Making JSTOR into a public treasure

Michael Giberson

Grant McCracken cries out: “JSTOR, get out of the way!

[T]his stuff is bought and paid for. It is time to release it into the public domain. Surely, there is a university server somewhere that would assume the costs. Google, I am quite sure, would be willing to shoulder the burden.

The fact of the matter is JSTOR is holding precious resources captive to sustain itself…and its ability to hold precious resources captive. This content was created by academics funded by not-for-profit institutions. JSTOR is not reinvesting revenue in academic production. It is, as I say, now self sustaining in the worst sense of the term.

JSTOR is taxing public knowledge in order to sustain its ability to block access to public knowledge.

Time to let go.

If you have a university connection, you probably haven’t felt the sting of what Grant calls “the red light from JSTOR” – knowing that the information you want is just a mouse click away for those people with the right kind of connections, not you.

I know the feeling. Many times I’ve been reduced to copying down a citation, saving it for when I could clear time to head over to a university library and track down a hard copy.

Of course, I’ve been around long enough to remember when there was no JSTOR, and nothing like it. I remember when the university library began offering searchable electronic databases that would turn up a citation only, and I was thrilled. While there was some charm in paging through the Social Sciences Citation Index in the Reference Room, tracing the influence of articles past, a searchable database was such a boon.

And then JSTOR came, with page images and searchable text and accessible on the internet, years and years of the American Economic Review and the Journal of Political Economy and more.

And then I graduated. A post-doc kept me with the JSTOR crowd for a year, but eventually I was out in the private sector, and no longer good enough for JSTOR.

I retain a continuing fondness for JSTOR, left over from the glorious first years of access when still in graduate school. I can’t quite bear to cry out, with Grant, “JSTOR, get out of the way!” But, when Grant shouts his challenge at the JSTOR gate, inside me a small voice says, “He is right.”

So I’m sure that there are many little details to work out. Money must change hands a few times, and lawyers will have papers to be signed. Maybe, like Grant suggests, Google can fund it. Or perhaps Universities can wrangle a way in for their alumni, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation picks up the bill for users from developing countries.

But somehow JSTOR should find a way to throw open its doors.


3 thoughts on “Making JSTOR into a public treasure

  1. A couple thoughts:
    JStor is a non-profit. They already give JStor away – for example, if you are a university in Africa, you can get JStor for free (last I checked anyway).
    Second, JStor charges because it needs to maintain a high-quality product. This is the real service they provide – consistent, high (archival) quality. JStor sees itself as much as an archive as a library. Most journals are still published in print, which means someone has to pay to scan them and do quality control on that scanning. And even born digital journals need to be standardized, archived, hosted.
    Third, JStor has to pay to get access to these journals. Academics may have produced these works, but journal publishers vary in what they are willing to give to JStor and for how much. Academics no longer own the rights to reproduce their works – the journals do. Paying for JStor is as much about paying for the rights to access those journals as it is paying for the particular service JStor provides in making them available digitally.
    Fourth, I believe JStor is working on a way for non-university affiliated folks to get access, at least on article at a time basis (is that already implemented?). I don’t imagine you’d get much better anywhere else – publishers of journals won’t allow it.

  2. well, i.m willing to offer any of Jstor articles to anyone, for free. i definitely would like to share user passwords, but these would not work very long, if server is overaccessed with queries form different IP.s but with same user accounts.
    so, feel free to mail me the title of article und (or) the Jstor link at
    enoeda_shibaru@yahoo.com
    and, as soon as possible, I will send you the required texts.
    …also Project Muse and EBSCO databases.

    PS. the reason for this is i will not pay around 700/1000 us dollars per month to read the stuff.

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