August 15, 2009

The Royal Historical Society Bibliography

The Royal Historical Society bibliography is one of the most useful tools out there for historians. It basically gives you a catalogue of articles written about your topic and their location- it is indispensible as anyone will know who has spent time rummaging in a library trying to find the one book on John Owen's theology or crop rotation in Lincolnshire in 1568. The bibliography however unfortunately is now going to be subscription only- it may be neccessary to do this to keep it going- I have no idea about the financing of it- but it is a sad day for researchers and people who are interested in history. The bibliography was a useful resource for everyone. There is a worrying trend in which the resources that you can use to do proper scholarship are falling behind subscription curtains- JSTOR, EEBO, the RHS bibliography- are all beyond access for members of the general public to inspect. I don't like this because I think scholarship should be open to access to everyone and I also think that if it isn't there are risks- there are risks to making access to knowledge conditional on holding an institutional subscription (step forward JSTOR)- I understand that there has to be an economic model to support such things- but on the other hand there is a complimentary public good, that access to knowledge ought to be free.

Whether you call them academics or priests, exclusive castes who dominate access to knowledge are not healthy for society and the internet ought to be about opening knowledge to everyone- not just to those with a university login.


James Hamilton said...

More good news, sheesh. I'm wondering if the command line app wget might be capable of downloading the database before it goes offline? Or perhaps instead of a Tacitus series, you might do a shorter one focussing on each of the 460K records in turn (and thus creating a searchable database of them in turn)?

Tom Matrullo said...

You articulate beautifully the underlying concerns that prompted me a while ago to interview the director of library relations of JSTOR. Here's a link fwiw.

Gracchi said...

Yes I agree James- I lack those skills though and I think these guys believe that they own the knowledge.

Tom you are entirely right. THat is a depressing interview- I have to say that the attitude deeply irritates me. There is part of me that thinks that open access ought to be a condition of any public funding whatsoever and of charitable status too- but that is something above my pay grade.