ProQuest CANCELS/RESTORES RSA’s EEBO Access

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PROQUEST has restored EEBO access through the RSA.  Please see http://www.proquest.com/blog/pqblog/2015/EEBO-Access-Continues-for-RSA-Members.html


Proquest has canceled EEBO access for members of the Renaissance Society of America starting 1 November 2015.
  The announcement can be seen on the “Members Benefits” page of the RSA.

This is a deep disappointment for those of us whose libraries do not and cannot subscribe to EEBO.  If ProQuest never intended to offer continuing access, it would have been helpful if they had announced that from the beginning so that members could plan accordingly.  A longer grace period before the announced cancellation would be considerate, especially since the agreement was presented as lasting.

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35 Responses to “ProQuest CANCELS/RESTORES RSA’s EEBO Access”

  1. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Below is the email just sent out from RSA. They note that they are hoping to negotiate a renewal. AB

    Dear RSA members,

    The RSA Executive Committee regrets to announce that ProQuest has canceled our subscription to the Early English Books Online database (EEBO). The basis for the cancellation is that our members make such heavy use of the subscription, this is reducing ProQuest’s potential revenue from library-based subscriptions. We are the only scholarly society that has a subscription to EEBO, and ProQuest is not willing to add more society-based subscriptions or to continue the RSA subscription. We hoped that our special arrangement, which lasted two years, would open the door to making more such arrangements possible, to serve the needs of students and scholars. But ProQuest has decided for the moment not to include any learned societies as subscribers. Our subscription will end a few days from now, on October 31. We realize this is very late notice, but the RSA staff have been engaged in discussions with ProQuest for some weeks, in the hope of negotiating a renewal. If they change their mind, we will be the first to re-subscribe.

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  2. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Just spoke with Carla Zecher, Executive Director of the RSA. The deadline will not be extended. ProQuest feels that it is losing subscriptions due to RSA access. That is not true at my institution. I would like to hear from others.

    Like

  3. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Anna, this is truly terrible news. My library is a subscriber to EEBO and has no plans to drop this database even though faculty are members of RSA. Our undergrad and grad students both use this tool.

    When we mentioned the decision of RSA and ProQuest to partner to provide this benefit to RSA members, we called the move “impressive.” This development is nothing short of depressing.

    At the time, we did note:

    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.

    Our fears seem to have been prophetic.

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  4. Margaret DeLacy Says:

    Much of the material in EEBO came from the British Library. The people who donated their materials to the library did not intend to allow a private company to control access to them for profit. In fact, the Sloane library which formed its core was purchased for the nation by a public lottery. Academic libraries, as the main consumers of these databases, have more leverage than they think, but they haven’t seen any reason to band together to require public access. Academics who use this material should remember that today their access depends on their current employment. Perhaps academics should start encouraging their libraries to stop subscribing to these intellectual property “enclosers” unless they provide a reasonable public access option.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Groups in the sciences have begun to actively protest such commodification of knowledge, and we have discussed a few of these cases in EMOB posts such as this one, and .

      Four years ago in discussing the Aaron Swartz’s downloading of JStor content, the topic of academic libraries fighting back arose. Admittedly this is a different situation than bundling, but it could serve as a model.

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      • Anna Battigelli Says:

        I wonder whether it’s time to look ahead to what happens when ProQuest does finally reach its subscription limit and decides to “retire” a textbase like EEBO because it is no longer a revenue raiser. Will we be in position to have it turned over to an entity like DPLA? How would that happen and how much would it cost? Could it happen?

        This doesn’t resolve the immediate problem of canceled access, but it may be prudent to think ahead. Anyone interested in writing a future blog post about this? We need ideas.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

        I am game to do such a post.

        Like

  5. Anna Battigelli Says:

    I wonder too whether this sudden cancellation may backfire. Far from hunting up funds that don’t exist to subscribe to resources like EEBO, will scholars turn to free resources like the Digital Public Library of America, which offers an increasing library of post-Reformation material available in beautifully reproduced digital form? To 18thConnect?

    If anything, subscription through the RSA seems calculated to keep scholars hooked on EEBO and positive spokespeople for EEBO with their libraries. Now those scholars will be forced to find other resources.

    Also, the good feeling of having access to EEBO could have spilled over into other ProQuest products. I purchased EndNote mostly because I really like EndNote, but the positive vibe that came from the collaboration between ProQuest and RSA didn’t hurt. ProQuest just seemed more interested in the scholarly world it serves as a result of that collaboration. That appearance of interest was a part of my thinking when I made that purchase.

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    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Yes, more and more of academic libraries and archives are taking it upon themselves to digitize material (though sometimes these efforts are then partnered with commercial enterprises), and that seems promising as does moves by resource hubs such as 18thConnect to provide material in response to this increasing problem of commercialization of scholarly materials.

      ProQuest also does not offer individual subscriptions for short or long-term use as the British Newspaper Archive does, so its divorce from RSA seems doubly unfair and unreasonable.

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      • Anna Battigelli Says:

        Yes. The question of individual subscriptions keeps coming up. I subscribe to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography because my institutions does not. I would also subscribe to EEBO if subscriptions were comparable to ODNB subscriptions. We need stability of scholarly resources. Many of us would pay for that.

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      • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

        In terms of a creative move, it seems as if individual subscriptions would have been a smart revenue and good-will generator–and a move that might have made sense before partnering with a society (I am very much in favor of such partnerships, though). Independent scholars could have access this way if subscriptions were priced reasonably and were offered in both short- and long-term form. Moreover, faculty at institutions without subscriptions would produce projects that might result in justifying the library’s purchasing of such a resource.

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  6. Dave Mazella Says:

    Ugh. I agree that this is a real tactical error on ProQuest’s part, but I also wonder if part of the problem is the fact that ProQuest has opted to stop acting as a “disciplinary repository” and more instead as a for-profit dot-com, to use Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s language in this piece? The fact that they essentially decided to freeze out the disciplinary society seems really short-sighted on multiple fronts.

    http://www.plannedobsolescence.net/academia-not-edu/

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    • Anna Battigelli Says:

      Thanks, Dave. Kathleen looks at the related problem of academia.edu, which despite its edu suffix is a for-profit entity. She urges scholars to share their work online, not through
      academia.edu, which will eventually have to turn a profit with the restricted access that entails, but through the MLA commons:

      So, finally, a call to MLA members: when you develop your member profile and share your work via the Commons, you not only get your work into circulation within your community of practice, and not only raise the profile of your work within that community, but you also help support us as we work to solve the “everybody” problem of the dot-com that threatens to erode the possibilities for genuine open access.

      It’s an interesting observation. For more, see “Planned Obsolescence.” I’m hoping she will also turn to the problem of access to digital resources.

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      • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

        Like Anna, I had positive feelings about ProQuest, in part because they seemed to have employees who possessed advanced academic training and understood the needs of the academy better than other similar outfits. Some of those employees were also independent scholars in their own right–but the ones I knew in this capacity have left. (Other signs of corporatization — making staff do more and more with less and less and for fewer and fewer benefits also seemed to be trend there–something that most of us are also all too familiar with.)

        EEBO’s business plan of selling access seems, to me at least, ultimately limited in growth. So ProQuest’s experiment of partnering with scholarly societies, using RSA as a pilot, may have been a move to rethink options. Yet, as I note above, this fear of reduced income from academic library subscriptions was raised almost simultaneously with the launch of offering EEBO access as a member benefit. Even at the time we thought this seemed foolish and shortsighted. With the push today for involving undergraduates in research (not to even mention the need for these databases in instructing graduate students), it seemed inconceivable that many academic libraries would cancel their institutional subscriptions to EEBO–just because a few of their faculty members had access through a professional society.

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  7. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Responses to the ProQuest cancellation of EEBO through RSA can be found on Twitter using #ProQuestGate.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. shgregg Says:

    Reblogged this on Digital Literary Studies and commented:
    In last week’s session, while we were examining what happens ‘behind the interface’ of digital projects and databases, we also started considered the effects of commerce and funding. Just this week, the effect of commercial priorities has been strikingly demonstrated by ProQuest, the publisher behind Early English Books Online. If you’re on twitter, see #Proquestgate.

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  9. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Regarding budgets, our system does not receive inflation increases. That means our librarians are currently struggling to find a way to pay for subscription costs that have risen 7%. Adding a new item seems impossible, though I think some bartering with the sciences, which currently hog the library budget might open up some room.

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    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      This state-of-affairs is quite common increasingly at various institutions–and will only become increasingly so.

      Like

  10. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Liked by 1 person

    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      As you know, we had tried to work through ASECS with Mellon to no avail. It seems as if it is time to try again– and ACLS seems definitely worth approaching. It is very much interested in this issue and digital transformations.

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  11. Margaret DeLacy Says:

    Friends:

    ProQuest has experienced a change of heart, because they have just posted the following statement on their blog:

    We’re sorry for the confusion RSA members have experienced about their ability to access Early European Books Online (EEBO) through RSA. Rest assured that access to EEBO via RSA remains in place. We value the important role scholarly societies play in furthering scholarship and will continue to work with RSA — and others — to ensure access to ProQuest content for members and institutions.

    http://www.proquest.com/blog/pqblog/2015/EEBO-Access-Continues-for-RSA-Members.html

    The blog states that RAS members still have access. Does anyone know whether this means temporary access or that the agreement will be renewed?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Very good question about whether this change of heart is just short-term. I suspect that ProQuest might not be certain yet whether they will renew.

      That said, it seems as if it is a good time to engage ProQuest in discussions and not simply let this issue lapse until the next crisis. Anna may have more direct information.

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  12. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Below, please find the latest from the RSA. Anna

    Dear RSA members,

    We are delighted to convey the following statement from ProQuest:

    “We’re sorry for the confusion RSA members have experienced about their ability to access Early English Books Online (EEBO) through RSA. Rest assured that access to EEBO via RSA remains in place. We value the important role scholarly societies play in furthering scholarship and will continue to work with RSA — and others — to ensure access to ProQuest content for members and institutions.”

    The RSA subscription to EEBO will not be canceled on October 31, and we look forward to a continued partnership with ProQuest.

    Sincerely yours,

    The RSA Executive Committee
    Carla Zecher, Joseph Connors, James Grubb, Edward Muir, Pamela Smith

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    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      While it is a relief that they restored access to RSA members, it is still unsettling– and the future of that access long-term seems still uncertain.

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  13. Anna Battigelli Says:

    I can get into EEBO now through RSA, but I am having difficulty opening texts. I hope that will get cleared soon.

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  14. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    I have pulled up a few texts, and they are opening fine for me.

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  15. Anna Battigelli Says:

    I had no trouble calling up texts from EEBO this morning. Thanks for checking.

    Like

  16. Anna Battigelli Says:

    An interesting response by John Overholt at https://medium.com/@john_overholt/together-we-can-freebo-b33d39618f8#.f7krpl28e.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      John’s response is needed–and reminds us that this matter should not be dropped even though the immediate crisis is momentarily over.

      As mentioned above, organizations that represent multiple scholarly societies like the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) and projects such as Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) as well as funding bodies (NEH, Mellon) may help provide some answer. DPLA and HathiTrust Digital Library are already trying to be part of the solutions, and it seems that collaborative international efforts are also crucial to rethinking access and related issues. The International Federation of Library Association (IFLA) is one such body.

      As noted above, I am also not sure how sustainable the market for EEBO is, and, as you query, Anna, what happens to these databases if abandoned by these companies? Also, I wonder about the copyright parameters of these databases (will investigate and report back).

      Like

  17. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    A different but arguably related story on access in tomorrow’s New York Times–this piece discusses collections in museums rather than libraries: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/01/arts/design/new-online-openness-lets-museums-share-works-with-the-world.html?_r=1

    Like

  18. profrandyrobertson2012 Says:

    I have little to add to this excellent discussion. I’ll just emphasize what others have already mentioned–that the problem goes well beyond EEBO. Academic journals as well as digital archives hide behind pay walls, and especially in the case of journals, scholars are commercially exploited. While the journal editors may make some money (usually a pittance), the scholars who write for them and the readers who perform peer review for them make nothing. The publishing companies that own the journals, on the other hand, make an obscene amount of money through bundled subscriptions. I teach a publishing course, and the numbers I’ve come across suggest that while trade books generate about 10% profit, academic journals, including those in the sciences, net 30% profit for the publishers. Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer, Taylor & Francis, et al. thus enjoy the benefit of our time gratis and then charge us for the privilege of reading our own work. It’s time, it seems to me, that we move to some version of Open Access, though of course OA is not free of problems.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Thanks so much, Randy. You are absolutely right about the bundling and the type of money made from these arrangements (I also teach publishing). The firms you mention are dealing primarily with scholarly articles and are, as you clearly demonstrate, benefitting enormously from the labor of scholars. That their charges are so high for science journals creates a double assault on the humanities. These firms pose their own set of problems, and possible solutions–from libraries becoming involved in publishing, other forms of OA, and more. (My library would be interested in publishing efforts–and we are already a member of Digital Commons). And then commercial enterprises such as ProQuest’s EEBO and Cengage-Gale’s ECCO are making money by commercializing the past and carry a whole set of different problems and possible solutions.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Interesting article. With museums, one might argue that we should feel a civic obligation to support them financially, especially if they do a good job of acquiring and protecting great art. But free access to digital reproductions wouldn’t necessarily conflict with that and might encourage engagement with the collection.

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  20. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thanks, Randy, for this point. For more, see https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/11/02/editors-and-editorial-board-quit-top-linguistics-journal-protest-subscription-fees.

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  21. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Yes, this situation at Lingua is not that dissimilar to the situation we reported on a while back involving a distinguished editor of a medical journal quitting in protest. See Academic Credibility and Commercially Run Journals. More actions such as these could shift the balance of power.

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