On the road to future-proofing all digital content:
The origin story of preserved collections with Portico
While traveling to talk with librarians, archivists, and institution leaders across participant meetings, conferences, and everywhere in between, we heard that many institutions were looking for ways to preserve their own digital collections. As we continued to hear from people and learned there was a significant need in the community for preservation, we thought, “We can do something about that!”
In close partnership with the library and academic community, ITHAKA–a nonprofit with a mission to improve access to knowledge and education for people around the world–launched the Open Community Collections initiative in 2020 to enable institutions to make their digital collections openly available on the JSTOR platform.
Through this charter program, hundreds of members spanning libraries, archives, and special collections worked with JSTOR to harvest, upload, and share over 1,800 specialized digital collections on JSTOR, where they could be discovered and used by people from around the world in the course of their research and teaching workflows.
Identify need for a holistic preservation service
In early conversations with charter participants, we heard from many that, in addition to making their collections more widely discovered and used, they also needed a long-term preservation solution.
Although institutions had short-term storage solutions in place through resources like cloud storage, institutional servers, institutional repositories, and digital asset management systems, many were lacking a true managed digital preservation system that would ensure safe keeping of their digital collections for the long-term.
Explore library preservation with Portico
As we heard this feedback from charter participants, we believed ITHAKA was well-positioned to play a role in helping the community with the safeguarding of their collections through our long-standing preservation nonprofit, Portico.
Portico, launched in 2005, was designed specifically as a third-party service for scholarly literature published in electronic form and provides three specific preservation services for e-journals, e-books and digitized/digital collections respectively.
For almost twenty years, it has provided insurance to libraries that the e-journal and other subscribed or purchased content will be preserved and remain accessible for the long term. Portico’s e-journal and e-book preservation services are supported on a community model, with participation fees from both academic libraries and scholarly publishers.
Establish a preservation working group
With Portico’s preservation expertise in mind, in the summer of 2021 we established a small working group of ten Open Community Collections charter participants to better understand institutions’ preservation needs and explore what a preservation service for their own content built on Portico’s preservation infrastructure might look like.
We gained valuable insights from working with this group and in the fall of 2021 we ran an initial test of our concept by preserving content from three institutions–Muhlenberg College (PA), Trinity College (CT), and Vanderbilt University (TN) –in Portico.
Run a preservation early adopter program
In response to this initial small but successful pilot, we launched a preservation early adopter program that was open to all existing Open Community Collections charter participants and ran from October 2022 through June 2023.
We held in-depth interviews with many of our charter participants and preserved content for over 20 institutions from around the world, providing an opportunity for us to gather valuable insights from our partners and further develop our preservation workflow for institutions’ digital collections. At the same time, institutions were able to test out preservation with Portico as a possible solution for the preservation of their digital collections.
It became clear during the course of the early adopter program that nearly every institution we spoke with was searching for a holistic preservation solution that could easily fit into their existing workflows for managing and making accessible their digital collections.The institutions shared a strong desire to have a long-term, stable preservation solution that is hosted outside of their institution, and that is robust enough to support a wide range of digitized and born-digital materials.
Regardless of the size and type of library or archive we spoke with, they were facing similar pressures from their institutions to manage an increasing amount of digital content in a wide array of formats –with content often coming from multiple sources–despite limited resources and a multitude of other demands from a variety of stakeholders.
Many struggled to maintain a hodgepodge of short-term storage solutions, often using a combination of physical hard drives, cloud storage, and institution-managed shared drives, all while demands on storage space increased. While everyone we spoke with recognized the essential importance of long-term preservation and felt it was an integral part of their missions, few had the bandwidth to develop, build, and maintain their own preservation solution. Similarly, we heard from many that they could not afford or support the existing preservation solutions being offered in the market.
“Portico didn’t require developing any IT infrastructure to support it, and there was nothing we would have to do in terms of developing content for ingestion into the archive.”
–James Van Mil, Digital Projects & Preservation Librarian, University of Cincinnati Libraries
Launch preserved collections with Portico
After running the initial working group and early adopter program and learning so much from the libraries and archives that generously provided feedback throughout the process, we were very excited to launch preserved collections with Portico as part of ITHAKA’s suite of infrastructure services in July 2023. Preserved collections provides long-term digitally managed preservation for institutions’ digital collections with Portico. The service is designed to be flexible, so that it can be taken up on its own or integrated with ITHAKA’s other infrastructure services–shared and managed collections–and work as part of institutions’ existing workflows.
Crucially, Portico manages the preservation activities on behalf of institutions, so they can safeguard their materials for the future without needing to take on additional responsibilities internally. As James Van Mil, Digital Projects & Preservation Librarian at University of Cincinnati Libraries says about Portico, “Portico didn’t require developing any IT infrastructure to support it, and there was nothing we would have to do in terms of developing content for ingestion into the archive.”
Over many years, Portico has built a reputation as a trustworthy and sustainable partner for long-term preservation of published content—e-journals, e-books, and digital collections. With new content types and new preservation challenges constantly emerging, ITHAKA and Portico are prepared with new capacities and services that address the changing needs of the broader community. The new preserved collections infrastructure service significantly expands Portico’s preservation focus to include libraries’ and archives’ own digital content.
This direction is an example of how we are leveraging the preservation expertise and technical capacity we have developed for one service within ITHAKA to support and expand another. We see an opportunity to develop a valuable and sustainable service to provide preservation to institutions for their collections in response to an expressed need from the community.