March 9, 2005

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 RSCís 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 Robiní 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 archiveí 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 RSCís 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.

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