Project MUSE, developed by Johns Hopkins University Press, is a collection of forty-two online journals: forty, published by Johns Hopkins Press, represent English and the humanities (ELH, MLN, American Quarterly, Journal of the History of Ideas, Diacritics, American Journal of Mathematics, Literature and Medicine, World Politics) and are digitalized versions of print journals; Postmodern Culture and theory & event are electronic-only journals. The site was developed to solve problems of access and distribution of intellectual property at a time when libraries were losing funding, faculty salaries frozen, and travel (to large university libraries) difficult if not prohibitive. Libraries pay a single yearly fee to provide the system to its various users.
The site represents a moving library, or perhaps a consortium of libraries. For instance, some universities have a number of specialized libraries: music, engineering, chemistry, etc. Accessing them means walking from place to place, sometimes considerable distances. MUSE was developed to help libraries conserve space, while preserving important resources, and to increase accessibility to scholarly materials. Because the database resembles traditional print sources, it is the most conservative.
This website is notable primarily because it has solved problems of access and distribution. Willis Regier describes seven "olympic leaps in scholarly transmission": (1) instead of a library maintaining one copy of a work that can be read by one person at one time, the work can now be read by an entire campus simultaneously; (2) instead of having to search for a location and hope that a work is not checked out or misshelved, a user can find the full text at the instant it is identified; (3) the work can be read in the context of a large and extensible congregation of journals, including back issues, each as easily accessible as the first; (4) the work is capable of being transformed without disturbing an original copy; pages can be copied without being ripped out; students can make copies without complaining that the photocopier is jammed or out of toner; (5) the work can be electronically searched; (6) there is no worry about misplacing the work or returning it by a due date; and (7) the increase in costs, if actually reflected by a corresponding increase in price, permits libraries to expand their holdings geometrically while increasing costs arithmetically. Therefore, both financial and cultural capital (intellectual value) are increased.
MUSE is also notable because it does so little to alter the current publishing paradigm. It neither challenges notions of authorship or ownership of texts, nor dramatically alters the amount of time it takes for new disciplinary knowledge to be distributed. Its fundamental advantages arise out of the different distribution system. Libraries pay for access, which makes users less likely to subscribe independently to the journals. And reading journal articles within a searchable database makes comparative research much easier for users. Notwithstanding these benefits, MUSE still remains an isolated archive of only journals that are published by Johns Hopkins University Press. It has few connections to other online resources. And it does not invite any form of person-to-person interaction for research or critique. Ultimately, it does little to alter the publisher/consumer relationship.