As EMOB readers know, equal access to various subscription databases has been one of our key concerns over the years. Posts such Unequal Access and Commercial Databases have addressed this problem in detail, while other entries have suggested arguments to present to administrators and librarians as to why subscribing to these resources is crucial for scholars and students alike. From time to time we have been able to obtain trial subscriptions to commercial databases—EEBO, ECCO, WWO, Burney, Orlando—for EMOB readers. Most recently, Anna has detailed a Cengage-Gale trial granted to SUNY institution and the results of that trial.
Issues of access, however, continue to affect many—both those whose institutions do not subscribe to these digital resources and those whose status as independent scholars, retired, or seeking employment means that they lack the necessary affiliation to gain access. Yet some recent developments indicate that 2014 might be a turning point in gaining greater albeit not equal access for scholars.
JStor, for instance, has launched a number of initiatives.
- Two years ago JStor instituted Early Journal Content, which made its holdings of material “published prior to 1923 in the United States and prior to 1870 elsewhere freely available to anyone, anywhere in the world.”
- After a three-year pilot, JStor established the Alumni Access program for institutions participating in JStor. This video features a presentation on Alumni Access given at the Fall 2012 Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) conference. SAGE journals also has a similar program.
- In March 2012, as a follow-up of sorts to its Early Journal Content, JStor commenced its Register & Read program. This program enables those without institutional access to gain access to a subset of JStor—to articles in roughly 700 journals; the program, however, does not enable access to current material. See FAQs for more information.
Most promising, perhaps, is JStor’s JPass launched this past fall. JPass offers individuals access to 83% of JStor’s database for a fee ranging from $19.50 a month to $199.00 a year. The JPass enables unlimited access for reading articles contained in 1,500 journals and published up until 3 to 5 years prior. The program also allows JPass holders the ability to download a limited number of articles each month. Equally promising, in late October the Modern Language Association (MLA) announced that it had just added discounts on the JPass as a member benefit. Rather than pay $199 for annual subscription to JPass, MLA members can obtain this pass for only $99 per year. This model resembles to some degree that of the The British Newspaper Archive , which offers annual, monthly, week, and daily access plans.
MLA, however, is not the only scholarly society to add access to databases as a member benefit. Other societies and scholarly organizations (including the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing [SHARP])are, or will be shortly, making this a new member benefit.
Most impressive is the initiative by the Renaissance Society of America (RAS). This past November RSA announced that all members would enjoy full access to Early English Books Online. RSA evidently secured an institutional subscription to EEBO, thus enabling all its members to have free access to EEBO. An experiment of sorts by Proquest and RSA, this model of a society acting as an institutional subscriber could serve as an example to others. At the same time, such subscriptions are costly to the society and databases would need to be ones that were relevant to most if not all members. Another potential risk that has arisen entails cancellation of database subscriptions by academic libraries based on the rationale that faculty members have access to a given database because of their membership in a professional organization. Such cancellations are extremely shortsighted and ignore entirely the pedagogical benefits of these databases for undergraduate and graduate students alike. Similarly, such a move seems particularly irrational given the large-scale push to promote undergraduate research and in light of the unusual opportunities that access to these primary texts offers undergraduates.Understandably such cancellations are not conducive to inspiring confidence in publishers of these databases to engage in such experiments.
To date Cengage-Gale has no plans to embark on individual plans or the like. For more than a few years, it has been investigating possible models that would allow it do so, but it has yet to discover one that is financially viable or that would not conflict with existing contracts (this latter issue is one often overlooked, but these contracts carry many clauses and can complicate opening up access given existing agreements with subscribing institutions). It has, however, been successful in lowering the costs of such databases as ECCO and 17th and 18th Century Burney Collection, enabling more academic libraries to be able to afford subscriptions.
This overview has not even touched upon the issues surrounding green and gold standards of open access, nor has it discussed the policies related to these standards announced in 2012-2103 in the UK, Australia, and continental Europe. Yet, these issues deserve an independent post in the future.
In the meantime, it would be interesting to hear what others think of these initiatives and what they might signal for better if not full equal access in the future. Do these various plans seem affordable? What other solutions might be offered?