Years ago if a student wanted to consult academic journals for researching a project or term paper, their only recourse was to go down to the local library and ask to be let into the journal room. If the library was significant in size, it may even have contained an archived journal room, where the student was able to consult a large amount of journals, past and present. As written information and academia became more and more vast, the library had to take steps to purge its records, sometime at the sacrifice of good information that others could use, or that librarians and scholars would cherish. In 1995, however, the president of Princeton College, William G. Bowen, founded a company called JSTOR (Journal Storage). JSTOR provided digitalized copies of academic journals, economic and history journals at the outset.
The function of JSTOR and other online journal databases is to allow access to universities, libraries, and individuals to archived scholarly journals and abstracts. By digitalizing journals, the libraries and universities could clear out their archive lounges to make more room for newer journals. The many journal databases now accessible on the Internet cater to many different sources. Some, such as JSTOR, are licensed only to libraries, universities, and publishers. These licensees, however, are permitted to offer access to their members or students. Some such as arXiv (pronounced like archive), are free to all users, allowing unlimited access to scholars and students. Academic Search, a database of abstracts and full text articles including those on social science, zoology, law, and education, requires users to pay a subscription fee for their service.
Most of the more comprehensive online journal databases are subscription-based, and subscriptions are often only offered to organizations and groups such as libraries, colleges, and universities. Fortunately, many of these entities offer access through publicly accessible terminals, and most educational institutions offer access to their students at no charge.
The Differences between an Academic Journal and Other Online Material
There are many, many sources of information on the Internet. Not all are created equal. Granted, all have their specific purposes, some to inform, entertain, teach, and provide relaxation. So what IS an academic journal? First, we’ll discuss other forms of Internet offerings. The name “periodical” describes all written material published on a regular basis, whether weekly, quarterly, or monthly. Periodicals are broken down into such material as magazines, trade magazines, professional magazines, and journals. Magazines are primarily written and published for entertainment purposes. There are informative articles, yes, but also gossip and fashion and lots and lots of advertisements. Professional magazines are a step up in that they offer information on a specific profession, more specialized, and certainly more educational than the run-of-the-mill magazine. Trade magazines focus on a particular trade such as construction, stamp-collecting, or vacationing. Finally, academic journals focus on very specialized information, usually with few pictures, and by educated men and women. Members of their peer group for accuracy will review most academic journals before ever allowing them to be published. Most academic journals will focus on a single subject. Many will contain results of lab experiments, data analysis, charts, and graphs. These journals are most often peer-reviewed, and represent empirical research, or well-defined theory. Online academic journal databases compile journals with this kind of material to be collected and utilized by students, researchers, and others with an interest in virtually any scholarly field.
Advantages of Using Academic Journal Databases
Online journal databases did for the Internet what encyclopedias did for the libraries. It offers to the scholar a plethora of information on whatever subject they wish to research. Unlike encyclopedias, however, the databases for these journals are unfathomable. The first advantage of collecting data online rather than in a library is the immediate access. As long as there is a computer with Internet access, the information available is immense. The ease of searching is also a benefit. When searching journals in hardcopy, and not seeking a specific article, a scholar must choose subject matter, specific journals, and specific time periods in the hopes of discovering useful information. Because most online databases strive to make as much material as possible available in full-text form, each article in each journal is searchable. This can drastically shorten academic searches, and result in a vastly more focused research effort.
Libraries and universities also reap the benefits of online journal databases. It costs much less to subscribe to a service offering many different journals than to archive and maintain paper copies of all. Libraries may subscribe to paper copies of several popular academic journals, but these then can be discarded past a certain date, and the journal can then be accessed online. Many online journals are only available when a newer edition is published. This keeps hard copy publishing a viable market.
Further, the materials accessed through online databases may often me downloadable on a fair-use basis, and accessed anywhere with the use of notebook computers, tablets, or smartphones. This allows material from these sources to be used and studies in locations where internet connectivity is unavailable, and transportation of hard copy academic journals is not viable.