Miguel Angel Madero Arellano on the digital preservation of academic outputs in Brazil and around the world

Q: Should researchers feel confident that their contributions to scholarship are safe for the long-term? Recent research by Michelle Polchow at UC-Davis suggests that she can only find evidence that 40% of their journal collection is preserved in digital archives.

Miguel: They can be confident if their research outputs are deposited in the information systems of libraries and archives of institutions that have policies, plans and strategies in place for long-term digital preservation.

Q: Where are the likely gaps in the scholarly record and how can we fill them?

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Miguel: Gaps will occur when materials are distributed or published without any public and transparent preservation commitments in place to guarantee access over a long period of time. Information system managers need to report on the preservation procedures they have in place, what periodic checks they make, and have a clear risk assessment and mitigation strategy for the possible failures of these systems.

Q: Brazil, Canada and the US are in the same hemisphere. Do you share preservation approaches or are you doing different things?

Miguel: In the case of Brazil, initiatives for the preservation of academic and scientific outputs are taking their first steps, but one that is already consolidated is the long-term preservation of all Brazilian scientific journals in the LOCKSS software managed by the Cariniana service at IBICT. The LOCKSS software allowed us the chance to learn about digital preservation in a collaborative network.

Q: How do print and digital preservation activities fit in a university library?

Miguel: Both are parts of the same process. Techniques for preserving printed material have been around for a long time. Librarians, museologists and archivists today have expertise in a wide array of new types of information, both born digital and digitized.

Q: Do you preserve content or functionality or both?

Miguel: In the case of printed material the content has always been more important. Now in digital formats the functionality of objects depends on many factors and it is necessary to ensure that the content remains accessible and that it can be expressed and used in different ways.

Q: What would you say to publishers to encourage them to do more to preserve the content they are entrusted to disseminate?

Miguel: I would tell them to talk to librarians and archivists who have expert knowledge of digital preservation. Please also document your formats and have good metadata which is essential to digital preservation for the future. The NASIG Model Digital Preservation Policy has been written with publishers in mind and can help you get started: https://nasig.org/NASIG-model-digital-preservation-policy.

Q: How does an editor know whether or not to trust an archive that claims to do long-term preservation?

Miguel: A trusted archive is one that has demonstrated its ability to preserve content and its usability in the long term. This can be demonstrated through means such as:
• Demonstrated mandate and funding
• A demonstrated track record of preserving academic content
• Clear, transparent documented agreements, workflows, processes, and risk assessments to ensure long-term access to the repository’s contents
• Open provision of information about their holdings on their websites, and via the KEEPERS registry (for content with an ISSN)
• Relevant certification including peer review by library experts (e.g. CRL TRAC audit, ISO:16363)
• A succession plan so it is clear what happens to content if the archive goes under

Q: How is long-term digital preservation done? What's easy? What is hard?

Miguel: Long-term digital preservation depends on plans and policies, as well as periodic assessments of the technological infrastructure dedicated to it. The planning part can be easy if built by a qualified team. What is sometimes difficult is to find ways to create a sustainable budget for preservation over the very long-term.

Q: Is open content more likely to be accessible and usable? Or does OA content also need to be actively preserved?

Miguel: Yes, open access content is more likely to be preservable, but preservation is not automatic. To preserve open content for the very long term requires active curation. For example, curation to ensure the constant evaluation of the content’s descriptive schemas and metadata elements which includes information about the format, origin, and authenticity of the content.

Q: Are there any digital preservation challenges keeping you awake at night?

Miguel: I always have questions about the future of our personal files and how they will be interpreted. The powerful ancient empire of Egypt thought that in stone their memory would be safe. Today we know that there is a lot on the Internet about each of us and that all this data can be manipulated. For this reason, I am reflecting on ways digital preservation can contribute to building a truthful memory of humanity that lasts for more than a thousand years and shows it as it really was.

This interview was part of a panel discussion at the Researcher to Reader Conference in London on February 21, 2023. Learn more about Miguel Angel Madero Arellano.