a direct response to the critics: "We were in discussions with [the Society] long before this report came out. But the agreement is absolutely in the spirit of the report." She says that the library will begin talking about similar arrangements with publishers of other electronic journals and publications this year. Ms. Davenport says that some people think that the software used in the archiving system should be preserved, but the library is mainly interested in protecting the journals' content and providing access to them. "There may be occasions to preserve software because it is important unto itself, but as we see this developing into the future, we want to preserve access to the content, even if that means creating new access," she says. Past critics of the Library of Congress see the agreement with the American Physical Society as a positive development since the release of the National Research Council report. "I think they are making efforts to catch up," says Margaret L. Hedstrom, an associate professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and a member of the committee that wrote the report. "They've taken the report from the National Research Council fairly seriously, and this is a good indication of starting to put some of those things in practice."


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