In the July issue of the Open Access newsletter, Peter Suber addresses findability when discussing the showdown between Nature’s publisher (NPG) and the University of California. (UC is balking at a 400% price increase for access to Nature and other journals.) For Suber, access is a greater problem:
Findability is no longer a critical issue, except for print-only journals or repositories carelessly configured to deter search engine crawlers. The latest studies show that finding or discovering relevant new work is now much easier than accessing or retrieving it.
- “The Digital Information Seeker,” from OCLC Research and JISC
- “Overcoming barriers: access to research information,” from the Research Information Network
Online sources are not differentiated by findability so much as by accessibility and brand.
Given my interest in the state of the English studies web, I’m thinking about these issues as well, and I need to spend more time with the two reports Suber references here. Like Suber, I agree that brands remain massively powerful. Accessibility is indeed a huge problem: many scholars can’t get their hands on articles which might have relevance for them because publication practices lock them up. (The other valence of accessibility, functionality for all users, is also an issue, but that’s not Suber’s focus here, nor mine.) I don’t want to essentialize my own experience, but I subscribe to quite a few journals because my library doesn’t have them. Sure, I can interlibrary loan articles I need, and do so frequently. But abstracts and keywords often fail to demonstrate that an article is relevant to a line of inquiry: there’s something to be said for access to the entire piece being considered. Given that WIU libraries have recently reduced the borrowing period for many books, this isn’t going to get easier anytime soon.
But I also wonder if findability is solved for English studies. Not only are quite a few of our journals print-only, but we are far more book-centric than many of the disciplines engaged in these reports. That points to a mountain of material which is indexed, if at all, in a manner which doesn’t necessarily map well to online searches. What’s online in English journals often comes with poor metadata, or none at all. Efforts like CompPile and eServer help, but at the cost of making research processes somewhat more complex (one has to check those sources as well as JSTOR, Google Scholar, etc). I imagine quite a few scholars in English studies still rely on traditional cross-references, as I do, when finding and gathering information.
This points to better understanding the relationship between findability and accessibility, not only as they are defined by librarians and other scholars, but in practice. For the scholarly communities I’m interested in, do the assumptions Suber makes pan out? What are the specific stumbling blocks which remain for both findability and accessibility? Would standards and/or collective efforts like arXiv.org provide methods for addressing the issues which remain? Do accessibility issues affect findability–and vice versa?