One vision of the internet was that it would be an equalizer: it would give more people a chance to speak/write and it would give more people a chance to listen/read. Much of that promise has held: certainly no one can doubt the effectiveness of various social media platforms to give more people a chance to connect with, well, more people and, perhaps more significantly, the widening, and deepening, of access to knowledge achieved by Wikipedia, arXiv, PLoS, the DPLA, among many others — and this does not begin to consider the thousands upon thousands of scholars and scientists making their work available via their own pages and sites somewhere on the web.
Having put all that first, I also want to suggest that we still have a ways to go, and that there are still plenty of divides that remain largely invisible to the haves and are too implacable for the havenots. Almost all of it has to do with resource constraints, but what is fascinating, and also so frustrating, is the multiple ways that these constraints reveal themselves. In particular, not only do resource constraints mean you have access to fewer materials, but also even the way you get to materials is more convoluted, more confusing. This often means that to get to those resources you have to have either a fairly high level of understanding of how to navigate these kinds of labyrinths or you need to have the persistence of Sisyphus.
I am going to use as an example my own experience, just this morning, of trying to access and read a citation that I wrote down as follows:
Haase, Donald. 1993. Yours, Mine, or Ours? Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and the Ownership of Fairy Tales. Merveilles et Contes 7/2: 383-402.
The place to begin, obviously, is with my library’s search interface:
I click search, and I get this:
Eh? Why do you start with keywords? Never mind. I use the dropdown menu to the left of the search box to select Title:
Wow. Now I get some results … almost 50,000, none of which are what I want. But if I click on Advanced Search below the search window, I can choose a dropdown menu that lets me specify that Merveilles et Contes is a periodical/journal:
Good news! We now have the journal. And it looks like I have a couple of options. Since I know that interlibrary loan is a slow, and expensive for us, option, I clicked on Search iLink Catalog:
These are the kinds of results I was used to before the library changed to its current format, which I assume was meant to be more user-friendly, but in distancing users from the actual catalog feels less so (to me). One dimension of that is that there is now another login option in the top right corner of the page:
But there is no explanation of why I might want to log into the e-Library OPAC: what would it get me?
One link in the Item Details tells me that the journal is available through something called a Literary Reference Center. When I click on that link, a new window opens, and it appears to be nothing more than an information window, an entry in a database:
I pull it down to make it bigger, and it still looks like nothing more than an entry in a database. Then I notice some fringe on the righthand side of the window and I make the view wider:
This looks more promising. Linked timelines almost always promise some goodness, and, sure enough, a click on the year 2015 gives me some issues of the journal and clicking on them takes me back into, what is beginning to feel like the outer circle of hell, the LOUIS interface:
But now you remember that I’m not interested in any of the dates presented to me so far: not 1998 until the present nor certainly 2006 to the present. I am looking for something from 1993. Can I not get access to that?
If I return to the Item Details page, which is now one of several tabs and windows that this search process has created for me, lucky bastard that I am, I can now click on the second option Available in Project Muse Standard Collection — don’t forget that access comes in classes, like airline seating — and I get a pop-up window (another one!) with the familiar Muse interface:
And it looks like in THIS interface, I have access to articles from 2001 to 2015. This is my third date range and, honestly, I’ve lost count of where I am in terms of windows, UIs, and tabs.
So it looks like I’m out of luck. No access for me.
But what the heck, I think, I’ll just google this. I could get lucky and some nice person, flirting with access restrictions has thrown up a PDF in hopes of helping someone like me:
Wait … what?! This article is in JSTOR? Why didn’t my library tell me that? Why do I have to go to Google to find that out?
And I can read it online? For free? As a last resort, I’ll accept that. I don’t particularly enjoy the limitations of the Google Books experience, especially since the images of the pages are hard on my eyes and I can’t copy and paste quotations.
We do have access to JSTOR through my university library, so following the convoluted login process — and no one here wants to go through all the windows and tabs above again, do you? — I try to search my way back to the page on JSTOR:
How can that be?
Oh, on the advanced search, I missed this:
I un-check that — maybe some foreboding music here — and I get the article again:
Only it has the icon I’ve come to hate:
That damned gray circled X that says you can’t get there from here. (This would be a good moment to play the REM song.)
What that means is that I don’t have download privileges:
Gray is the new red, isn’t it? Where once a sign would be posted telling you stop!, or Access Interdit, or just Verboten, the new sign is access privileges, like when you really have to go on an airplane the miserably few bathrooms in the back of the place are full and you think, what the heck, I’ll be quick and you try to dash up through the first class seats to use the bathroom but the flight attendant catches you and says “I’m sorry, sir, but this bathroom is reserved for first-class passengers only.”
In the end, I logged onto JSTOR, using a personal account I set up, so I could place the article on my three-spot bookshelf. I tried at one point to log into JSTOR, again, through my university and this is what I got:
Bad file number indeed. The online access isn’t terrible. It’s do-able, and so the goal of wider access has been achieved to some extent, but from my point of view, we are not there yet.