Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

How much content of research value is OA?

Lisa Spiro, How many texts have been digitized?, Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, May 5, 2008.

... I worked on my dissertation between 1996 and 2002 and used electronic collections that were available at the time ... but I did most of my research in the stacks ... If I were to begin researching my dissertation now, what new possibilities would be open to me, and what problems would I face in trying to rely on digital resources?

To find out, I searched for each of the 296 items in my original bibliography in both free and subscription-based online collections ... I found that 83% of my primary source materials and 37% of my secondary source materials are now available online as full-text. By “full text,” I mean that, at minimum, you can read the work from start to finish online and search within it. ... Furthermore, 95% of all the sources listed in my bibliography have been digitized. If a work has been digitized but is not available as full-text, it’s typically a work that Google Books offers as limited preview, snippet view, or no preview because of copyright restrictions. You can still search books that are limited preview or snippet view, but you cannot retrieve more than a few pages (limited preview) or lines (snippet view). Access to 22% of the works–mostly periodicals and secondary ebooks–requires a subscription. ...

So what are the implications of my findings that most of my primary sources are available online as full text, while many of my secondary sources are, at least in a limited fashion, in a digital format and 62% of them are searchable? As Patrick Leary, Jo Guldi, and others have argued, massive digitization projects promise not only to make the research process more efficient, but also to open up new approaches to research. For example, you can discover important works that would otherwise be invisible to you, trace the use of a phrase across works, and analyze significant patterns in a corpus of texts.

Yet we should also acknowledge that not everything is available online and that research sources are scattered across multiple collections, not yet searchable through a single tool. Despite the efforts of many archives to digitize their collections, studying most archival resources still requires a trip to the archives ...