JSTOR – And Retrieve

Tom has contributed a lovely investigation of JSTOR, its presence in Google’s search results, its firewalls, and its future. I’ve been following with interest as Tom earlier alluded to this exploration; what was he getting at? The conversation with Bruce Heterick unveils what had been shrouded.

JSTOR’s practices arise from a weird series of contingencies. Where once a robber-baron-cum-philanthropist would fund public libraries so that everyone had open access to knowledge, now foundations fund an operation that prevents access to information — though first it tantalizes the excluded inquirer with crumbs of the essays they may not consult. Because print constitutes so expensive a medium for academic journals, and because digital media emerged after the point where the tenure system and the post-baby-boom surge of grad students produced the current proliferation of minor journals and monograph series (made necessary in order to produce extrinsic credentials for the tenure-eligible academic scholar, or to burnish the credentials of the tenure-holder), print publication has become a watermark of genuine achievement. Even though more readers would benefit more from more useful digital publications, many academics quail at the thought of disseminating their work online. Likewise, the costly structure of printed professional journals – heightened by the cost of production, distribution, and archiving – necessitates limiting access to these.

Were I not loath to compare my friend to a former B-movie actor, I might wish that Tom exhorted his interlocutor, “Mr. Heterick, tear down these firewalls!”