Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, May 25, 2007

JSTOR is considering OA

Tom Matrullo, A conversation with JSTOR's Bruce Heterick, Improprieties, May 24, 2007.  (Thanks to David Weinberger.)  Excerpt:

I had a good conversation the other day with Bruce Heterick, Director, Library Relations, at JSTOR.... 

[My] recent interest in JSTOR [is] mainly derived from (1) searching for certain topics in the Humanities and Social Sciences, (2) discovering with glee that interesting articles from scholarly journals are now online, (3) realizing with consternation that such articles lie behind an institutional barrier that blocks access to anyone not affiliated with a participating institution, and (4) registering puzzlement that anyone would take all sorts of pains to firewall knowledge -- knowledge mainly produced by scholars at not-for-profit institutions of higher learning devoted to bringing light into our world.

Heterick was generous with his time, and patient with my questions....

[H]ere's the maybe-if-and-when good news, the presiding lights behind JSTOR are now looking at various ways and means to open its treasurehouse to all, because they understand that that makes all sorts of sense. They simply have to ensure that by doing so, they don't remove the parts of their economic model that have enabled them to build a self-sufficient, independent 501(c)3 organization in a relatively short time.

Let me back up and offer some of what Heterick shared with me about JSTOR (more background here and, in book form via here.)

The founding aim of JSTOR was less dissemination than preservation....

[PS:  Here omitting good detail on the current JSTOR business model, range of content, and range of paying users.]

[A]long the way [JSTOR has] begun to look at the possibilities for more open access to its collections. Any qualifying institution in Africa can get access to its entire collection for free. There are special rates for high schools and an effort to get more public libraries to buy in.

Enter Google

Now, all this was taking place in the background, without much in the way of public notice, until last year, when JSTOR allowed Google to spider its online archives....

At which point, Heterick said, requests for JSTOR's online material "exploded." JSTOR found itself in the interesting position of letting it teasingly be known that it has an astonishing wealth of scholarship at the same time as it was saying to any unaffiliated researcher at its gate: "Not now."
JSTOR hadn't thought of offering a pay-per-view access before Google crawled its archive. Now, as of January, JSTOR has invited its publishers to make their titles available to unaffiliated researchers on a pay-per-view basis....

[S]till, the goal of open access is very much on its mind.

“It’s not a question of if we should do it but when we can do it and not devolve our preservation goals,” he says. “Would people or libraries be willing to pay to maintain JSTOR and maintain its long term mission of archiving? We don’t know… .”

Would institutional libraries continue to pay the subscription fees if the journals were openly available to all? On one hand, why should they? Still, it's not impossible: after all, JSTOR is ensuring the immortality of the work of...scholars at these same universities. It's also saving the costs of continually adding space....

Comment.  This is important and could become be a huge step toward OA in the social sciences and the humanities.  I talked to the Mellon Foundation in 2004 about the possibility of OA to sufficiently old and amortized back issues of participating journals, and the answer was not a flat no.  The door was ajar.  It's very heartening to hear that the door is opening further and that JSTOR now considers OA to be a goal.