Successfully sustaining or preserving, or even having clarity about whether to sunset a project, often depends on how this was planned for at the outset. Preservation (ensuring access to content over time) as well as sustainability (maintaining vitality and relevance through changing conditions, such as through platform or format migration) are better ensured when one considers at the outset such factors as
  • form and affordances (conventionality and familiarity of form, uses supported)
  • technical infrastructure (interoperability with other tools, integration within a larger community of developers and users, reliance on widely used standards)
  • social infrastructure (creators and contributors who may have legal claims to how work is perpetuated or whose assistance may be needed for updating or migrating the work, community using and helping to disseminate the work)

Documentation (of legal permissions and restrictions for re-use, processes used to create and update content, technical dependencies, licenses used, etc.) is critical for enabling long-term preservation of content or sustainability of the original digital publication.

As a general principle, using open-source tools and licenses helps ensure that there is a broad community supporting your work. Open-source software encourages many people to invest in its use, maintenance, and improvement, thus allowing the effort and cost of sustaining your digital publication to be distributed. Establishing open-access licenses for your scholarship (especially from the outset) can also help to minimize complications or obstacles to making your scholarship available in other forms. By removing barriers to access, open licenses can also help expand the audience for your scholarship, potentially building a broader community invested in sustaining your work.

The process of sunsetting a digital project or publication (thoughtfully ceasing to update or maintain a digital work) can not only help to reclaim and refocus limited resources but also help to focus attention on what aspects of the scholarly work are important to document. Decisions about whether to preserve, sustain, or sunset a digital project are eased by considering at the outset the project’s significance and critical goals, what time frame and metrics will define when the project has completed its work, and whose input or engagement is necessary in making those decisions.

More information and resources

  • A Framework for Library Support of Expansive Digital Publishing (Duke University Libraries)
    An examination of how to ensure digital scholarly publications can be effectively developed and sustained, from planning through preservation. Emphasis is on how libraries in particular play a role in guiding and supporting digital publications. See especially ยง5 on Preserving and Sustaining Expansive Digital Publications.
  • Open Access (ScholarWorks Center, Duke University Libraries)
    General introduction to open access and how it is valued and applied in Duke’s researcher community. Includes links to more information about open access support at Duke, including funds to help Duke authors publish open access.
For more information on the above or to consult on project planning, contact