In October of this year, there was an outpouring of rage on Twitter (where else) when the Renaissance Society of America announced that it would no longer be able to offer access to EEBO to members because ProQuest had decided to cancel their contract. According to the official statement from the RSA the cancellation was because “members make such heavy use of the subscription, [it] is reducing ProQuest’s potential revenue from library-based subscriptions.”
The furore didn’t last long because Proquest backed down and renewed the contract, but it brought a long standing concern that many scholars have about access to primary sources to the top of the agenda for a brief period. With a lot of digital primary sources in the hands of for-profit companies, and subscription costs that prohibit all but the largest research universities from providing access, how can we ensure equality of access to all researchers?
Are there ways that scholarly societies, major research libraries, and academic users could work together to overcome what represents a significant barrier to access to vital resources for many scholars? Projects like the Text Creation Partnership, and 18thConnect have gone a long way toward making certain aspects of these resources broadly available, and large scale (at least partly open) efforts like HathiTrust and individual efforts at major research libraries provide others with necessary resources, but is there more that can be done? How do we identify priorities for digitization? What other help can associations and others provide researchers to find and obtain what they need?