Wednesday, August 29, 2012 by Peter Danckwerts Filed in: books | education | information resources | research
Anyone who is no longer affiliated with an academic institution but who is attempting to carry out research, in almost any discipline, is at a great disadvantage. I am probably more fortunate than most, having a reader’s ticket the Leeds University Library and Alumni Plus membership of the Senate House Library, University of London. The latter gives me access, at home, to various online databases (but, sadly, not to many of those I really need). I also have a British Library reader’s ticket. Some years ago, when there was a special offer, I bought life membership of Questia, another very valuable resource. I have also spent money I cannot afford on becoming a Friend of the Institute of Historical Research, a wonderful reference-only collection and on a subscription to the British Newspaper Library. And I subscribe to ancestry.com. I used to belong to the wonderful London Library but couldn’t afford the escalating subscription. Some of these databases are accessible at the various libraries but I can afford neither the time nor the money to go into the centre of London every time I need to look something up.
So what am I complaining about? It is principally that there are so many online resources which I need and cannot now access. In my case, I am particularly anxious to access such things as Early English Books in Print, Eighteenth Century Collections Online and the Burney Collection. Without these, it is extremely difficult to research my books. This is not to criticise either the companies who control these resources or the libraries who give limited (if any) home access. The former have a duty to their shareholders to maximise their profits and the latter are tied by their commercial agreements with the former.
For some years, I studied various Open University courses just to gain access to their online databases. I had to give this up for three reasons: (1) I could not afford the time to complete the courses; (2) I could not afford the fees; and (3) it did not seem right to be using the University in this way.
What is the answer? I don’t know, although it does occur to me that when one tots up all the different subscriptions I pay every year, it comes to quite a sum. Is there no commercial (or, even better, not-for-profit) organisation which could bring these resources together at a reasonable price?
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