When I talk to publishers about Project MUSE’s work with INASP (to provide affordable access to MUSE for libraries in developing countries) the responses almost always fall into one of two categories. The first agrees that it’s really important to support developing country researchers, while the second is worries that poor management of content will result in bootleg versions circulating on the black market. A close examination of MUSE usage data across four years suggests that neither of these scenarios is accurate; institutions working with INASP are no different from the other institutions using MUSE.
Project MUSE has worked with INASP since 2009. MUSE is a database of humanities and social science (HSS) content with customers in 77 countries. MUSE has sold e-journal collections since 1995, and since 2012 we also sell e-book collections. For 2013 Project MUSE has 12 countries subscribing to journal collections via INASP, and 4 countries that purchased book collections, making a total of 647 institutions that have access to MUSE content. Project MUSE is a non-profit mission-driven organization, a division of the Johns Hopkins University Press.
To be quite honest the MUSE content doesn’t have a lot of street value and I’m not sure anybody could get rich selling bootlegged back issues of, for example, James Joyce Quarterly. However we are very serious about protecting the intellectual property of our publishers, authors, and editors. Abuse monitoring is in place for all MUSE customers. When suspected abuse is identified we first send a warning to the librarian, and then if the abuse continues we will block the offending IPs until the library assures us appropriate measures have been taken to halt the abuse. The rate of incidents of abuse from INASP countries is the same as the rate from other subscriber types or regions. In fact, when we have reported suspected abuse to our INASP contacts the response, in general, has been more conscientious and more thorough than from other customer groups.
Are we contributing to development?
Is access to Project MUSE helping poor people in developing countries? It’s hard to know. But institutions registering via INASP are heavy consumers of the MUSE content on democracy, capacity building, human rights, environmental policies, women’s rights, etc., and that is the most heavily used content in MUSE across the board. Article usage shows that these customers are reading a mix of topical and theoretical content, the same as our other customers do. Users in a given country or community consume a lot of articles that are specific to their own country or community. Africans use a lot of our African Studies content, Asians use our Asian Studies content, and Latin Americans use our Latin American Studies content. They read about authors, actors, musicians, politicians and philosophers that come from their own country or community. This is to be expected.
What else do we observe in usage?
I considered a few other questions in my examination of the usage data: What happens to cost per hit over time? Is there more usage from countries where English is the language of instruction as compared to countries where English is a foreign language? Do the relatively higher GDP countries have higher usage than those with relatively lower GDP? I found that cost per hit and total usage is roughly the same whether English is the language of instruction or not. I also found no usage pattern related to whether a country has a relatively higher or lower GDP. Again, the institutions registered via INASP are the same as the rest of the MUSE customer groups. Across all MUSE customers the cost per hit generally goes down over time.
Total MUSE usage for an institution increases the longer the institution subscribes to the product. Total usage also depends on the number of other databases with similar content available at a specific institution. As a library adds more e-content in a specific subject area the usage of each product is likely to flatten. When article usage clusters around a specific topic (e.g. renaissance literature, deforestation) we can assume that a particularly active scholar is using the database for their own work, or that a librarian or professor has told a group of students to use MUSE for their term paper research. This is the same for all MUSE customers.
Not so different after all
In conclusion, I expected that my research would show that the INASP users are different, that their database behaviors indicate some commonality related to their “poor country” status, but that is not the case. On the contrary it is reassuring to see that scholars are scholars wherever you find them.