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Paul Nelson notes that the Ramsey County Historical Society’s editorial board has discussed the pluses and minuses of putting the magazine, Ramsey County History, online. In the case of the RCHS journal, there are 43 years of back issues. Should all back issues be put online? Should more current issues not be included so that sales do not suffer? What is the best and most affordable technology? PDF files? What search tools should be used?

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10 Responses to Putting publications online

  1. Jack El-Hai says:

    I hope copyright has come up during the editorial board’s discussions. Does the RCHS own the copyright to all of the magazine articles, or is it prepared to buy licenses for the electronic rights? Without an explicit licensing arrangement from the copyright owners, the RCHS does not have the legal right to reuse content in this way.

    (For more about this from the writer’s perspective, see http://www.asja.org/pubtips/cometerm.php).


  2. Mary Warner says:

    Of course, Jack is right about copyright. You’ll also have to check copyright on the photos if they aren’t in the pubic domain.

    We have found a compromise position in publishing articles from our newsletter on the web. We have decided not to make the entire newsletter available to the public via pdfs because the newsletter is our primary membership benefit. We’d like to create a members-only section on our website at some point, and that’s where we’ll put the pdfs. What we have done, which brings researchers to us, is to publish the main history articles from our newsletter on our website, each on its own page. This meets our mission of educating the public and gives our historical society attention via web searches. For some reason, our articles on swimsuits and the Jefferson Highway get the most hits.

    As for how far back to go, this problem was essentially solved for us. Our newsletter has been published as far back as the 1960s, but we’ve only been using computer technology since the 1990s. Not all of our newsletter files migrated as we upgraded software and computers, so we simply republished the articles that were already in digital format. (Okay, so I did a little retyping of a few articles.) What we have online is from about 1999 forward, with a caveat. We don’t publish articles from the current newsletter until well after our members have received it.

    Sorry, I can’t help with the search tools because I don’t know enough about them. I do know that people talk a great deal about SEO – search engine optimization, which you may want to look into.


  3. Claudia Nicholson says:

    Like putting collections online, putting pubs up online is probably way more complicated than you think it is going to be.

    As for posting the current issue of the publication (or, God forbid, only publishing electronically), all I can say is Ugh, and double Ugh. I absolutely hate electronic publications, especially if I an used to dealing with a hard copy. I rarely read Aviso anymore, since they’ve gone strictly electronic. It’s just not the same thing for me.

    However, the idea of putting back issues online has a certain appeal. Once a journal goes out of print, getting your hands on any given article becomes a bit of a struggle, especially if it is not really recent. But then there’s copyright.

    Oy, I’d just be happy to get the next issue of the newsletter out!



  4. Mary Warner says:

    I have exactly the same problem with Aviso. I don’t read very much of it now that it’s gone solely online. I think that no matter what projects museums take on, whether publications, or exhibits, or gift shop, or whatever, we are going to have to broaden our thinking to encompass all of our audiences. If we do something for our non-digital audiences, we’ll have to ask ourselves what we’re going to do for our digital audiences, and vice versa. It can’t be one or the other any longer because if we favor either digital or non-digital, we’ll be leaving someone out. This is going to take a lot of thinking until we get used to the idea.


  5. Mike Worcester says:

    One idea we have toyed with here is to just publish the index to our quarterly newsletter. We have, best we can tell, a copy of every issue published in the last twenty-seven years. That way if they want a specific copy of an article or photo, they can easily contact us, we provide the copy, and make a little $$ in the process. And let’s face it, we all like to look for $$ where ever we can.

    As for copyright, we found out the hard way that if you do not have the little symbol on your publication, pretty much anyone can reprint what you have w/out your permission.

    Like Claudia, I am just happy when we get ours out to the members–esp. w/out any mistakes.



  6. Mary Warner says:

    Mike – I’m surprised that someone was able to reprint something of yours without permission because you didn’t have the copyright symbol on the work. According to the U.S. Copyright Office’s website (http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-definitions.html#notice), that notice is now optional. People still have to request permission before using your work, whether the symbol appears or not. Obviously, if the person using the work didn’t create it, surely they know that someone else did.

    Btw, I like your idea of an index for your newsletter articles.


  7. Paul Nelson says:

    I appreciate all the comments so far. We have indeed discussed copyright, though the issue gets quite murky for stuff originally published 20, 30, 40 years ago. For myself as a writer I would much rather have my stuff available on line, where people can read it, than hidden behind copyright.

    Some of you touched on the issue that most interests me: Would having back issues of the magazine on line please you as researchers and readers?
    All the old stuff is available, obviously, at libraries, through inter-library loan, or by buying an old issue. But would we not serve our mission better by making our publication (back issues, anyway) easily and instantly available?


  8. Claudia Nicholson says:

    In a word, Paul, yes, I’d love to have back issues of your magazine online. Even though I tell my daughter repeatedly (she’ll be a college freshman in the fall) that online resources are to be used carefully, and not to the exclusion of printed source material, I find myself turning to the web more and more for these kinds of things, and certainly any preliminary research.

    If you can solve all of the really practical problems of doing this, I say go for it!



  9. Kathryn Otto says:

    If you’d like to look at someone that’s done a nice job of putting their back issues online, look at the "Wisconsin Magazine of History" (http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/wmh/). They’ve divided the back issues into "Recent Back Issues" and "Search the Archives." The "Recent Back Issues" do not require an index; it’s just like looking at a hardcopy of the magazine, only online. The very recent issues only have the Table of Contents, but when you get back a little ways you get links to PDF files of the actual articles. Each issue also has a "Buy it now" link.


  10. Cathy Walters says:

    Thankyou Kathryn,you’ve given me hope in finding(family) ,learning & good read I hope.I am thankful for back issues that are free.


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