A challenging project but an essential one!


lorraineGuest post by Lorraine Estelle, CEO of Jisc Collections. Lorraine is Executive Director of Jisc Digital Resources and Divisional CEO of Jisc Collections, overseeing all of Jisc’s digital content and discovery related people, organisations, strategy, services and operations. Among her many successes at Jisc Collections, Lorraine was instrumental in setting up NESLi2 and devising a national consortium with an opt-in model. Lorraine sits on the EDINA management board and has been a member of the SafeNet project team since inception.

I can think of no other asset which an academic institution buys, but to which it has neither physical possession nor a recognised certificate of ownership. Electronic journals are unique in this respect. Academic libraries subscribe, at the cost of millions of pounds each year, to electronic journals under licences that grant them perpetual rights. This system works well providing that the publisher remains in business and the library continues to renew its journal subscription every year.

If an academic library is forced (usually through lack of funds) to cancel a subscription, the problem arises of how its users continue to have online access to the previously acquired journals, given that the content is generally only accessible behind paywalls on publishers’ websites.

Some publishers provide explicit information about such an occurrence and, for example, state that they will make a per-download charge for access to journals post cancellation. These proposed charges are the equivalent to around 1/10th of the current subscription charge. Other publishers are silent on this issue, meaning that a library cancelling a subscription would be required to enter into a negotiation with the publisher to agree an affordable access fee.

This situation is further complicated because an institution will typically only have perpetual rights to some of the journal titles in each publisher’s collection. In order to gain access, the library must claim its rights to the issues of journal titles to which it historically subscribed. The Entitlement Registry project run by Jisc Collections in 2011, demonstrated how complex and time consuming these claims can be. Very often, library records and publishers’ records of entitlement do not agree. This is exacerbated when the publication of a journal title has transferred from one publisher to another, or when one publisher has acquired another and entitlement records are kept on different and often out-of-date legacy systems.

It is this messy landscape which the SafeNet project seeks to address, by building a nationally managed digital archive of journal content and a registry of entitlement. It will provide access to those UK academic institutions which have bought perpetual rights, following a number of trigger events, one of which is post-cancellation access.

Some may question why a national solution is required when global digital and archival solutions already exist. There are indeed some excellent technical solutions, but none quite meets the needs of UK academic institutions in the way that SafeNet will.  One such solution requires payment of annual fees (which may be unaffordable in an economic environment which forces the need to cancel journal subscriptions). CLOCKSS is a successful global solution, but one which does not allow for post-cancellation access. LOCKSS is another excellent solution, but one which is arduous for libraries to maintain. None of these solutions provides a registry of entitlement.

Our vision for SafeNet is that it will be a highly dependable and robust part of the national academic infrastructure. It will be a challenging project, not only from the technical perspective, but because publishers will be required to agree that SafeNet can load and preserve their content. The project team will need to advocate that a national academic archival solution is necessary to safeguard continued access to the journal content purchased by UK libraries. We will need to demonstrate to publishers that there is customer demand for such a service; and that the technical and governance structures of SafeNet will ensure access to each issue of a journal is only ever given to users in institutions that paid for it.

A challenging project but an essential one! The financial future is difficult to predict and a safety net is required in the event of severe economic pressures that would force UK academic libraries to cancel journal subscriptions. Jisc working with EDINA as trusted, non-commercial organisations are well placed to safe guard the scholarly content in which academic libraries have so heavily invested.