Saturday, September 5, 2020

The case of the disappearing journals - open is not forever

Printed documents from hundreds of years ago are still accessible and stored in museums and library archives. Digital resources can simply disappear forever if the site is taken down and no-one has thought of making a copy. This includes many scientific articles according to a new article, Open is not forever: a study of vanished open access journals. Open access publication has significantly widened access to scientific research articles and offered alternative channels for many researchers around the world. However, open access journals are often run on a low budget within universities or by organisations with little funding but high levels of enthusiasm and dedication. Unfortunately, some of these organisations eventually run out of steam and have to close down, leaving their journal unprotected and vulnerable. This study has examined the fate of these journals.

We found 192 OA journals that vanished from the web between 2000 and 2019, spanning all major research disciplines and geographic regions of the world. Our results raise vital concern for the integrity of the scholarly record and highlight the urgency to take collaborative action to ensure continued access and prevent the loss of more scholarly knowledge. We encourage those interested in the phenomenon of vanished journals to use the public dataset for their own research.
The authors claim that there are over 1,000 open access journals today that are inactive and whose material risks disappearing if nothing is done and this trend is likely to continue. Journals published by scholarly societies or research organisations are at most risk since they operate on low budgets. There are a number of international preservation services that save copies of journals but the article shows that a large number are not preserved and the risk is that if a journal closes down then all articles are lost.
If there is no general agreement whose responsibility it is to preserve electronic resources, no one will be responsible, and we risk losing large parts of the scholarly record due to inaction. Exactly how much digital journal content has already been lost is unknown since the data needed to assess the gravity of the situation is not collected anywhere, which also complicates assessing the risk of journals vanishing in the future.

Presumably there are similar concerns for the many repositories of open educational resources that have been established, often thanks to project funding. If the responsible organisations close down what will happen to these collections? I wonder if there are schemes to preserve even OER collections. The article closes with a plea for more collaboration.

As we have highlighted throughout the discussion, open is not forever, and so we close with a note on the urgent need for collaborative action in preserving digital resources and preventing the loss of more scholarly knowledge.
Laakso, M., Matthias, L., Naiko, J. (2020) Open is not forever: a study of vanished open access journals. Cornell University. arXiv:2008.11933.

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