JSTOR Makes Good Research Accessible

  • Education
  • 1992

For millions of college students across the world, the digital database of academic journal articles known as JSTOR (for “Journal STORage”) is a central part of their educational experience. As pervasive as it has become in college research and coursework, however, JSTOR is a relatively recent creation, the offspring of a collaboration between a philanthropic foundation and a leading public university. Devised by William Bowen, then president of the Andrew Mellon Foundation and former president of Princeton University, the impetus for JSTOR was the seemingly endless expense of buying and shelving in college libraries hundreds of specialized journals. After attending a college board of trustees meeting in which he was presented with a $5 million pricetag for new facilities to store back-issues of scholarly journals, Bowen became convinced that there had to be a better way to provide access to the materials academic libraries need.

The Mellon Foundation enlisted the University of Michigan, where a smaller project had begun to enable universities to access scientific journals via an electronic database. The foundation’s funding began with a $700,000 grant to develop the requisite software, followed by an additional $1.5 million for production. Over the five-year launch period, the Mellon Foundation provided $5.2 million for the project.

The foundation decided early on that JSTOR needed to be an independent organization, and it was launched as such in 1995. Two years later, after Bowen had negotiated licensing rights with an initial batch of journal publishers, and the team at Michigan had digitally archived the back issues, JSTOR went public. Almost immediately the database saved educational institutions hundreds of millions of dollars in library and storage costs. JSTOR has also made it possible for students in developing countries to have access to a wealth of knowledge that hitherto would have been beyond their financial reach. Recently, the organization began working with academic publishers on way to provide libraries with cheaper and wider access to books as well.

  • Roger Schonfeld, JSTOR: A History (Princeton University Press, 2003)