preservation vs. Preservation

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 3 Mar 2006 13:05:53 +0000

This is perhaps a good juncture at which to make it explicit that there
is "small-p preservation" and "large-P Preservation." Of course GNU Eprints,
like everyone else (including ArXiv since way back in 1991) is doing
small-p preservation, and will continue to do so: Open Access is for the
sake of *immediate* access, today, tomorrow, and into the future -- and
this, in turn, is for the sake of maximising immediate usage and impact,
today, tomorrow, and into the future. Hence small-p preservation is a
necessary means to that end.

But big-P Preservation, in contrast, is Preservation as an end in itself:
as the motivation for archiving in the first place; or as a pressing need
for ephemeral or fragile "born-digital" contents; or as a responsibility
for content-providers (journal-providers) or content-purchasers
(subscribing libraries) or content-preservers (deposit/record libraries)
who need to ensure the perennity of their sold/purchased product.

So it is absurd to imagine (and for that reason needs to be stated
explicitly, again and again, even though it is patently obvious) that
Eprints is either oblivious to small-p preservation or that its contents
are one bit more or less likely to vanish tomorrow than any other
digital contents that are being conscientiously preserved and migrated and
upgraded today, keeping up with the ongoing developments in the means
of preservation.

The difference between preservation and Preservation is that preservation is
not an end in itself, it is a means to an end (which is immediate, ongoing
access-provision and usage), whereas Preservation is an end in itself.

Why is it so important to make it crystal clear that Eprints and OA are
*not* for Preservation projects? that their primary motivation is *not*
to ensure the longevity of digital contents (even though Eprints and OA
*do* provide longevity, and do keep up with whatever developments occur
in the means of long-term preservation of their contents)?

Because OA's target contents are 85% missing! The pressing problem of
absent content cannot be its Preservation! Eighty-five percent of the 2.5
million articles published annually in the world's 24,000 journals are
not being self-archived today (and, a fortiori, were not self-archived
yesterday, or the month/year/decade before). What has been -- and
continues to be -- lost, as a consequence of this, is not the contents
in question (for they are being Preserved in their proprietary-product
version, by their producers [publishers] along with their purchasers

What has been (and continues to be) lost for the 85% of annual OA target
content that has not been (and is not being) self-archived, is *access*,
*usage*, and *impact*. That is the true motivation for Eprints and OA
self-archiving. And (listen carefully, because this is the gist of it!):
that content will *never* be self-archived by its authors for the sake
of Preservation, because it *need not be*: its Preservation is already
in other hands than its authors (or its authors' institutions), as it
always was, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be. The
mission of authors and their institutions was not, is not, and should
not have to be the Preservation of their own published journal article
output [but see Note below**].

Nor, by the same token, is it the mission or motivation of authors'
institutions to create Institutional Repositories (IRs) for the
Preservation of their own published journal article output. If there is
no better reason for creating OA IRs today than the Preservation of one's
own journal article output, then there is no reason for institutions to
create OA IRs today, and no reason for their authors to self-archive. This
is a logical, empirical and practical fact, stated (recall, again) at a
historical moment when 85% of OA target content is still missing, even
though it is overdue, even though its self-archiving has been feasible
for years, and even though its continuing absence entails that 85%
of maximised research usage and impact (i.e., impact from usage by all
would-be users rather than only those whose institutions can afford journal
access) continues to be lost.

To wrongly identify the mission or motivation of Eprints or OA self-archiving
with the need to Preserve digital contents is to provide yet another (strong)
reason for authors *not* to self-archive. Because Preservation is simply no
reason at all (for OA self-archiving).

And to subsume the urgent mission of finding a way to generate that
missing 85% of OA target content under the murky mission of the generic
Preservation of generic digital content is simply to miss the point
of OA self-archiving altogether, and to imagine that it is merely
yet another instance of Preservation-Archiving -- whose mission and
motivation, to repeat, yet again, is not immediate, urgent, long-overdue
content-provision, access-provision, and usage/impact-maximisation,
but long-term content-Preservation, as an end in itself.

So please, let us reassure those who might be fussed about it, that
the contents of OA IRs like Eprints can and will continue to be
preserved, but that to be Preserved is not their purpose, nor the
purpose of self-archiving: immediate and ongoing access-provision
and usage/impact-maximisation is their purpose. And that purpose is
currently not being met -- not because the OA contents are at risk of not
being preserved today, but because (85% of) the OA contents are at a
*certainty* of not being *provided* today.

The OA problem, in other words, is not Preservation tomorrow, but Provision
today. Hitching today's Provision problem to tomorrow's Preservation problem
is yet another recipe for prolonging the non-Provision of 85% of OA's target

What is needed for the provision of the missing 85% of OA's target content
is author motivation; and the empirical findings on how OA enhances usage
and impact go only part of the way toward engaging author motivation. The
critical missing bit to ensure the provision of the missing content is
institutional OA self-archiving mandates, *not* the plugging in of OA as
merely another plank in the institution's generic Preservation platform.

I sense I am repeating myself -- but it appears to be needed,
for the conflation of the Preservation-archiving mission and the OA
access-provision mission just keeps recurring, deferring time, energy
and motivation from OA access-provision, which is Eprints' raison d'etre.

[**Note: One last, somewhat subtler point, almost need not be stated, but
it's probably better to make it explicit too, even though it is highly
premature and highly hypothetical: If and when it should ever transpire --
and there is as yet no sign at all that it will -- that 100% OA via 100%
self-archiving, having been neared or reached, should cause radical changes
in the journal publishing system, forcing publishers to down-size into
becoming only peer-review service-providers and certifiers, rather than
also being the analog and digital product access-providers, as they are
now, thereby forcing them to off-load access-provision and archiving
onto their authors' institutions, *then*, and only if/when "then" ever
comes, authors' institutions will inherit the primary-content Preservation
mission, and not just the supplementary-content preservation mission.

But before that hypothetical contingency needs to be faced, there is
still the very real, unsolved problem of getting that missing 85% of OA
target content systematically self-archived. Let us not continue delaying
that actuality by getting caught up in or deflected by hypothetical

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum
Received on Fri Mar 03 2006 - 13:17:13 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:48:13 GMT