JSTOR: Not the Only Game in Town

Just about everyone has heard of JSTOR. Even new students hear about how wonderful JSTOR is from faculty and anyone who has used it. But what is JSTOR, and how does it compare to the other library online resources? The answers may surprise you.

Basically, JSTOR is an online database archive of journal titles. JSTOR is not an aggregator database, such as LexisNexis and Business Source Complete, which reformat the information and may or may not include any images originally published. JSTOR’s primary mission is to obtain back runs of journals and digitize them.  How illustrations and pagination appear in print is how it appears in JSTOR. Aggregators, by contrast, are not archiving journal articles. Their job is to take the information in journals and make them available for use.

Aggregator databases sometimes have titles pulled by the publishers, meaning that all the content for that title disappears from the database. Once a title is on JSTOR, it is there in perpetuity, even if the publisher decides to stop the archiving of a title; content cannot be removed from JSTOR. However, JSTOR does allow publishers to decide when to make active titles available. This embargo can be six months, a year or more. For example, the publisher of journal X may decide to embargo their journal on JSTOR for three years.  In such a case, JSTOR would just now be making the 2010 issues of journal X available.

JSTOR can be searched by journal title, article title, author, and keyword, whether from the abstract or the entire document; you can browse an issue in JSTOR. In contrast, aggregators are not set up to allow browsing of issues. Sometimes an article may look like it is coming from an aggregator when it may be coming from JSTOR. As technology advances, databases are being interconnected; searching another database may bring up a JSTOR article.

Not every journal  will be in JSTOR, and most never will be. JSTOR is an excellent repository for back runs of journals to browse, but it is only one small database compared to the plethora of online resources and databases to which the library subscribes. Click the Databases tab on the library home page to see the list of databases (with descriptions) available, or click the Guides tab and pick your subject to see what databases the librarian in your area has picked for the library guide.

JSTOR is only the beginning of your research.

About the Author

MIchael Handis is an Associate Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center and the Information Management Librarian in the Mina Rees Library.