February 3, 2015 by chuber1
Several things stood out to me in this week’s readings revolving around who owns digital sources, how we access them, and how they are paid for. Again access to scholarship is a key concern for me, as I anticipate that my work in history will occur outside of the university and its access to vast body of knowledge that is kept behind the paywall. I find the current model of digital scholarly publishing problematic, in terms of ownership, dissemination, and the generation of revenue to keep that publishing going. I want to use this blog post to continue looking at the place of scholarship and access on the history web and looking at another digital divide, one between who has access to secondary sources and who does not..
I was rather surprised that digital books and journals are licensed and not owned by the libraries that pay for subscriptions. I found this to be rather disturbing as it means that a publisher could revoke those rights and the resource would no longer be available for use. Also it begs the question of whether or not authors license their work to these publishers or sell the rights outright. It seems problematic if the journals own the material of an individual scholar, but refuse to then in turn sell that material. The lack of a permanent copy, that cannot be destroyed unless physically, seems to be a problem. What happens if someone disagrees with what is said in an article, and blocks digital access to that article or journal? If there are not multiple physical copies of that article then that work can be lost or hidden. This asks the question of who owns the digital archive and therefore who controls the access to the past. When this becomes big business what other forces drive the publication and dissemination of scholarly materials besides the wish to add to the body of knowledge on a particular subject areas?
Like my post two weeks ago I am still interested in how the readings discussed who has and controls access to digital sources. One of the arguments that stood out to me in chapter 7 of Clio Wired (which was a fascinating read) was in light of readily available primary sources, there is a need for access to secondary sources to better understand the meanings and interpretations that people have attached to primary sources. If we want a historically literate public involved in the discussion of the meaning of the past we cannot hoard half the sources of historical discourse behind a paywall.
However, if we open the availability of these sources again the question of how do we pay for them arises. The scholarly journal has been funded for well over a century by the revenue generated from the sale of those journals to scholars and libraries. Though one can now argue in this digital age, the target market for digital journals seems to be libraries as they are so often bundled together through services like JSTOR and Project Muse, which have price tags well beyond the average independent scholar or even medium sized museums