Scholarly Societies 


Editorial, 2004, October 14:
Digital Archives of Early Scholarly Journals

The audience Initial T, Ornate his Editorial has been created for both the Repertorium Veterrimarum Societatum Litterariarum (Inventory of the Oldest Scholarly Societies) and the larger entity of which it is part, the Scholarly Societies Project.
The purpose of the Editorial Although of primary interest to readers of the Repertorium Veterrimarum Societatum Litterariarum, it is being made directly accessible to all users of the Scholarly Societies Project as well. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the matter of digital access to scholarly materials concerns all scholars. And, secondly, it is intended as a means of publicizing the existence of the Repertorium and the resources within it.
Different Kinds of Digital Archives of Scholarly Journals
General remarks Initial S, Ornate cholarly journals for the early period (say, before 1900) have begun to appear in digital archives over the last few years. We shall now consider some of the ways in which these digital archives differ from one another.
Access: free vs fee-based One way in which digital archives of scholarly journals may differ from one another has to do with restrictions on access — some are free to all users, and some require users, or institutions to which they belong, to pay fees for the service.

Fee-based access to the early scholarly record seems largely the rule in English-speaking countries. The converse seems generally to hold true for Continental Europe: in France and Germany especially, digital archives of old scholarly journals are usually provided without restriction.

Clearly, the fewer the restrictions on access to scholarly material, the greater the benefit to the world-wide community of scholars. For that reason, restrictions on access may be considered to be a drawback in a digital archive.

Functionality: searchable vs image only Another significant difference between archives lies in the area of functionality. Some archives provide only a digital image of the pages of the resources that have been archived. This presents a faithful image of the material, but does not by itself allow the text to be searched. Other archives provide a digital image of each page and parallel digital text that renders the content of the page searchable.

Creating such parallel text is currently difficult with old German resources written in Fraktur fonts, since automatic character recognition is more difficult than with standard Latin character fonts. This problem is acknowledged by the esteemed Göttinger DigitalisierungsZentrum as a problem that they have encountered and have not completely resolved.

Clearly, lack of searchability of the content of articles in a digital archive may be considered a drawback in a digital archive.

Existing Digital Archives of Scholarly Journals
The Gallica digital library in France shines resplendently Initial T, Ornatehe Gallica digital library at the Bibliotheque National de France serves as a resplendent example to the rest of the world — an example of what is possible, given strong vision and ample funding. This is an extraordinarily rich repository, containing the full-text of many types of publications, including journals. There are 70,000 digitized works and more than 80,000 images. One drawback is that many of the early journals in the archive appear to be available in image form only, with no parallel digitized text.
The GDZ in Germany, another state-funded project The Göttinger DigitalisierungsZentrum GDZ also contains the full-text of many types of publications, including journals. Although it is significantly smaller than the Gallica digital library, it is nonetheless impressive, and is a credit to both its sponsor, the Lower Saxony State and University Library Göttingen, and its funding body, the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), which has also funded a number of other interesting digitization projects. Unfortunately, it appears that, as of 2003, November 11, no further files have been added to the GDZ digital archive (see its Latest Additions to our Document Server).
Other free archives An enumeration of a small number of other digital archives that have been useful in the Repertorium is found in Resources Used in the Historical Data Section: Full-Text Archives.

Despite considerable effort in examining information about other digitization projects, we have found very little else that contributes much in the way of free access to the early scholarly research record. The most natural places to look are, of course, the national libraries of various countries. Unfortunately, most national libraries with digitization projects have chosen to concentrate on items of mass appeal, rather than those that form part of the scholarly record — on Gutenberg Bibles and illuminated manuscripts, rather than on back-runs of scholarly journals.

JSTOR, a fee-based archive JSTOR provides institutional subscribers with digital access to about 250 scholarly journals. Some of the back-runs are quite extensive, for example, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (from 1665 to five years ago). The pages are stored as both images and searchable text. The primary drawback of this archive is that it is fee-based, and use is limited to its institutional subscribers.
Other fee-based archives A number of scholarly societies in English-speaking countries have adopted a fee-based model for access to the archives of the old back-runs of their journals. An example is the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), which maintains a fee-based archive of its journals from 1841 to the present.

In addition, many commercial publishers are beginning to make archives of the complete back-runs of their journals available. Some of these back-runs extend into the 19th century. One scarcely needs to add that these archives are fee-based; in some cases the fees are truly extraordinary.

Assessment of the Current Situation
The noxious effect of politics on national digitization projects Initial T, Ornate he current emphasis on the spectacular over the scholarly in free digital archives is understandable in the context of institutional politics and the competition for external funding. If the political climate in a country does not value the scholarly heritage of the country, then the major libraries in that country will have trouble mounting a scholarly digitization project of any consequence. The situation in France & Germany, however, presents an exception to this unfortunate state of affairs.
Free access and the insouciance of the English-speaking nations But there is another issue besides national scholarly heritage here — free access to the scholarly record of the past, the lack of which, as mentioned above, is a real drawback in a digital archive. As someone whose first language is English, I regret to have to allude to the stunning absence (with very few exceptions) of any significant contribution to this effort from the English-speaking nations. Ironically, the only site offering free digital access to the monumental Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London is located not in Britain, but in France, namely in the esteemed Gallica digital library. This fact speaks volumes in itself.
A fervent wish One can only hope that the example of the Gallica digital library will eventually be emulated in other countries that have made a significant contribution to the scholarly record of the past.


Published 2004, October 14
Jim Parrott, Editor
Scholarly Societies Project, and
Repertorium Veterrimarum Societatum Litterariarum
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