American Historical Association James Grossman on Research Access and Scholarly Equity

Here is Grossman at Perspectives on History:

Access to research materials—both print and digital—is crucial for any historian engaged in scholarship and teaching. For historians working outside of well-resourced colleges and universities, gaining access to these materials has become increasingly difficult, particularly with the increasing breadth and depth of commercial databases often accessible only to scholars affiliated with a well-resourced university.

This trend is an often-overlooked aspect of the changing landscape of historical research. More and more research material has been digitized by commercial database companies, who then control its dissemination. These firms rely on institution-to-institution contracts with large, well-funded university libraries. Historians working within these universities have full access, while those on the outside are excluded, placing them at a severe disadvantage in their ability to produce first-rate scholarship and excel as teachers. For a complex set of reasons, providers rarely offer individual subscriptions to scholarly databases. At the same time, contracts with vendors often make it difficult (or even impossible) for libraries to grant access to individuals outside these institutions. These structural barriers create difficult challenges for many historians.

And this:

The AHA encourages history departments to provide full library access to their own scholar alumni and to unaffiliated historians in their regions. History departments and academic units can play a positive role by supporting the scholarship of their alumni and by bringing more unaffiliated scholars into their orbit. Providing these historians a university affiliation—whether as a visiting scholar or by whatever means is feasible—will help close the gap between those with and without adequate research access. These actions will enable every historian to fully realize their potential as scholars and contributors to our discipline.

Read the entire piece here.

I can really relate to this post.  For the past two or three years, I have been trying to work with the Adam Matthew digitized CO5 files from the National Archives, UK.  This database offers access to thousands of documents on North America from 1606-1822.  I can’t afford to go to London to view these documents, so the database is my only option.  These documents are absolutely essential for my current book project.  At some point I am going to have to bite the bullet and go to London or find a research university who will let me use their collection on site or give me a password.

I realize that I have been blessed at Messiah College.  Early in my tenure, the college library purchased the Readex Early America Imprints I, Early American Imprints II (Shaw-Shoemaker), and Early American Newspapers.  This gives my students access to thousand and thousands of primary sources.  These databases have been amazing resources for my own work as well.  Messiah’s library staff has also managed to get trial access to the Adam Matthew CO5 files, but the trials are limited in time and scope and it is always hard to find time to do research during the academic year. The college cannot afford to purchase this database and Adam Matthew will not allow an individual subscription.

I also realize that I am privileged to have an academic job that gives me access to library resources.  I regularly use the databases, e-books, search engines, and interlibrary loan services that the Murray Library offers to the Messiah College community.  Grossman calls attention in the piece to adjunct and contingent faculty who lose access to these resources when they stop teaching or are not rehired.

I appreciate Grossman’s call for Research I History Departments to grant access to alumni.  Unfortunately, my Ph.D-granting institution doesn’t even own the databases I have noted in this post.

I’ll keep working on this one.  If anyone can help, please let me know: jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu.