JSTOR and Apex CoVantage mark 20 years bringing academic research online
Today JSTOR, the global, non-profit digital library of thousands of journals, books, and primary sources, and Apex CoVantage (Apex), the innovative digitization and publishing solutions leader, mark the 20-year anniversary of their relationship. The organizations have pioneered the high-quality conversion of academic publications from analog to digital form, breathing new life into millions of pages of scholarly research dating back to the 1600s.
JSTOR was founded in the mid-1990s, initially as a grant-funded project from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the University of Michigan, to test a hypothesis that libraries could save money and improve access to research by creating a centralized database and preservation service that housed digitized versions of the most common journals sitting on their shelves. Library patrons across the world could access the database, and those that held print copies could move them to lower-cost offsite storage. After a proof of concept with a small set of journals in economics and history, JSTOR sought out expertise in large-scale scanning, metadata creation, and OCR (optical character recognition) to help accelerate its work. In 1998, it entered into a contract with Apex to digitize the complete back runs of four journals to JSTOR’s exacting specifications, among them the venerable PNAS and Science, and shortly thereafter, the Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society.
“When we first started, large-scale conversion was far from what it is today,” said Margaret Gupta, Apex Chief Operating Officer. “Spurred on by a relentless pursuit of excellence, we partnered with JSTOR to regularly re-imagine how this work could be done, regularly pushing the envelope of efficiency, adopting new technologies and innovating new workflows. Our relationship created the dynamic for the many innovations we rely on today. It’s been incredible to witness the strides we’ve made together over the years and how it has influenced other organizations to adopt new methods and technology as well, for the betterment of the online knowledge industry as a whole.”
JSTOR and Apex have worked collaboratively over the past 20 years to develop new approaches, like creating software to improve the rendering of color images embedded in the pages of text documents and software to capture academic citations to support linking among documents. As a result, JSTOR and Apex have converted more than 50 million pages of content across the humanities, social and life sciences and in fifteen languages.
“Our mission is to improve access to knowledge,” said Laura Brown, JSTOR Managing Director, “Mobilizing to do this to build a shared, digital library for learning requires tremendous investment and collaboration with technology companies like Apex and with the broader scholarly community of publishers, editors, librarians, and funders who all play pivotal roles. It’s because of this work that people access content on jstor.org more than 500,000 times every day. Each and every one of these interactions represents an opportunity for a person to learn and be exposed to something new.”
For both JSTOR and Apex, the most rewarding projects they’ve tackled are those that require the development of new solutions. Recently JSTOR engaged Apex to provide insights and conversion services for a Yad Hanadiv-funded project with the University of Haifa and individual scholars to add journals written in Hebrew to the JSTOR library. The project required developing the capability for users to search content written right to left on jstor.org and finding a way to create a search index for material with special diacritical marks known as nikkud. The organizations are building off this expertise and, with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, are now engaged in a project to investigate the practicality of large-scale digitization of Arabic scholarly journals.
When asked what the secret to their lasting relationship has been, people at both organizations replied, “well-earned trust and open, transparent communication, as well as an alignment of organizational cultures.” They also reflected on the impact of having digitized vast stores of knowledge not just for use today, but for the future. “Preserving the history of knowledge for mankind is hugely important and humbling,” said Greg Suprock, Apex Head of Solutions Architecture. “Working with JSTOR, we are saving something for everybody. This work doesn’t just impact one individual person, it impacts the whole world.”