Publication Date

October 1, 1995

The Mellon Foundation recently announced significant progress in its project to bitmap back issues of 10 journals in history and economics. These electronic images will be made available on line, on a royalty free basis and in perpetuity, at a limited number of sites. The journals involved include the American Historical Review, the Journal of American History, the Journal of Modern History, Speculum, and the William and Mary Quarterly in history, and the American Economic Review, Econometrica, the Journal of Political Economy, the Quarterly Journal of Economics, and the Review of Economics and Statistics in economics.

After acquiring copyright permissions for this electronic use, the foundation made two grants to the University of Michigan to oversee the process of creating the electronic database of back issues, and to produce an integrated prototype that would be highly user friendly. The JSTOR project complements the work already underway at Michigan on Project TULIP (electronic scientific publishing sponsored by Elsevier) and, more generally, on digital libraries (supported in large part by the National Science Foundation), so that many of the problems involved in making journal literature available on line have already been encountered and dealt with by the Michigan team.

The basic electronic file is to be produced by using a scanning technique that makes bitmapped images that capture the full features of each page. These electronic "pictures" allow the user to see on a screen a precise replica of the hard-copy page of the journal, including fonts, formats, equations, figures, graphs, and illustrations, as well as text. Bitmapping, however, also has two disadvantages. Since the bitmapped images are stored as a series of dots, rather than as text, they cannot be searched for key words or names; also, they require far more computer storage space than does text alone.

To address these issues, Mellon decided to add two other features to the electronic database: (1) a searchable index which allows users to obtain bibliographic references to all articles in the database; and (2) an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) capacity that will enable users to search the actual text pages of journals in the electronic file. Additional features are now being considered.

The work of bitmapping, OCR-scanning, and software development is proceeding well, and Mellon hopes to have a pilot version, or at least significant parts of it, up and running at five test sites this year: the Bryn Mawr-Haverford-Swarthmore library network, Denison University, Williams College, the University of Michigan and (in a slightly different mode) Harvard University. They eagerly await indications of how JSTOR is accepted by actual users. "Success" will be determined by both the application of technical standards and the response of users.

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