Voxcorvegis, who is a physicist, asks the following question:
Universities around the world are cutting back on their services in the name of “austerity.” One such budget frequently being slashed is the one for scholarly journal subscriptions. This, sadly, is every bit as true in the sciences as it is the Humanities, but what I can’t understand is why it is such a huge problem. You see, as a physicist, I cannot recall the last time I have actually had cause to read a scholarly journal for the sake of catching-up on cutting-edge research. This is because I read all of my papers on the ArXiv, a website offered by the Cornell University Library upon which physicists (as well as mathematicians, statisticians, quantitative biologists, financial economists and computer scientists) from around the world post the drafts of their papers before publishing them in journals.
We don’t have anything of the kind in my field, although it would be great if we did. I feel like many of the older people in the Humanities are very reluctant to embrace technology. Some even need to be convinced that if a highly reputable journal moves to an online version from a print-only version, this doesn’t mean that the journal has lost in quality.
At the same time, the creation of such a database will not serve the issue of us needing subscriptions to journals. In Humanities, we are not looking for the most recent, cutting-edge research. The most recent sources are not necessarily superior to the ones published 20, 30, 40 years ago. If I don’t have access to articles from the 70s and the 80s, I’m in deep trouble in terms of my research. I need access to everything that has ever been published on a subject I’m researching.
Simply put, we are not a field where linear progress occurs. Rather, we move in a variety of directions at any given time. When I offer new insights into a genre, for example, those insights don’t necessarily cancel out the ones made by a scholar of literature who worked in the 1940s.