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2011 JULY–AUGUST No. 381
July 11, 2011 [posted]
January 06, 2022 [Editor's note added] [Editor's note added]

NLM and NN/LM National Cooperative Medical Journals Print Retention Program: MedPrint

[Editor's note: The MedPrint program was discontinued on December 31, 2021.]

[Editor's note: The title of this article was amended to reflect that the Medical Journals Print Retention Program now has a name, MedPrint and a Web site.]


Publishers have been shifting their journal publishing model from print to electronic journals over the past decade. The online availability of full-text articles proved very attractive to library patrons as medical students, clinicians, and researchers could get immediate access to their preferred titles from their desktops. Since 2000, medical libraries throughout the United States have increasingly shifted their journal subscriptions from the traditional print to the electronic journal version to meet user expectations of immediate access to material 24 hours a day.

While the shift to electronic journals has eased the pressure on the limited physical space in libraries, libraries increasingly have come under pressure to give up physical space to other areas of their parent organizations. As a result, libraries have had to discard the print holdings of some, many or all of their journal titles - limiting them to the years/volumes available online.

Some publishers have been working on converting the earlier print issues to electronic format through various means, but not all titles, and not all volumes. Libraries with a current subscription to the electronic version generally still have to purchase these backfiles of scanned print volumes - regardless of their previous print subscription. Furthermore, future access to backfiles at some publisher sites cannot be guaranteed.

The National Network of Libraries of Medicine® (NN/LM®) and the National Library of Medicine® (NLM®) are working to ensure the preservation and continued access to the historical literature through a new national cooperative medical journals print retention program.

In 2009, NLM Library Operations completed the work of its three strategic Planning Groups. One of the final recommendations of the Working Group on Collection, Preservation, and Access to Information was that "NLM takes a leadership role to ensure that multiple copies of important biomedical print materials are preserved in print form in geographically distributed locations." The 2011-2016 NN/LM Statement of Work also contains language about the participation of Regional Medical Libraries (RMLs) in such an effort.

During the past year, the National Library of Medicine has participated in two RML Print Retention Task Forces: Region 2, Southeastern/Atlantic Region managed by Sue Woodson at Johns Hopkins University, and Region 3, the Greater Midwest Region, co-chaired by Linda Watson and Jane Blumenthal. The work of those two groups was similar. Each task force studied the issues and questions surrounding the retention of print journals.

Both regions surveyed their resource libraries and others to determine whether or not libraries were already invested in print retention programs, or if they were feeling pressure with regard to their collection space. Not surprisingly, the results were similar in both regions. Most medical libraries are not currently involved in a formal print retention program, many are facing down-sizing issues, and most would be interested in participating in a program if it were organized for them.

Common Themes

The two regions that studied print retention issues identified many common themes. Those include:

  1. In general, medical libraries are facing pressure to reduce or repurpose library space, and many have already begun by removing back issue journal collections from their stacks.
  2. Libraries are worried about the loss of the archival record.
  3. Digitized content has raised concerns related to image quality, future access, and confidence in digital preservation standards.
  4. Journals are the primary format currently under consideration for a national print retention program.
  5. The NLM cannot be the only holder, unless it already is.
  6. The optimum number of copies to retain is driven by many factors, including the degree to which completeness is verified for individual journal runs.
  7. The criteria to identify a reasonable set of journals to retain are complex. Both Regions 2 and 3 looked at this issue from several viewpoints including: journals widely held in the region [Abridged Index Medicus® (AIM)/PubMed Central® (PMC)], journals held by three and fewer libraries in the regions, journals held by three and fewer and also at NLM.
  8. Most academic libraries no longer subscribe to print, so a national print retention program would only include retrospective print holdings.

While there are some who do not believe that it is important to keep the older print material, the majority seem to agree that this is a worthwhile effort. The primary reason to preserve the physical volume that has been digitized is that it is the authentic and original version that can be used as a reference in the future. If there is ever a controversy about the digital version, the original can be examined. Not every digitization project has taken the care to ensure that every article is complete, that the graphics are readable, colors are in proper tones, and that all the parts of the journal are there, including advertisements and administrative matter which can provide context for the article and the time period in which it was published. It is important to note that not all journal titles are digitized, and for some volumes and some titles, the print copy in libraries may be the only record.

The NLM Print Collection

NLM has every intention of retaining its print collection well into the future. A major stack renovation is underway which will enable us to install compact shelving on the middle level of the three floors of shelving in the underground stacks at NLM and give us room to grow until at least 2030. This is a complex project that involves moving low use parts of the collection offsite for the duration of the project, and shifting other parts around the floor as each quadrant of the floor is strengthened, compact shelving installed, and materials moved into their permanent locations.

NLM still subscribes to a large number of print journals. As of this writing, 91% of the approximately 18,000 journal subscriptions at NLM are print, and the others are e-only. NLM will continue to subscribe to print for as long as that is an option, unless the print version becomes secondary to the e-version (for example, the print version has substantively less content than the e-version).

Program Decisions and Parameters

At the Medical Library Association Annual Meeting in Minneapolis in May 2011, Martha Fishel, Chief, Public Services Division, NLM, and Maria Collins, Technical Information Specialist, Collection Access Section, NLM, presented the plans for a print retention program for the NN/LM.

NLM has made decisions that will provide the framework for a national print retention program for the near future. The program is starting with a relatively small set of journals, but we expect that to increase over time.

  1. Approximately 250 AIM and PMC titles have been identified as the primary set of materials to preserve in print. NLM has a list organized by main title with all former titles listed separately and in chronological order. These are core clinical titles widely held in the NN/LM. The PMC titles are only those 90 titles that were fully digitized as part of the back issue scanning project conducted from 2003-2010. These titles are the most widely cited and widely requested material and thus most valuable to protect. The list will be made available to all by mid-summer 2011.
  2. Any library interested in recording their commitment for additional titles not included on this list may do so, but there will be no formal agreement for those titles.
  3. We recommend that 12 copies is the minimum number to keep in the NN/LM. This relatively high number is justified by the fact that we will not require validation at the issue or page level. Once we reach the desired 12 committing libraries, any library also wishing to make a commitment to one of these titles is welcome to do so. There will be no "maximum number" of copies held.
  4. The NLM copy will be the 13th copy.
  5. The period of commitment is 25 years.
  6. U.S. libraries that are DOCLINE participants are eligible to serve as participating partners.
  7. Libraries must hold the titles they agree to retain from the first published volume until the title ceased in print or, if still published in print, at least until the year 2000. Libraries are not required to commit to the preceding or succeeding titles. For example, a library may retain Archives of Physical Medicine (1945-1952), but not Archives of Physical Therapy (1926-1944) or Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (1953- ).
  8. Complete holdings are preferred, but a title may be included in the program if the library's holdings are 95% complete.
  9. Journals must have all of their parts in place including covers, tables of contents, advertisements and administrative matter. We understand that many libraries have had varying binding practices over the years where during some periods, some of this material may have been removed. Any Library uncertain of the completeness status of a journal run should validate that materials are intact before making a commitment. In the event that we cannot locate 12 intact copies, NLM will revisit this requirement.
  10. Commitment data will be recorded in DOCLINE. Justification for this decision is based on several factors including:
    1. A commitment field in the old SERHOLD file was established in the early 1980s, and has not been populated for any purpose other than by a few institutions that no longer need that data.
    2. Record maintenance will be simple.
    3. Simple reports on Print Retention Holders can be generated by all DOCLINE participants in the Serial Holdings module.
    4. NLM can perform analysis of holdings and commitments and make recommendations to regional participants.
  11. NLM will work with OCLC on exchanging print retention information between WorldCat and DOCLINE.
  12. The model for the NN/LM will be one of distributed holdings. Ideally, all titles will be held across all 8 of the regions.
  13. Existing level 3 (volume/year) holdings will remain the standard.
  14. This is a voluntary national cooperative program. Funding will not be provided to help libraries maintain or store the titles they commit to retain.

Next Steps

NLM is preparing a short document outlining the terms of the agreement to be signed by all libraries choosing to participate in the program. We are working with the RMLs on the details of the project, including publicity, coordination with libraries, and oversight. NLM and the RMLs will work together to achieve geographical distribution of retained titles.

NLM will make any necessary changes to DOCLINE to record participation in the program and provide reports.

Look for publicity and further details on the print retention program later in the summer.

By Martha Fishel
Public Services Division
Maria Elizabeth Collins
Public Services Division

Fishel M, Collins ME. NLM and NN/LM National Cooperative Medical Journals Print Retention Program: MedPrint. NLM Tech Bull. 2011 Jul-Aug;(381):e2.

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