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What Use Is A Printed Archive?

:: On CHMINF-L, Nigel Lees asks, "What Use is a Printed Archive?" It's a question facing all of us who are moving from print to electronic editions:

In common with other libraries I am under increasing pressure to dispose of much print within the RSC’s Library & Information Centre and would like to raise the responsible disposal or retention of print as an issue for discussion. In the UK there is no national clearing house for printed disposals hence the `Round Robin’ email begging other libraries to take the print they are disposing of. Obviously the national library in a country is an important contact but they are not always able to take material either. The British Library in the UK used to have a service called BookNet which did serve as a sort of clearing house where you could advertise your journals there for disposal. The email to various listservs asking for help is its successor. However BookNet was not the same as formulating a national policy on disposals though it did help. For example, how many copies of printed Tetrahedron does a country need to keep? Is the one or two printed copies kept by the national library enough or do we need say 5 or more copies to ensure a safe and viable archive is kept for next 100 years or so? In the UK the development of SUNCAT a national periodicals catalogue will help in the checking of the existence of a journal but not necessarily whether the institution in question will keep it indefinitely.

In my view it is the decentralization of the `national archive’ that really ensures that knowledge is kept for posterity (the LOCKSS principle). Having said that I believe that there is an over supply of print and that other libraries could dispose of theirs providing they can get access electronically (to everything they had in print) or easy access to other libraries that continue to hold that material in print. The question remains who decides who holds what and if libraries like the RSC’s are under pressure to dispose of much print where are the major subject collections, in this case chemistry, to be held? I have a series of questions that may help me formulate a policy on disposals but also may stimulate a discussion on what to do (responsibly) with our printed archives. I would be very grateful if you could spare some time to look at them.

  1. Should a country formulate a national print disposal policy setting up a clearing house so that valuable material is not accidentally thrown away? Hence we could avoid “…but I thought you were keeping it…!”
  2. Is the present system of emails to listservs, informal contacts etc working well enough so that an extra level of bureaucracy is not necessary?
  3. Do we assume that popular chemistry journals such as from RSC, ACS, Elsevier, Wiley etc are ok to dispose because someone else will keep them?
  4. Are we all happy with electronic archiving so that it is now safe to dump print equivalents?
  5. Are collections any use these days or have they had their day? What is the point of a collection?
  6. How many of you, for example, have complete collections of Chemisches Zentralblatt (formerly Chemisches Centralblatt, Chemisches und Pharmaceutisches Centralblatt, Pharmaceutisches Centralblatt)? Should we dump ours (hardly used) or would anyone want it? In 50 years time would anyone care? It is taking up lots of space.
  7. Similarly with Russian language chemistry journals – we have very good collections of these. Should we dispose of them to save a few thousand pounds per year? How can I justify saving these if no-one else wants them? Many are translated anyway, though not always from vol 1- 8/ I would be interested to know how many of you have really dumped (not stored away) your copies of RSC or Elsevier journals as you have bought outright the electronic archive?
To reassure you we are working with the British Library on this, but may still have difficult decisions to make.

No doubt you could add to these questions. In essence there are three fundamental points: how do we as librarians responsibly dispose of print; does it really matter if collections die as long as we know someone out there has an accessible copy in print or electronic; can we agree on what should be kept in print, by whom and where.

I would value your input.

Nigel Lees, Manager Library & Archival Services Library & Information Centre (LIC) Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House Piccadilly, London W1J 0BA, UK

Phone: +44 (0)20 7437 8656; Fax: +44 (0)20 7287 9798
Email: Library AT rsc DOT org
Web: www.rsc.org/library and www.chemsoc.org

Read the responses to Nigel's request for feedback from Ben Wagner at University of Buffalo.

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