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Core Academic Journal Backfiles Available Electronically

The University of Chicago Library has become a charter participant in JSTOR, an innovative journal access project sponsored by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The object of JSTOR is to provide an entirely electronic, web-based alternative to consultation of back runs of core academic journals. The database includes the complete backfiles of seventeen core journals in economics, history, political science, and ecology, and many additional titles are currently being processed in these fields and in philosophy, population and demography, mathematics, and sociology. As one of the few participants in the developmental pilot project for JSTOR, the Library was convinced of the significant value of the project.

In cooperation with publishers, the project coordinators acquire complete backfiles of journals such as the American Historical Review, the Journal of Political Economy, and the American Political Science Review, and digitally scan them, producing high-resolution (600 dots per inch) electronic files. These electronic files are then scanned using optical character recognition techniques to produce character-based digital files. At this point tables of contents and other access points are enhanced.

Advantages to researchers are striking. For the first time, users of these journals are not limited to searching indexes or abstracts or scanning tables of contents, but can find every occurrence of a word, phrase, or combination of terms in every included journal. And the journals are never off the shelf, at the bindery, or mutilated.

The electronic files are maintained at a Website at the University of Michigan. University of Chicago researchers may access the site using their favorite browsers, from their offices and homes (through the University's network) and from public access work stations in many parts of the University of Chicago Library. Users query the database using a fairly fully featured engine to search not only titles and abstracts but, at their election, the full text of all the articles in the database in a single search. The search operates upon the character-based file; but the results are presented to the user in the form of high-resolution images of the actual pages as originally published, with all original footnotes, charts, figures, maps, and illustrations.

Using the regular print feature of typical browsers, researchers may immediately make lower-resolution prints of individual pages. Users can also download a free printer helper application from the site and at a single command, print entire articles at higher resolution, with results similar to xerography, depending upon the printer used.

Plans for Phase I of the project call for completion of runs of 100 titles, primarily in the social sciences and humanities, within three years. Two questions occur to most users: Why not make all issues available, and not just the backfile? And why not present the character-based file to users for downloading, and cutting and pasting? Answers to both questions lie in JSTOR's relationship with publishers. Publishers receive virtually all their revenues from subscriptions and sales of current issues, and they realize little from their ownership of the backfile. The JSTOR project is generally a royalty-free operation, but it does not offer coverage of the last 3 to 5 years of a journal. And while there are obvious advantages to offering users character-based texts that they can manipulate, only a high-resolution image can preserve the text just as the editors intended, with its illustrations, formulae, maps and charts. Moreover, while OCR technology produces a product that is 99.95% perfect and highly satisfactory for machine-searching, one error in 2000 characters would degrade the reputation for accuracy that journal editors have long striven to gain and protect.

JSTOR can be accessed through the Library website under Electronic Journals, or directly at Experienced users of the Web advise trying such sites at hours other than the late mornings or mid-afternoon when response times of a few seconds that are typical at off-hours can grow into rush-hour delays.

For more information, contact Frank Conaway, Bibliographer for Social Sciencees, at 2-8454 or">