Monday, May 07, 2012

Not-quite-open library access for Open Education

One of the big problems for the Open Education Movement has been the lack of access to scholarly resources, such as the scholarly journals that libraries subscribe to individually or as part of article databases. As anyone who has tried to use Google Scholar or Google Books for research knows, you could end up spending a huge amount of money to buy access to the articles and ebooks that you need. And some things just aren't available online at all.

One of big and early players in the "independent scholarship" market was Questia. Questia marketed heavily to home-schoolers and online learners without a nearby or online accessible library. (I've always wondered how many online learners have paid for a Questia subscription without realizing they had access to online library resources through their own institution.) While Questia does not take subscriptions from libraries, the search interface is available for free. Gale/Cengage, a big player in the library database market, owns Questia (they also recently own HighBeam, a professional/business full text service). I do still find it somewhat disturbing that you can't find out how much the subscription is without signing up first.

Now, another player in the library database market is opening up to independent scholars. Proquest is now offering Udini. Udini will offer access to Proquest's own unique content, such as dissertations (Proquest owns the huge dissertation/thesis collection formerly known as UMI and the source of Dissertation Abstracts.) Instead of a subscription, users can pay-as-you-go, paying as low as $.99 for an article (article prices vary) and $4.99 for a short term, view-only access to a dissertation ($37 for a downloadable version, which has been the standard through their Dissertation Express ordering service.) Short and long term subscriptions are also available. Proquest is also said to be planning an alumni option, which could be really popular for those going through "library-withdrawl" after graduation.

In related "open" news, JSTOR recently announced the opening of it's "Early Journal Content" (pre-1923 in the US and pre-1870 elsewhere). JSTOR is covered by Google Scholar, so their material regularly comes up in searches already--but it was rarely available outside of university libraries. 

At this point, I think it would still be hard to get the equivalent of a college education without some kind of access to a college library. But I do think it's coming, possibly very soon. Maybe not for free, but for "reasonable", especially if you compare the prices to college tuition. Universities and libraries are no longer the gatekeepers of knowledge, but could be instead the guides and mapmakers. We need to start seriously considering what that means.