a message from ASECS President, Peter Reill

[h/t: C18-L; x-posted on EMOB]

[Hi everyone, sorry for the light posting over the past few weeks.  We'll get more activity here shortly, but in the meantime, I wanted to direct your attention to a very important message from Peter Reill.  If you feel strongly about this issue, please contact Peter at the email below.  Best, DM]

Dear Colleagues:

I am writing to ask for you help and guidance concerning an issue that is becoming increasingly important as the digital revolution in scholarship gathers momentum. I have been asked to attend a meeting hosted by the Mellon Foundation that addresses the question of the increasingly unequal access of scholars to digital resource databases that are critical to pursuing research in their fields. I have become more aware of this problem after a meeting of the ISECS executive meeting where our Japanese colleagues asked for help to access ECCO. And the more I talk with people newly hired at universities or colleges unable to afford the fees charged by specialist databases the more important this issue has become for me. As I ponder the implications of this tendency, it is clear that it’s solution is even  more crucial for recent graduates who have yet to get a permanent position and independent scholars who cannot afford to subscribe to specialist databases.

It is a problem very few address. The Mellon meeting, which will be held in February asks us, members of societies “focused on clearly delineated areas and primarily concerned with advancing scholarship in their fields” to answer a number of queries that are both scholarly and organizational in character. I hope that those of you concerned with these issues would send me your thoughts about them. It is my plan to propose your ideas that I will outline in the next Newsletter, which will appear before the meeting, giving you another chance to express you views on the subject and any others relevant to the issue.

The questions the Mellon proposes are: “How important is access to commercial databases to scholars in your field, and how are scholars’
careers affected when they are at institutions that do not subscribe to those resources? Which databases are likely to be of greatest value to the broadest segment of your membership? How well situated is your society to serve as a conduit to these resources, and what would be required to make that possible?”

Are these questions sufficient? Are there any more issues I should be raising? What kinds of solutions do you propose?

I look forward to your responses and to using them to highlight an important issue for all of us.

Yours,

Peter

My email address is;

reill@humnet.ucla.edu

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8 responses to “a message from ASECS President, Peter Reill

  1. Anna Battigelli

    Thanks, David, for posting this and cross-posting it on emob. As Eleanor noted on emob, we have been in touch with Peter Reill, and he seems interested in extending the discussion, perhaps through the blog. It would be great if everyone with concerns about access e-mailed Peter. Now is the time.

    It’s an interesting coincidence that we have just been discussing TCP in detail and have thus been reminded about the actual costs of free access. This multiplicity of perspectives (the need for free acces on the one hand; the actual costs of free access on the other hand) is a good first step in beginning to see what free access involves and, just maybe, a small step toward understanding what greater access to electronic resources involves.

  2. I’m glad to see that you’re addressing this email on the blog. Being at an institution that doesn’t get EEBO or ECCO, there are definitely times when I’m reading an article that shows obvious signs of having taken advantage of searches on those engines–and I can only sit there wailing and gnashing my teeth. One can, of course, keep a running list of texts one wants to download and then go at it with orgiastic intensity during the couple weeks of free trial every year. But for me it’s not having access to that search function that proves the largest irritant.

    It should be possible for state university systems or a consortium of institutions to negotiate some kind of shared access (I would think?). The price of ECCO seems not just exorbitant but ridiculous given how few eighteenth-century scholars exist on any given campus. Surely there’s a balance that could be struck which would allow for greater access while taking into account smaller individual contributions from a larger pool of users. Perhaps a consortia could negotiate to allow satellite users limited access, maybe a few days per month or something, for an affordable chunk of the subscription. I don’t know what the business model would need to look like, but surely it needs to move towards something not unlike iTunes or amazon, where you can buy “Rhiannon” without having to cough up the money for the entire Fleetwood Mac catalogue.

  3. Eleanor Shevlin

    Christopher,

    The notion of banding together to negoitate fees is an excellent one and also an idea that we have brought up on the Early Modern Online Bibliography blog (emob), at the EC/ASECS roundtable of ECCO, Burney, and ESTC that took place this past October, and the Long Eighteenth Century. I am at West Chester University in Pennyslvania, and we do have EEBO and ECCO I. While we are in many ways an unlikely institiution to have these resources, a key reason we do is the partnership and leadership role our library director has taken with mid-Atlantic library institutions (formerly Palinet, now expanded as Lyrasis.

    That U.K. institutions of higher education have access to ECCO and the like is due in a large part because of the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), “established by the UK further and higher education funding councils in 2006 to negotiate with publishers and owners of digital content.” (JISC is mentioned in comments and postings throughout emob, including the summary of the EC/ASECS roundtable. If a similar negotiating body could be developed in the U.S. (perhaps a collaborative of nonprofit and scholarly societies), that would be a welcome move.

  4. You know, I had the very best intentions of attending EC/ASECS this year (my regional), but after returning from Oxford just a couple of weeks before I was wiped out and decided to stay home and try to catch up (on sleep as well as my classes). Having read that summary I feel as though I should have had another cup of coffee and come up for the fun! Sounds like a great panel.

    Thanks, too, for the information about the UK, which I was not aware of. As you point out, conditions are too different here in the US for that idea to work in exactly the same way, but surely something could be worked out. My wife is a librarian who works with a lot of databases, and it seems to me that many of them are simply too clumsy–too big, too monolithic, not responsive enough to the needs of users–to be competitive over the long run. You’d think that there would be an economic incentive to develop more flexible alternatives.

  5. Anna, Elinor, Chris,

    I think that the consortium concept could fly, especially if large numbers of smaller institutions banded together. It doesn’t seem to me that there’s any reason why the US institutions couldn’t follow the path taken by the UK ones. Since we feature larger numbers of institutions and possible users, meaning larger fees, it would make much more sense that way than keeping access within a handful of “Tier One” institutions.

    It might also be helpful to get the organizations of other scholarly disciplines who work on 18c topics: art historians, historians, political theorists, musicologists, etc.. But the access issue is urgent for scholars in institutions incapable of swinging the steep initial fees.

    Please send your emails to Peter Reill in the meantime, and I hope we continue this conversation.

    DM

    • Anna Battigelli

      I know that ECCO’s representative, Theresa DeBenedictis, always seems open to consortium possibilities of any configuration. The biggest consortium for our purposes would be an ASECS consortium, or perhaps thinking even more broadly, an early modern consortium (banding together ASECS and early modern societies). As Eleanor mentions, that is the way to go.
      AB

    • Eleanor Shevlin

      I would also add that it could be useful to think beyond ASECS and beyond ECCO, Burney, and the like. In other words, ASECS and other early modern societies could be part of an even larger negotiating group (perhaps organized under the auspices of Mellon, American Library Association, and/or the like) because these commerical outfits have more than just 18th-century/early modern products.

  6. Eleanor Shevlin

    Chris, if you are coming to ASECS, then you should plan on attending the “part-2 session” that Anna has organize on these databases. It is slated for Thursday, March 18th, at 9:30 am.

    And, Dave, yes, a consortium negotiating body would be best served by harnessing the collective power of scholarly societies across disciplines–ASECS (which is multi-disciplinary), RSA (multi-disciplinary, too), MLA, AHA, AAH, etc. It seems that’s what the Mellon Foundation may well have in mind in organizing this February meeting. And I think it is a very good sign that Mellon is holding such a forum, for the situation in the U.S. calls for a different model because our universities are not all funded by a central body.

    In the U.K. all institutions of higher education are funded primarily by the government, and JISC receives its funding from the Higher Education Funding Council of England, HEFC of Wales, HFEC of Scotland, HEFC of Wales, and other government councils. In other words, the negotiating body, JISC (which also has other purposes beyond negotiating with publishers–involved in supporting technology and education, too, for instance), is supported by the U.K. government.

    I too am glad we’re having this conversation, and I will continue to check in (I’ve been away for two days and off email). Let me also invite those interested to join us on our latest emob post as we work through various questions that Peter Reill posed in his message to ASECS membership.