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When A Journal Ceases Publication - Commentary by George Porter

What happens when a journal ceases to produce new issues?

In the print environment, at least from the librarian/academician standpoint, the answer was perfectly clear -- no new issues arrived, but all received issues remain available until a collection management/space decision led to a conscious, locally determined change in that situation.

Local control over what happens to the material is a critical difference between the print and online environments. Online, authors, scholars, and libraries tend to be at the vendor's mercy, having no control the fate of the published archive.

Vendors have the unfortunate ability to conflate multiple titles and multiple ISSNs into a single web archive; i.e. Journal of Climate & Applied Meteorology, from the American Meteorological Society inhabits an archive with its successor, Journal of Applied Meteorology. Wiley is notorious for splitting titles and ignoring the rules for ISSN issuance. Whenever a journal changes title or splits into sections, from a cataloging/ISSN standpoint, multiple bibliographic records and ISSNs are required to track the changes. For instance, in 2003, Wiley split Journal of Experimental Zoology (JEZ) into JEZ A and JEZ B; however, Wiley insists that all 3 titles have the same ISSN, 0022-104X. The American Geophysical Union (AGU) goes further, insisting that the six sections of Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR) are a single publication with ISSN 0148-0227. I've even seen the occasional conflation of multiple journals, not continuations of one another on the same web page. That won't/shouldn't happen in a library.

A title simply changing publishers is usually a nonevent to librarians and authors, but is a huge upheaval in the online publishing world. Catalogers will ensure that issues from one volume appear with issues of the succeeding volume. In the online environment, volumes may disappear, be transferred, have redirects, or a number of other variations which are yet to be discovered.

In the online environment the simple question, what happens to a journal...?, has a multitude of facets:

    * has the title merged or split to continue under a new title(s)
    * has the title changed
    * is the question being asked/answered by a librarian/academic or a publisher
    * has the title been transferred between publishers, thus possibly 'ceasing' from the point of view of the initial publisher
Here are a couple of examples to illustrate some, but certainly not all, of the ways in which a seemingly simple question is answered.

Nonlinear Science Today was published by Springer Verlag. The first three volumes appeared in print, 1992-1993. Volume 3 was the first volume of the title to appear in an electronic format. This was a pioneering position more than a decade ago. In 1994, the print run was discontinued, in favor of online only; initially via: http://link.springer-ny.com/link/service/journals/00333/

The journal struggled a bit. Volume 4 stretched four issues through 1994 and 1995. A single issue, comprising volume 6, appeared in 1996. At least, at this late date, that's the story I can piece together by examining Web of Science, MathSciNet and Ulrich's. No more issues appeared, but the existing content was freely available for several years. Ulrich's still has an active record for this title.

With the migration to the SpringerLink MetaPress platform in July 2003, the content vanished. The website vanished. No more content. Links to the online content, embedded in the MathSciNet indexing, are defunct. Springer has opted to take an Orwellian approach, acting as if the title never existed. The OpenURL syntax currently employed by Springer would yield a website that no longer exists. Springer's journal title list no longer acknowledges the former existence of the title. It's simply gone, without explanation, without a trace.

The Royal Society of Chemistry's (RSC) agreement to publish the online-only Geochemical Transactions, in partnership with the American Chemical Society Division of Geochemistry, recently ended. There is a new agreement for the journal to be distributed on the American Institute of Physics' (AIP) Scitation journal publishing platform .

Geochemical Transactions
Fulltext v1+ (2000+). Fulltext free through 1 June 2004
Online ISSN: 1467-4866
RSC has opted to maintain the backfiles and website for the material which they published. The material is now freely available and is explicitly intended to stay that way.
Geochemical Transactions
Fulltext v1-4 (2000-2003)
Online ISSN: 1467-4866
Australian Journal of Physics was published by CSIRO Publishing, an autonomous business unit within Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The Australian Journal of Physics published its last issue, Vol. 53(6), in April 2001. CSIRO Publishing decided to open the backfiles for free access and has maintained their commitment for over three years now.
Australian Journal of Physics
Fulltext v50-53(6) (1997-April 2001). Ceased publication
ISSN: 0004-9506
ACM Letters on Programming Languages & Systems, not having been 'born digital', like the accessible volumes of the Australian Journal of Physics, is an entirely different case. The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), recognizing the value placed on the stability and accessibility of the intellectual record, chose to digitize ACM Letters on Programming Languages & Systems when they created the ACM Digital Library. Access to this title, and the Digital Library, requires a subscription.
ACM Letters on Programming Languages & Systems
Fulltext v1-2 (1992-1993)
ISSN: 1057-4514
There are many different facets to this broad question in an online environment and many different answers exist in practice.

Authors, publishers, and librarians are philosophically united, I trust, on the value of the intellectual record. This is definitely broader than simply ceased journals, but the solutions, which address the broader issue, may have a dramatic impact on the narrower.

LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe) just entered production in April 2004. The participating libraries are laudable and the list can be expected to continue to grow rapidly. The publisher community has some standout participants and some glaring holdouts.


    Annual Reviews
    Berkeley ElectronicPress
    BioMed Central
    Blackwell Publishers Ltd
    HighWire Press (and their contributors, including Oxford University Press)
    History Cooperative
    Institute of Physics
    Kluwer Academic Publishers
    Nature Publishing Group
    Project Muse
    Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
What publishers are not participating, and therefore placing online content at risk?

Wiley, Elsevier, IEEE, ACM, AIP, APS, the American Chemical Society, Royal Society of Chemistry, AGU, Cambridge University Press, CSIRO, Taylor & Francis.

Time will tell if/when more publishers will discover enlightened self-interest. The prospects for growth in library participation are significant. I am less sanguine for the prospects of growth of publisher participation. - George Porter


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference When A Journal Ceases Publication - Commentary by George Porter:

» Journal rot.. (we kid you not...) from Rowland Institute Library Blog
George Porter of Caltech writes an extensive commentary on the fleating nature of online journals, citing several horrific examples of when a journal ceases publication and the publisher does not deign to maintain the electronic archive (he also mentions [Read More]

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