Stanford University

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2/4/00

James Robinson, News Service (650) 723-5675;
e-mail: jamesrob@stanford.edu

HighWire Press ensures that online publications don't get lost in cyberspace

The Stanford University Libraries' HighWire Press announced today that it has devised a comprehensive plan for preserving and assuring access to the more than 170 scholarly journals it hosts on the web. The plan addresses complex archival problems that can cause libraries and other consumers to be hesitant about subscribing to online academic journals.

"Preserving and protecting information is one of the core functions of libraries," said Michael A. Keller, Stanford University Librarian and publisher of HighWire Press. "We are just as concerned with the preservation of online journals as we are with preserving rare books and manuscripts. The techniques are different, but the goal is the same: to make sure the information remains available and accessible, now and in the future."

John Sack, associate publisher and director of HighWire Press, said there is "no single 'big fix' to online archiving. There are many layers that need to be coordinated over time, so it comes down as much to organization as to technology. Online journals are particularly complicated, as they involve volatile access or subscriber requirements and a continuously growing body of articles and links, as well as the 'traditional' problems of changing technology for user devices, servers, programs and storage."

Sack noted that librarians are concerned with the continuity of online journals. For example, if librarians drop their subscription to an online journal, they want be sure they still can get access to the electronic "back issues" for which they had paid. Librarians are also concerned that electronic access could be curtailed in the event an online publication together with its Internet servers goes out of business.

Indeed, while there are many advantages to online publications, new technologies raise altogether new issues.

"There is the huge issue of evolving with the technology," Sack said. "You have to keep the back volumes alive and compatible with their successor issues, with server systems and software, and with user software. To provide continuity, multiple, seemingly redundant approaches are necessary. Our program includes three features: redundant and distributed backups; forward format-migration; and distributed archiving."

Sack emphasized the importance of keeping web links active and growing. "Much of the richness of our online journal treatment is the intelligent and automated linking, both backward and forward in time, between articles the continuum of predecessor and successor in the literature made instantly apparent through live links and one-click access," he said.

"What one could call passive archiving stuffing a body of information in a can or putting it on tape, CD, microfilm or even paper is valuable in a limited way, but doesn't deal with the dynamism of the online environment as we are now beginning to exploit it," he added. "If you think of the problem in terms only of 'snapshots' or static storage in some kind of vault, you're missing much of the functionality that most journals and scientists sought in going from print to online."

The HighWire archival program addresses immediate safety concerns (hardware failures, destructive hacking, etc.) through rigorous application of industry-standard protections of the "bits and bytes." This involves redundancy and geographic dispersion, to ensure that no single event can destroy data and all its copies. HighWire management stresses that such protections against sudden problems are not enough.

"The Stanford Libraries really are committed to the continuity of the scholarly record," said Keller. "We are looking at HighWire's archiving program from the point of view of the 22nd century at least, and not just in terms of preserving the bits and bytes, but in terms of access as well. Once a publisher instructs HighWire to enable access to a given article or piece, the community should be confident it will be at least as freely available in a decade or a generation as it is today. Scholars and libraries should demand no less from any online source."

For this reason, migration of formats, standards and media is a fundamental issue addressed in the HighWire program. Production and archiving processes at HighWire include preserving publisher-supplied content and migrating data from printer formats to industry-standard formats. Data are stored on modern high-reliability devices that are on a program of planned technology migration.

Stanford University Libraries will assure the quality of the HighWire Press digital preservation programs. Stanford like libraries at several other leading research institutions is developing best practices for preservation of "born digital" materials such as electronic journals, digitally captured multi-campus events and the historical electronic archives of the "dot.coms" and other technology companies that populate Silicon Valley.

Stanford University Libraries also has been instrumental in creating LOCKSS Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe a revolutionary, distributed archiving model. Now being developed in cooperation with Sun Microsystems and with National Science Foundation funding, LOCKSS is a freeware-based, voluntary approach to archiving online material that relies on consensus among several linked servers to determine authoritative states of files and restore lost or damaged files automatically.

LOCKSS will be released for a limited test among selected institutions by summer 2000. "LOCKSS is an entirely different approach compared to traditional computing backups," explained librarian Victoria Reich, assistant director of HighWire Press and one of the originators of the concept. "It is designed to be uncontrollable by any single entity; independent of any central authority; free of any single point of failure. Just as with printed books, lots of distributed digital copies keeps stuff safe from natural disaster, political control or censorship."

LOCKSS complements more conventional approaches by assuring the survival of content independent of the possible demise, acquisition, insolvency or default of the source. Details about LOCKSS are available at http://hwm.stanford.edu/pdf/archive.pdf. Questions or comments about LOCKSS may be directed to Reich at (650) 725-1134.

Complete information about HighWire Press and the journals participating in the program can be found via the HighWire home page at http://highwire.stanford.edu.

Stanford's HighWire Press division provides advanced online publication and access services to publishers and societies owning more than 170 of the world's leading peer-reviewed scholarly journals in science and medicine including almost 40 of the top 100 most frequently cited science and medical journals and thus is significantly involved in the provision of information to the world's research and academic communities.

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