Editorial, 2004, October 14:
Digital Archives of Early Scholarly Journals
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
And, secondly, it is intended as a means of
publicizing the existence of
the Repertorium and the resources
Different Kinds of Digital Archives of Scholarly Journals
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
The converse seems generally
to hold true for
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
that have been archived.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
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
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
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
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
Göttinger DigitalisierungsZentrum GDZ
also contains the full-text of many types of publications, including
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
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
is found in
Resources Used in the Historical Data Section:
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
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
provides institutional subscribers with digital access to about 250
Some of the back-runs are
quite extensive, for
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of
(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
the complete back-runs of their
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
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
As someone whose first language is English, I regret to have to allude to
(with very few exceptions)
of any significant
contribution to this effort from the
Ironically, the only site offering free digital access to the monumental
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London
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
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
Sending Email to the Project