BASP goes open access … or something

I was filled with glee when I saw Chuck Jones’ post on Blegen Library News to the effect that the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists is now “online open access.”

I eagerly clicked through to the BASP holdings (actually served up by the University of Michigan Digital Library Production Service) . I found that, yes, all but the two most recent issues are available as page images (not online fulltext, but raw text can be downloaded from the “bookbag”).

I salute the appearance of this resource; however, I’m troubled by the absence of a license statement. What am I allowed to do with these documents? Can I copy them to give to students? Can I put them into my institution’s digital repository?

The site-wide “text access policy” is somewhat less than enlightening:

Access policy:

Coming soon

The help page for the “holdings display” presents a non-BASP example in which there is a full statement of “availability.” No such statements accompany the BASP articles I put in my bookbag.

Dear editors of BASP: thanks for making this resource available online. Please clarify the rights and licensing for us, and make this information part of the metadata records associated with the online version.

Dear UMDL and UMich Scholarly Publishing Office Management: thanks for this valuable suite of services and tools. Is licensing and availability left solely to the discretion of contributors with no business rules to prevent surfacing of content that lacks an availability statement? If so, it would be very helpful to see an explanation of this policy replacing the “coming soon” notice pointed out above, or — better yet — incorporated in some basic but ubiquitous form throughout the interface.

It is actually hard to find online a good primer on why rights and licenses are important things to address when placing content online. For the moment, I’ll just cite the following …

The NISO Framework Advisory Group’s A Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections (2nd edition, 2004) is endorsed by the Digital Library Federation (of which the University of Michigan is a member). The framework clearly states (emphasis mine):

Collections principle 5: A good collection respects intellectual property rights. Collection managers should maintain a consistent record of rightsholders and permissions granted for all applicable materials.

Intellectual property law must be considered from several points of view: what rights the owners of the original source materials retain in their materials, what rights or permissions the collection developers have to digitize content and make it available, what rights collection owners have in their digital content, and what rights or permissions the users of the digital collection have to make subsequent use of the materials.

About Tom Elliott

Associate Director for Digital Programs and Senior Research Scholar, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University
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6 Responses to BASP goes open access … or something

  1. Tom Elliott says:

    Gregg Schwendner pointed out, via email, that the display for individual issues does include an availability statement: “Availability: Permission must be received for any subsequent distribution in print or electronically. Please contact for more information.” See, for example:;idno=0599796.0025.001

  2. Maria Bonn says:

    Thanks for your interest in BASP. As you mention in your comment, it’s been our policy to include the availability statement at the issue level rather than the article level. It’s a good point that if you pull an article out of that context you won’t have the statement. We should consider making it more ubiquitous. It’s interesting to me that we have more than a dozen free journals online and no one has mentioned this before. I wonder whether this means users give up, don’t care or manage to ferret it out?

    For what it’s worth, the availabilty statement on BASP is our default and most restrictive statement. We prefer more open statements of availability but we have not yet had a chance to work through all the conditions with the BASP board. We are hoping to attach Creative Commons licenses to all our content in the near future — but that involves a fair amount of education of editors and authors and we do not want to delay releasing our journals. We’ve found, working with societies, that making such polccy decisions can be quite protracted, perhaps because of the culture of the societies but more often because of the infrequent meeting schedule of the governing bodies who decide such matters.

    One final note about the format of the online edition. The decision to use page images is a conversion decision (for the most part we were working with paper originals — there were electronic source files only for the past few years) that is mostly based on economics. Scanning is much cheaper than transcription and encoding, particularly in the case of BASP where we would have had to give particular attention to encoding non-Roman characters. I’m not sure it would have been possible to afford to put BASP online for free if we created electronic text. The possibilty always exists, of course, of upgrading the OCR through manaul review and correction, if funding can be located or we can locate willing volunteers (know any??).

    The text access policy you mention above is a residual of our all to generic help pages. We try scrubbing it out, we try soaking it out, but back it comes. Apologies for that.

    Maria Bonn, Director, Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan Library

  3. Just wanted to let everyone know that the comments about only being able to get full text through the bookbag feature led me to realize a bug in this publication. It has now been fixed, so you can now access the text view from the navigation bar of the pageturner.

  4. Tom Elliott says:

    Thanks for the update Kevin!

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