Commercial Databases: Greater Access to JStor, EEBO, ECCO, Burney, and more in 2014?


 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?


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10 Responses to “Commercial Databases: Greater Access to JStor, EEBO, ECCO, Burney, and more in 2014?”

  1. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Now this is a bit of hope for the new year! You’ve highlighted real problems for the academy. At the most basic level, I don’t know how any institution expects to attract a scholar to its faculty without providing access to now essential material. These databases have changed the rules of the game. It might once have been possible to work without access to material they offer; that is no longer the case.

    The RSA has provided a wonderful option for those using EEBO. It would be great if ASECS could follow through providing similar access to ECCO and Burney.

    Thanks, Eleanor, for this important post.


  2. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    You are right, Anna.. The centrality of these databases to scholarly work has become clear, and RSA’s decision to subscribe in order to ensure that all its members have access attests to that centrality. It is the members of ASECS who have the true need for ECCO and Burney, and thus it is hoped that ASECS will follow suit and that Gale-Cengage would see the benefit in offering an institutional subscription to ASECS.


  3. Grant Says:

    Access to various onlline databases, the priceless EEBO in particular is actually poorer than it was in the recent past for UK users. Until a couple of years back, I could access EEBO remotely with an Alumni Membership of the University of London’s Senate Library, until this was limited to onsite access. Access via the Institute of Historical Research lasted a little longer, before also being denied. As an “amateur ” historian and occasional blogger, I would willingly have paid for EEBO access, but I couldn’t find anyone who would take my money. Thanks for the tip on the RSA, I will see if the rights extend to non-US members.


  4. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Thanks for your comment. I hope you will be able to receive access through the RSA. This diminishing of access is discouraging. In terms of institutional access for those in higher ed, the UK has seemed more equitable than the US.


  5. Grant Says:

    Eleanor, thanks. I have written to the RSA and we shall see how it turns out. Whilst I was a registered MA student at Birkbeck, the access to online resources was superb, which made their later absence all the more frustrating.


  6. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Good luck, Grant…

    This issue is a serious problem and creates inequities that are not truly akin to former times when inequities arose from not having the time and funds to travel to needed archives. It is the speed which you can obtain and discover information that causes the difference. Let me also stress that I don’t mean to make light of the inequities caused by lack of travel funds. Moreover, I still very much see the need to visit archives in person despite the prevalence of digital copies.


  7. The Independent Scholar- Italian Voices and Desperately Seeking EEBO | The Eagle Clawed Wolfe Says:

    […] I met with some success. I found this article on the Early Modern Online Bibliography, a site dedicated to online access to all things Early […]


    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      I am so pleased that the RSA membership worked out and as a benefit you are now able to access EEBO. The JPASS give a user access to 86% of its database (the most current works, I suspect are omitted) and the ability to to download (reading online is unlimited) 10 articles per month or 120 articles total.


  8. Early English Books Online (EEBO) | Beyond Citation Says:

    […] Eleanor. “Commercial Databases: Greater Access to JSTOR, EEBO, ECCO, Burney, and More in 2014?” Early Modern Online Bibliography 2 Jan. […]


  9. Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) | Beyond Citation Says:

    […] Eleanor. “Commercial Databases: Greater Access to JStor, EEBO, ECCO, Burney, and More in 2014?” Early Modern Online Bibliography 2 Jan. […]


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