One of the great strengths of local history is that it is one the few subjects where amateurs and professionals can produce work of equal value. Other subject areas are trying to involve more people, like the various citizen science projects, but in local history we already have ordinary people making valuable contributions. Many of the long standing local history and antiquarian societies celebrate this mix by publishing work by amateurs and professionals side by side in their journals. And new projects from universities attempt to draw in non professionals – particularly through the Unofficial History conferences and through teaching Public History. Many of the older generation regret their lack of schooling and opportunities to go to university and use local history to compensate. It is true informal learning where the student decides on the subject, the method, the time they will devote to it. Often local studies librarians are the people guiding these students and teaching them research standards – and how to analyse and present their findings.
But informal learners need access to good quality academic journals to understand how their subjects are developing and see what other research is being done, as well as for book reviews. Yet journals no longer seem to be available in public libraries. They seem to be one of the first areas of stock to feel the axe! Some libraries are providing electronic access through Access to Research, but so far I haven’t found it covers many of the print journals I used to rely on to keep up to date in the subject areas relevant to my town. Journals are usually a reference librarian’s problem but reduced access to journals has an effect on users of local studies libraries.
I’m hoping somebody knows a (free) way to browse academic journals online!