Much of the world’s knowledge is contained in JSTOR, a vast digital academic library. But most of that content is behind a subscription wall. And if you’re not looking for something specific -- or even if you are -- attempting to take in all that knowledge can be an overwhelming experience.
Wanting to make JSTOR's content a little more digestible and to engage a different kind of audience, the library today is officially launching its new online magazine, JSTOR Daily. The slick-looking home page already features some 100 blog posts and original articles, most of which draw on and link to more expansive content already on JSTOR. Topics vary widely, from a note on the enduring relevance of Herman Melville, for example, to the economic history of tipping. The magazine intends to publish a several blog posts daily, plus at least one longer-form piece each Wednesday.
This is just one of several recent efforts by JSTOR to expand its audience and drive more traffic to its archives. Last year, for example, JSTOR officially launched its Register & Read program, which lets anyone read (but not download) up to three articles from hundreds of publishers every two weeks for free, even without a subscription. (Bonus: the links to JSTOR content included in all Daily articles will be unlocked and freely available to the public indefinitely.)
Ithaka, JSTOR’s parent nonprofit, began building JSTOR Daily about six months ago. The magazine’s editor, Catherine Halley, began recruiting journalists and academics to write original pieces related to their research and other academic interests, as well as world events. The prose is intelligent but accessible – no academese here – with the occasional nod to pop culture (a piece on the increasingly urban habitat of coyotes, for example, is called “Keeping Up With the Carnivores”).
Halley, who was formerly the digital director for the Poetry Foundation, said the JSTOR Daily is about “great stories that lead people to the library and take them deeper into the scholarship.” In that sense, she said, it builds on JSTOR’s mission to “serve the higher education community and expand access to scholarship.”
The editor said JSTOR Daily has been quietly active for several weeks, during which she has collected data about its readers. Just half are from the U.S., with additional engaged readers from Northern Europe (there’s apparently an enthusiastic Icelandic contingent) to Africa. Halley said feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive from within and outside the academy, and that many professors have expressed interest in sharing their research interests with a wider audience through the site.
Christopher Schmidt, an associate professor of English at LaGuardia Community College of the City University of New York, is a regular contributor. He said he wanted to get involved with JSTOR Daily after publishing an academic book this summer, with the feeling that he wanted to “come up for air.”
“The quicker pace of blogging appealed to me,” he said. “That said, I didn’t want to sacrifice the intellectual rigor and intense research that make academic writing valuable. JSTOR Daily seemed like a good venue where I could combine the virtues of both academic and journalistic approaches.”
Schmidt said he decides what to write about by responding to “timely cultural news,” such as the recent announcement of this year's MacArthur Fellows. While site blog posts can be short, Schmidt said the JSTOR Daily format also allows for “deeper consideration” of material than is possible in other popular formats, such as newspaper articles.
Megan Kate Nelson, an historian who has written about the history of navigation, among other topics, for JSTOR Daily, said she appreciates being able to draw on its digital library in particular.
“Finding and linking to the JSTOR articles that illuminate the texts or time periods I am writing about has allowed me to think about both history and textual production in more expansive ways,” she said via email.
Halley agreed that JSTOR Daily's emphasis on JSTOR's archives was one of its biggest assets.
“Humankind’s best thinking is taking place at universities and scholars are helping develop this collective wisdom, and that’s what’s important about it,” she said. “Finding a way to take those thoughts and make them accessible to the public makes us all smarter.”