I’d promised some librarians that I would write up a comparison between PhilPapers (PP) and the Philosopher’s Index (PI), because choosing between the two of them might be a budgetary necessity for librarians who wanted to subscribe to PhilPapers under the new terms. This has been delayed somewhat because I knew PhilPapers was planning to announce some important changes, and until then a comparison would be premature. The changes are on the website now, so I feel comfortable writing. The big news is that PhilPapers will be merging with the Philosophy Research Index (PRI). This will still be a comparison, but the incorporation of the the PRI into PP is something of a game changer. But first, some comparisons.
If we’re going by sheer number of entries, PP is ahead. As of July 21, there were 1,104,558 entries from 1,032 journals. According to the Philosopher’s Index website, PI “has a total of over 540,000 journal article and book citations from over 1600 journals collected from 139 countries in 37 languages.” This is qualified somewhat in that only about half of the PP entries are classified according to the categories of its philosophy bibliography. That makes the number of controlled indexed entries about the same. However, PP is, according to David Bourget, “categorizing hundreds, sometimes thousands a day,” and will soon be improving the categorization process. Thus, in the not too distant future, most if not all of PP’s entries will be categorized, making them even more accessible than they are now. In addition, about 700,000 of the entries have categories or associated keywords, and I’ve been told by PP that the most prominent method for accessing entries is search, not browsing via the bibliography. So most of the entries are available to search. In addition, PRI is larger than both PP and PI, with more than 1.3 million bibliographic records. It also covers 800 journals in 30 languages. Once PP incorporates PRI, PP will definitely be by far the largest philosophy literature index. The coverage will also go back to the beginnings of many library journals, instead of just back to 1940 as with PI, and the addition of more foreign language coverage will broaden the scope considerably.
The PP/PRI merger also means that PP will incorporate the Philosopher’s Index Thesaurus. For those unfamiliar with the history of PI and the Philosophy Documentation Center (PDC), a little background might be worthwhile. PDC and PI were both founded in the 1960s at Bowling Green State University, and until 1995 PDC published PI. In 1995 the editor of PI left BGSU and took PI with him. PI is now published by the Philosopher’s Information Center. However, the PDC still owns the Philosopher’s Index Thesaurus, which is the thesaurus PI still uses, and which PRI has been using to build up its own index. The thesaurus is available in print from the PDC, which explains why it cannot be accessed from within PI, comparable to thesauri from other indexes. Thus, when PP incorporates PRI, PP will have both its robust and developing bibliography of philosophy and the thesaurus that PI also uses, plus more extensive coverage of the philosophical literature.
There’s also a difference in how the entries in PP and PI are classified. PI uses the Philosopher’s Index Thesaurus. I couldn’t find any information on the website by whom the indexing is done, but presumably it’s a by a team of indexers with some knowledge of philosophy (if anyone has more complete information, please let me know). PP entries are classified according to the entries of the philosophy bibliography either by the authors themselves or appointed editors, all of whom are professional academic philosophers. I haven’t noticed any problems with either classification process, so I’m not sure the comparison would help anyone make a choice. If others disagree or have found issues, please leave a comment.
One problem I had early on was using SFX from PP. I was getting incomplete results. The problem could be solved only by creating an account with PP and going through a relatively simple process of choosing a link resolver (very simple if anyone from your institution had ever done it before). The accounts can be completely private if you choose, but I disliked the extra steps someone might have to take to get to articles that PP doesn’t have OA but which a library might subscribe to. However, PP is improving OpenURL and SFX linking, and subscribing institutions shouldn’t have a problem. It should work as seamlessly as PI when everything is done.
The final comparison is platform and price. PI is a proprietary index available through Ebsco, Ovid, and ProQuest. Princeton uses the Ebsco interface, which I happen to find very user-friendly. The PP website is also very user-friendly in my opinion. On whatever platform, the cost will vary among institutions because of differences in FTEs or consortial agreements or whatever. Princeton pays a few thousand, and the PP expectation from Princeton is $1200 because Princeton is a philosophy PhD granting university. That makes PP cheaper than PI for my library. I don’t plan to cease subscribing to PI yet, because I’m awaiting further PP developments and I want to have a conversation about it with the Philosophy Department, but I imagine that will matter for a lot of libraries. However, with the incorporation of PRI into PP, I will be canceling the subscription to PRI if it continues to exist as a standalone database, and that money will go to PP instead.
And then there’s the open access of PP. PI is available only to subscribing institutions, while PP is available to everyone in the world. As those of you reading in the spring might remember, my major objections to the PP subscription drive were the unmanageable budgetary timing (asking to subscribe by June 1 or face penalties) and the list of institutions expected to pay (basically every institution in the world from which anyone had ever accessed PP). I thought the first pointlessly hasty and the second unjust. Both those objections were met soon after. The announcement of the PP/PRI merger says, “The service will continue to be available on the model where non-institutional use is free and only institutions located in high-GDP countries and that offer degrees in philosophy are asked to subscribe.” Although I still would have preferred the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) endowment method, those are the same kinds of institutions that SEP targeted and the kind that should be subsidizing this sort of open access project if possible.
Of course, PP is more than just a competitor to PI. In addition to the growing index and the structured bibliography, it has the huge OA archive of philosophy articles. It also has announcements for philosophy events and job, and generally serves as a community portal for professional philosophers and philosophy grad students around the world to share work and stay informed. I’m not aware of anything quite like this for other academic disciplines. If PP can gather enough subscriptions to continue to develop, it will remain an important resource for anyone interested in philosophy. And when PP is used in combination with the SEP, philosophy has perhaps the most robust OA reference support of any academic discipline.