A Message from ASECS President, Peter Reill

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[h/t: C18-L; x-posted on The Long Eighteenth]

[Hi everyone, I don't mean to hijack discussion, but I thought this message from Peter Reill was extremely relevant to the conversations we've been having here and on the Long 18th about the digital divide and the problems of unequal access to scholarly resources.  If you feel strongly about this, please contact Peter at the email address listed below.  Best, DM]

Dear Colleagues:

I am writing to ask for you help and guidance concerning an issue that is becoming increasingly important as the digital revolution in scholarship gathers momentum. I have been asked to attend a meeting hosted by the Mellon Foundation that addresses the question of the increasingly unequal access of scholars to digital resource databases that are critical to pursuing research in their fields. I have become more aware of this problem after a meeting of the ISECS executive meeting where our Japanese colleagues asked for help to access ECCO. And the more I talk with people newly hired at universities or colleges unable to afford the fees charged by specialist databases the more important this issue has become for me. As I ponder the implications of this tendency, it is clear that it’s solution is even  more crucial for recent graduates who have yet to get a permanent position and independent scholars who cannot afford to subscribe to specialist databases.

It is a problem very few address. The Mellon meeting, which will be held in February asks us, members of societies “focused on clearly delineated areas and primarily concerned with advancing scholarship in their fields” to answer a number of queries that are both scholarly and organizational in character. I hope that those of you concerned with these issues would send me your thoughts about them. It is my plan to propose your ideas that I will outline in the next Newsletter, which will appear before the meeting, giving you another chance to express you views on the subject and any others relevant to the issue.

The questions the Mellon proposes are: “How important is access to commercial databases to scholars in your field, and how are scholars’
careers affected when they are at institutions that do not subscribe to those resources? Which databases are likely to be of greatest value to the broadest segment of your membership? How well situated is your society to serve as a conduit to these resources, and what would be required to make that possible?”

Are these questions sufficient? Are there any more issues I should be raising? What kinds of solutions do you propose?

I look forward to your responses and to using them to highlight an important issue for all of us.

Yours,

Peter

My email address is;

reill@humnet.ucla.edu

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3 Responses to “A Message from ASECS President, Peter Reill”

  1. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Thanks, David. Anna and I wrote Peter Reill shortly after the appearance of his message and invited him to join our conversation on emob. He replied very promptly. Noting that he has been innundated with responses (which is good in terms of attesting to the interest in this matter), Peter said that he would be reading our discussions and will be back in touch once he has caught up with the emails he has been receiving.

  2. Dave Mazella Says:

    This is very encouraging from my perspective, because we’re seeing the profession move very much into the era of digital haves and have-nots. I’m glad that Peter is taking up this issue, and it seems that there are plenty of people motivated enough to perhaps get ASECS starting to thinking about this problem. (would it be too much to ask to have MLA and other professional organizations chime in, too?)

    DM

  3. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Yes, it is very encouraging. Peter seems quite committed to the issue and expressed an interest in finding out more about the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), “established by the UK further and higher education funding councils in 2006 to negotiate with publishers and owners of digital content.” (JISC is mentioned in comments and postings throughout emob, including the summary of the EC/ASECS roundtable. If a similar negotiating body could be developed in the U.S. (perhaps a collaborative of nonprofit and scholarly societies), that would be a welcome move.

    As for MLA, we have been in touch, as a posting a few weeks ago indicates, with the MLA’s Committee on Information Technology (Laura Mandell chairs the Committee). The list of available reports does not suggest that the committee has addressed open access, but it may well be in the process of doing so; we should hear back from them soon.

    As Jo-Anne Hogan of Proquest reminded us in her comments today, the TCP-EEBO texts that will enter the public domain on January 1, 2015 were produced thanks to much collaborative effort and financial investment (and much more is needed to support the completion of this project). Her remarks should remind us that the cost and labor involved in free access are often overlooked.

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