“A True Description of the Naval Expeditions of Sir Frances Drake” ca. 1587
Looking for the perfect image for your paper, study, blog, or article but just not finding what you need on Google? Help is here. Yale University recently made over 250,000 of its images available for free. Even better, Yale is allowing unlimited and licensing-free usage. Eventually, the entire catalog will be available to users but it will take several years to digitize the millions of items in its collection.
Yale is the first Ivy League institution to allow such uninhibited access. In a statement to the New York Times, Mariët Westermann, vice president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, applauded Yale’s decision and hopes Yale will only be the first of many universities to make their collections available to the public. In the past, she argued, the “(h)igh costs of reproduction rights have traditionally limited the ability of scholars, especially ones early in their careers, to publish richly illustrated books and articles in the history of art, architecture, and material and visual culture.” Now, much of that has changed.
What can you find among the quarter-of-a-million images? Everything from paintings, to sculptures, to musical scores, to artifacts, and fossils. Click on the link below and enjoy a 90 second slideshow which samples fifteen of the accessible works, set to the music of Haydn. What will you do with this treasure trove of images?
My grandparents had them. They lined the den in their modest Indiana home. In the garage, outdated sets were stacked neatly in boxes. Every year, salesmen came to the doors of homes and schools peddling their wares. But all that is over. Encyclopedia Brittanica has announced that they will no longer offer their product in print.
It’s rather a sad passage for some of us older folk. There aren’t many businesses that can claim they were viable for over two hundred years. In 1768, Encyclopedia Brittanica published its first set of volumes in Edinburgh, Scotland and has been in continuous publication until this year.
It’s not difficult to understand what finally put the venerable company under. Two words: Wikipedia and Google. Publicly, the company claims that their online competition was not a deciding factor in killing their printed volumes but that seems difficult to believe. Not only is it much easier to access needed information quickly, it’s difficult to compete with “free.” A complete set of Encyclopedia Brittanicas runs some $1,395.
Space, too, is a consideration. A full set consists of thirty-two volumes and weights upwards of 129 pounds. A good flashdrive, by contrast, could conceivably contain every entry in Wikipedia (26,603,553 pages) and fit comfortably in your pocket, with room to spare.
While some champions of the old school encyclopedias decry Wikipedia for having factual errors, a study comparing errors in a sampling of Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Brittanica articles found that there were three errors in Brittanica entries and four in Wikipedia selections. And of course, factual errors are much easier to correct online than in print.
Encyclopedia Brittanica prides itself on having experts write their entries. For example, Arnold Palmer penned the article about the Master’s tournament. If you truly care about this sort of thing, you can still have access to Encyclopedia Brittanica online. But it will cost you $70 for an annual subscription.
Recently, Laura McKenna, reporter for the Atlantic, wrote about her frustrations in trying to find scholarly articles without the access afforded to people with university affiliations. If you do not possess a college identification card, the hundreds of thousands of full-text articles from databases like JSTOR are either very expensive or inaccessible (McKenna shelled out $38 for a single twelve-page article, but also found that a great many articles were not available, period, to non-academics.)
Why is this so and why does it cost so much? As McKenna points out, “the researcher receives no royalties.” (As an academic myself, I find that particularly disgruntling.)
In her investigation, the reporter found that the answer lies within “the antiquated system of academic publishing.”
Here is how that very old, very slow, ball rolls:
- Research takes several years. The academic (usually) receives grants and time off. The article is then submitted to a journal.
- The actual journals are published in-house, on the campuses. They stay there because it brings the university acclaim.
- Journals are edited by faculty members, who often get a small stipend and a little time off to do this extra work.
- The article then goes to an editor, who then passes it on to other faculty with experience in the article’s subject matter.
- The reviewers put in their two-cents. Article is then returned to the author for revisions.
- Editor submits that article, with a bunch of others, to a “for-profit publisher.”
- That publisher “sells the rights to an academic search engine, like JSTOR.”
- The publisher pays nothing to either the writer or editor.
- JSTOR “digitizes the material and sells the content back to the university libraries.”
- The publisher needs to get its money back. It charges a LOT to university libraries to subscribe to its service. It costs some libraries 65% of their total budget.
McKenna succinctly points out the insanity of this system:
Step back and think about this picture. Universities that created this academic content for free must pay to read it. Step back even further. The public–which has indirectly funded this research with federal and state taxes that support our higher education system–has virtually no access to this material, since neighborhood libraries cannot afford to pay those subscription costs. Newspapers and think tanks, which could help extend research into the public sphere, are denied free access to the material. Faculty members are rightly bitter that their years of work reaches an audience of a handful, while every year, 150 million attempts to read JSTOR content are denied every year.
It seems to me (and to McKenna) that the requirement for “print” versions of articles is nonsensical. Without the print requirement, there is NO NEED for a third party. Upload the scholarship yourselves, universities. Free the research!!