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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University December 12, 2005 | Vol. 35 No. 14
Project Muse: An Internet Success Story

As director of Project Muse, Aileen McHugh oversees a service that provides roughly 10.5 million people with access to 331 scholarly journals via the Web.

JHU Press and MSEL celebrate journal database's decade of growth

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

In 1995, the World Wide Web grew up, and in a big way. America Online began to offer Internet service, Netscape went public with its stock, the University of California became the first major college to accept online admission applications, and Vice President Al Gore coined the term "the information superhighway."

In Baltimore, another Internet milestone occurred, albeit slightly off the national radar. Forty-two journals published by the Johns Hopkins University Press were put online. Project Muse began, and a revolution was under way.

On Tuesday, Dec. 13, the JHU Press and the Milton S. Eisenhower Library will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the highly successful online journals publishing initiative with a symposium, "Project Muse: Today and Tomorrow," from 1 to 4:30 p.m. in Hodson Hall on the Homewood campus. The symposium will be followed that evening by an invitation-only reception and lecture featuring George P. Landow, author of Hypertext 3.0, at 7 p.m. in the George Peabody Library in Mt. Vernon.

Muse officially began in 1993 as a pioneering joint project of the Press and the MSE Library. In 1995, grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities allowed Muse — an online database of scholarly journals available through subscription — to go live. It was the first project in scholarly publishing to put established, peer-reviewed humanities and social sciences journals online.

The goal was to disseminate the journals to a wider audience and better serve librarians and scholars by providing affordable and user-friendly access to the scholarship.

Kathleen Keane, director of the JHU Press since 2004, said that many people shared in the vision that launched the groundbreaking project. In particular, she pointed to the leadership efforts of Scott Bennett and Jim Neal, former MSEL directors; Jack Goellner, Willis Regier and Jim Jordan, former JHU Press directors; and Marie Hansen, JHU Press' journals manager and Project Muse's founding director. "Thanks, too, go to the many staff who worked creatively, collaboratively and very hard to make Project Muse a reality," Keane said. "Project Muse was a terrific idea, and it was executed well."

In just three years, Project Muse was able to break even. In 2000, 10 other academic publishers joined the service, raising the number of journals from 42 to 113. Additional university press and scholarly society publishers have joined in each subsequent year.

Key to Muse's success, Keane said, is its partnership with the MSEL, which earned it a reputation as a library-friendly product with a superb interface and search engine.

Today, Project Muse, with a staff of 24, offers 331 journal titles from nearly 70 scholarly publishers, covering the fields of literature and criticism, history, political science, the visual and performing arts, and many others. Its collection of periodicals includes Africa Today, World Politics, Brookings Papers on Economic Activities, ELH English Literary History, Language, International Security and the Shakespeare Quarterly, to name a few.

Muse has publishers from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Singapore and Japan. The Edinburgh University Press will join Muse in 2006, and negotiations are under way with other international publishers, said Aileen McHugh, director of Project Muse and electronic publishing for the JHU Press.

Roughly 10.5 million people now have direct access to the service, licensed to more than 1,200 libraries worldwide, with nearly a third of the subscribers overseas and in Canada.

Currently, Project MUSE subscriptions are available only to institutions, not on an individual basis. Institutions can choose from six collections, priced by their size: Basic Undergraduate, Basic Research, Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, Standard (full) Collection and the new Premium Collection, which includes all journals.

"Going forward, we see the continued increased use of Muse internationally," McHugh said. "We want to keep growing because we feel we offer an important service. But it has to be smart growth. We need to be mindful of library budgets, select journals that our customers want and continue to offer libraries pricing and collection options that meet their needs."

Muse features full text and images, is fully indexed by professional librarians and offers basic and advanced searching. Users can print articles in printer-friendly format and can receive e-mail alerts when a new issue of a favorite journal goes online.

Project Muse's current annual revenue is approximately $9 million, with a lion's share of the profits returned to the publishers who own the participating journals. Keane said that Muse has also produced a modest surplus every year since 1999.

"As a result, Project Muse has been generating its own working capital. This would be an excellent financial result for any business started in 1995, and it's a rare achievement in the world of academic library and university press ventures," she said.

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