Who Needs Books? Mellon Foundation Commits to E-Journals with Grant to Columbia and Cornell

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, you may wander into a library and notice a very strange sight: not many books and a bunch of computers. That's because many libraries, either due to funding cuts or a drive to embrace new technolgies, are consolidating their holdings and turning to e-journals. E-journals are exactly what you'd expect them to be: scholarly publications that can be accessed on computers and the Web. And while our original anecdote may seem be a bit far-fetched, many university and academic libraries are wholeheartedly embracing e-journals, so don't be suprised to eventually find decades worth of published academic journals condensed onto a thumb drive.

But don't just take our word for it. Two of the most prestigious academic institutions in the U.S. are transitioning towards e-journals with a little help from their philanthropic friends. The Cornell and Columbia University libraries recently received an 18-month grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to expand the preservation of e-journals and implement strategies that will create a sustainable model to manage and access them.

Both libraries currently hold a total of 10,000 e-journals containing research that ranges from cultural expression and current events to scientific, economic, legal and governmental information. In addition to preserving existing e-journals in their possession, the schools aim to increase the number of e-journals from outside sources as well. 

This presents an interesting challenge. The funding, of course, is finite. Cornell and Columbia can't preserve and expand every e-journal, much less hundreds of new ones, so there needs to be a vetting process. So the schools will identify and preserve what they call "priority" and "vital" content. In other words, only select e-journals will make the cut. But what, precisely, constitutes such content? We're not sure just yet, but needless to say, libraries everywhere will be very interested in the methodology that the schools eventually employ.

This partnership with Andrew W. Mellon (see IP's guide on the foundation here) dates back to 2009, when a grant enabled Cornell and Columbia to collaboratively address budgetary challenges posed by the Great Recession, improve library efficiencies, and meet emerging academic needs. This new e-journal preservation grant perfectly aligns with the foundation's goal of helping libraries embrace new technologies.

Ultimately, look for other academic and research libraries take a more active role in embracing e-journals. The format has become the method of choice for researchers to access current material, and, as previously noted, libraries of all stripes are looking for new ways to consolidate their holdings while saving money.