In a post on the Technology for Genealogy Group on Facebook, Pat Richley-Erikson linked to an article about JSTOR. I was very interested because this has been a sore spot with me for years. The article is entitled "JSTOR begins offering free yet limited access to its online academic library." Unless you are involved directly in academic research, you probably do not recognize the name "JSTOR" automatically. Here is a pretty good summary of JSTOR from Wikipedia:
JSTOR (pronounced jay-stor; short for Journal Storage) is a digital library founded in 1995. Originally containingdigitized back issues of academic journals, it now also includes books and primary sources, and current issues of journals. It provides full-text searches of more than a thousand journals, dating back to 1665 in the case of thePhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. More than 7,000 institutions in more than 150 countries have access to JSTOR. Most access is by subscription, but some old public domain content is freely available to anyone, and in 2012 JSTOR launched a program of free access to some further articles for individual scholars and researchers who register.I have purposely left all of the internal links in case you want to know more. As you can see, this organization has only been open to "academics" that is people who are employed by or attend organizations that subscribe to the service. Over the years I have consistently run up against this "closed" subscription policy.
JSTOR was originally funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, but is now an independent, self-sustaining not-for-profit organization with offices in New York City and Ann Arbor, Michigan. In January 2009, JSTOR merged with ITHAKA, becoming part of that organization. ITHAKA is a non-profit organization founded in 2003 "dedicated to helping the academic community take full advantage of rapidly advancing information and networking technologies."
Here is the point. Much of the world's research, including a huge number of articles of historical and genealogical interest are published in academic journals. Of course, if you want to read these publications, you can try to find a library that carries that particular journal and will allow you access to the content, but sometimes this is very difficult. I cannot tell you how many times I have been looking at a topic and have found an article right on point, only to discover that the article was locked up in an academic journal and unavailable to me through JSTOR. There is no one other factor that has emphasized my current separation from the academic community than this one thing.
I realize for the greater community of genealogical researchers, this is no big deal. They have never heard of JSTOR and don't care. But if you spend practically all day, every day, doing online research, you can appreciate how you might feel if you keep coming up to a closed door. Now there is a crack in the door. It is about time. This would probably not be an issue if JSTOR was like Ancestry.com, a subscription site, but it is not. It positions itself as an "academic" institution open to "academic" libraries and research institutions. If you are not part of their club, you can't play on their court.
Am I going to sign up for JSTOR? Yes. Will it make a lot of difference in what I find online? Not too likely, but maybe. One other observation, that I will discuss in a future post, is the huge divide between academic historians and genealogists. But that is another day and another time.