“That’s called research” — issues with access to information

For my dissertation, I have to collect the entire corpus of four separate academic journals.  One of those journals goes back to 1939, and it has 8 issues per volume. The trusty calculator app on my iPhone tells me that’s almost 600 issues, and with somewhere around 20 articles per issue (although, thankfully, there have been fewer articles in recent years as the journal became more selective), that’s a whole lot of text.

And that’s just one of the journals. There are still 3 others that I have to collect, some of them with even more articles per issue than the previously mentioned one.

But the amount of text isn’t what is currently stressing me out. I proposed this topic, and I’m excited to start going through it to collect my data. (Ok, so maybe I’m a bit daunted by the vast quantity of information, but I think that’s how it’s supposed to be, so I’m trying not to focus on that part too much.) My current stressor is the method of collecting these texts.

I’m fortunate to be able to access the entirety of two full journals (and some of the third and fourth) electronically through JSTOR. I’m also fortunate to know someone well-versed in Zotero and the art of downloading full issues from the database. With so much text to procure, downloading full issues (rather than downloading article by article) saves me literally hours and hours of time. This has made the collection of my texts much more efficient, and it allows me to get to the real work of sorting and coding my data.

After getting Zotero set up and introducing it to its new best friend, Dropbox, I basked in the glow of doing research in the tech-savvy 21st century. The basking lasted for about a half hour.

Then – after I had downloaded about 7 issues (not even one full volume) – a nasty little message popped up telling me that I had downloaded too much information from JSTOR, and my IP address was being suspended for overuse.

I’m sorry, what???

So, because I was using the database quickly and efficiently for its raison d’être – the collection of and access to texts – I was flagged.

I felt like a bad dog. I felt like I was being punished for trying to do an archival, historical research project. I felt defeated before I even began. I felt like throwing in the towel.

But I persisted. Being a researcher, I like to have as much information as I can about a topic, so I thought I’d look up the terms and conditions to see if they had a set limit to the amount that I could download in one sitting. But, because I was flagged in the system, I wasn’t even able to look those up.

So I didn’t know I wasn’t playing by the rules, and once I found out I was a rule breaker, I couldn’t even find out what the rules were. The gates were closed.

But I get it. I do. JSTOR wants to protect JSTOR and all the journals it compiles. I am fortunate to have free access to all this amazing information. And I can see how someone might try to take advantage of that access. Or, maybe I shouldn’t even call it taking advantage. There was a case a little while back where Aaron Swartz was indicted for “stealing” too many academic articles from JSTOR. Now, granted, the amount of data he downloaded was absurdly large. And, from what I’ve read, he was an activist trying to make a point about access to and circulation of information. Without getting too much into the many debates regarding hackers and ethics (ok, one small point: information wants to be free!), I will say that it is frustrating to be a researcher who loses access and ability to do the research she set out to do because of one or two extreme examples.

Last week, I attended a conference and I brought up my problem of access to a colleague. Her exasperation and surprised matched my own, prompting me to contact JSTOR to tell them, “that’s called research.”

Right now, my only recourse is to sloooowly and steadily download bits and pieces of the data I need and hope I don’t get flagged too many times. Anybody else have any issues with this sort of thing? Any suggestions about how to handle it? Venting to other people has been helpful, but that doesn’t really get me any further along the road to finishing the dissertation.



Things that have happened in the past two weeks

1. As previously mentioned, I passed my prospectus defense. Yay!

2. I got a wisdom tooth pulled. Not so much yay.

3. I messed up my neck, which left me incapacitated for a few days and in need of a trip to a chiropractor. Definitely not yay.

4. I came down with some sort of stomach bug that left me incapacitated for the part of spring break that I didn’t spend tending to my messed up neck. The least yay of them all.

5. I learned – again – that the universe sometimes claims takes its dues, and I should just let it have what it wants. And that’s ok. Sometimes I just need to be forced to stop for a few days, even if I don’t like it. Back to yay again (after a time).

6. I started watching Community. Have you guys seen that show? It’s pretty great! Yay yay yay!

Grad school is funny business

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what a strange, funny business I’m in.

I took my preliminary exams a few months ago. For the exams, I had to write and orally defended my answers to my exam questions. During the exams, I also write a “pre-prospectus” which is basically the early beginnings of a prospectus but not quite the full thing.

Even though I passed my exams, I wouldn’t say that the experience went well.

The causes for this were many, and I’ll avoid going into too much detail about it here because I don’t want to spend any more time dwelling on it. But the resulting outcome was a nasty case of impostor syndrome. I spent the past few months rewriting and tweaking my prospectus for my dissertation and worrying about going through the same turmoil that my exams put me through.

The week before spring break, I had my prospectus defense meeting, and it went really well. Much, much better than the exams. No big deal, in fact. I finally felt like a junior colleague, and I was proud to talk about my work.

And I just keep thinking about what a funny thing it is to walk into a room and ask a bunch of smart people to allow you research and write a really long paper. To tackle this huge, gigantic, seemingly insurmountable task. Please please let me do this huge, sort of crazy thing.

When we get into complaining jags, my significant other often reminds to remind myself that I want to be here. That I chose to be here. That the me of 5 years ago dreamed of this moment. That makes me appreciate it more, but it still seems sort of crazy to me. It’s a funny thing that when you’re really lucky, sometimes you have to remind yourself how lucky you are.