Now we're all about being cheap here at the Stingy Scholar, but we realize that sometimes you need to shell-out a few bucks. But with JSTOR, you can't even pay if you want to. This isn't a problem if you can pop into the university library, but thousands of independent scholars around the world are shut out from the service.
Christopher Barden, a long time reader, recently wrote a letter to JSTOR to vent his frustration and ask them to open up their information. I think he makes some very effective points.
As an independent scholar not currently affiliated with any academic institution, I find it deeply frustrating that one cannot even pay for access for JSTOR.
The mission statement of your Mellon Foundation-funded “not-for-profit” scholarly database says you seek "to improve dramatically access to these journals."
The only thing dramatic about access to JSTOR’s journals is its bizarrely unnecessary lack thereof.
Why can’t one access this highly valuable database with a laptop and a credit card? Why build a digitized scholarly archive, searchable via the public internet, if access to it is controlled like some kind of top-secret database? Is this for university students and teachers only? If so, why? Is the access to online-searchable scholarship in a digital age to be reduced to only the years that one is actually affiliated with a large educational institution? What year is this: 2007 or 1007?
In an age when the Internet has made it not just possible but increasingly common for 'independent scholars to work outside the ivory tower, JSTOR is clearly designed to lock them out. And this seems just plain wrong.
Christopher also discusses the frustration with JSTOR results in Google searches:
JSTOR allows Google's public search engine to index its articles. And, because of the range of topics covered in academic/scholarly articles (which span a fairly broad spectrum of human thought and activity), JSTOR article search results increasingly come up as first-page results in Google searches on topics of scholarly interest.
While this is extremely beneficial to JSTOR, it renders millions of public search results practically worthless to non-JSTOR users. (Imagine Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown, and you’ve got a pretty clear picture of what JSTOR search results can feel like.)Not surprisingly, JSTOR is yet to respond. I've posted the whole letter here.