Monthly Archives: December 2014

#OA at #AAA2014: What do we talk about when we talk about Open Access?



(Note:  this is one of two posts I wrote this week about Open Access publishing.  You can read the other one here at the EPIC people blog).

I spent nearly all of my time at #AAA2014 this year talking and thinking about libraries, publishing, open access (OA), and anthropology.  The crowd with which I was talking included anthropologists, of course, but also librarians, publishers, and hybrid people who were a little bit of all three categories.    Informal conversations in the book room (the lovely oasis in the middle of the conference-hotel-chaos) were a prelude to my attendance at the Friday morning session on open access publishing in anthropology (one of the SCA-sponsored events listed here).   The panelists presented a variety of perspectives on open access, some nuts-and-bolts type “you need to be able to deal with funding/curation/discovery” discussions, and some much more theoretical “what does publishing mean” and “what would an open-practice (not just an open-access) anthropology look like?”

You can see from my tweets that I fairly quickly disagreed with the framing of part of the problem of OA–da Col is problematizing an approach to OA publishing that frames it within a gift economy, but in my experience the process of publishing scholarly communications is firmly perceived within the market–by publishers, and by scholars.  Scholars are in the market of exchanging their publications for academic success.  Publishers are in the business of selling scholarship back to the very scholars who produce the content.  I wonder if there is some conflation between the prevalent “The Internet is Free” narrative that libraries often have to encounter in justifying their existence within higher ed, with the “Content should be accessible” narrative that is more vividly shot through discourses around OA publishing.  I was especially frustrated at this approach from da Col, whose experiences with HAU as an OA publication seem to be an excellent model for some.  I would have liked to have heard more about the actual transformations of scholarly practice possible within the existing innovations at HAU.


This came up a lot, the “self-publishing” phrase, and perhaps it’s shorthand for “not-by-publishers” publishing, but I think it’s potentially dangerous to talk about OA this way, because it communicates to scholars that they need to DIY themselves through open access.  When what they actually should be doing is collaborating with people in libraries and publishing who are already engaging in open access practices (e.g.:  Duke, University of Chicago press, HAU, etc. etc.).  Cultural Anthropology, and in particular Tim Elfenbein, have offered themselves and what they have learned from their experiences so far.  I think what frustrated me most about the tone of the SCA panel on OA was its cautious negativity.  “This is hard.”  “We didn’t think of this”   When it’s clearly do-able, even with challenges.

At the same time that everyone in the room seemed to agree that it is important to figure out how to get to OA.  

I particularly appreciated the perspective of Jessica Cattelino, outgoing SCA treasurer, who even as she detailed some of the financial nitty-gritty behind open access, opened the discussion up to a consideration of what might be possible once more of us engage in these kinds of publishing practices.



This was another theme that came up again and again–publishing is a particular kind of expertise, and scholars in anthropology (and other disciplines) don’t necessarily have it.  The solution, to me, is not to insist that anthropologists become publishers, but rather to point to opportunities to collaborate with people who have the necessary expertise (again:  librarians and publishers).


Even with the optimistic talk about what an open-practice open-access anthropology might look like, the SCA panel left me with an overwhelming sense of the anxiety that academics carry into conversations about OA publishing.  And, no wonder–academics in all fields perceive traditional publishing as what they exchange for their success in academia.  But some of the anxiety stems, surely, in part from the fact that one can publish in academia, in high impact journals, and still not have full time (let alone tenure-track) academic work.

In the Global Social Media panel, Danny Miller’s team of ethnographers presented on their (very cool) work on social media practices around the world, and made the point of saying that the outputs of their research were all going to be CC-licensed OA materials, and not just in text format.  

This is a high-viz, well-funded anthropology project, and its unconventional approach to communicating their research results (scholarly and otherwise) could serve as another model for what it looks like to be OA in our discipline.

The need to be OA resonated nicely with the theme of the Popular Anthropology “Installation” on Friday afternoon, where a panel of anthropologists discussed, among other things, the persistent need for anthropologists and anthropological thinking to reach wider audiences.  OA is going to be a crucial tool in this.  We need to have more engagement with the public, not less, and in particular need to not play status games with those in our field who are particularly good at popularizing anthropology.   And we should make it clear that anthropological voices can and should be relevant, should speak to concerns of people outside of anthropology, not limit themselves to speaking in closed disciplinary circles.  Anthropological voices, with a few exceptions, are largely missing from national conversations around education, health, politics, race, and a whole range of structural inequalities.  We cannot sit back and expect that to change just because we have something to say.  We need to take our contributions to the public, engage with them, make ourselves visible.

I was so pleased with our roundtable discussion on Saturday morning, “Anthropological Knowledge: Access, Creation, and Dissemination in the Digital Age”  My colleague Juliann Couture co-organized this panel along with Richard Freeman–both of them are librarians, and the tone of the discussion in our roundtable contrasted remarkably with that of the SCA, in part because there were so many people in our room (even though it was a smaller crowd) who actually knew how OA could be (and was being) done, not just at Cultural Anthropology, but across the discipline, and even outside of it.  

Matt Thompson blogs for Savage Minds.   The list Matt has complied of current OA journals in anthropology is a valuable tool, for those interested in current practices, and for the journals themselves, to be able to identify important holes in how they are doing OA, and where they need to improve what they are doing to maximize access and discovery.  Also in the room with us on the panel was Tim Elfenbein, who by now is one of the most experienced OA publishers in Anthropology (along with the gang at HAU).

It is frustrating for me to witness anthropologists, who complain mightily when people outside of our discipline assume that our methods and theoretical approaches are intuitive, easy, and unproblematically acquired, do the same thing about other professions.  There are entire professions out there (I repeat myself for a reason:  LIBRARIANS AND PUBLISHERS) who can be partners with us in OA.  We need to reach out to and collaborate with them.  SCA already is with Duke Libraries  HAU already is with the University of Chicago. We have OA policies and journals at UNC Charlotte.   These and others can be models for the smaller society sections worried about how to do this and what would it look like, and will they lose their identity?  I think an argument can and should be made to the smaller society sections that the content of their journals, once they are converted to OA, can be more visible than now, to the greater good of their community of scholars and to the people who now have access to it.

Because it’s not just about being “accessible,” as anyone who works in libraries and publishing can tell you, it’s about being “discoverable,” and that’s a whole ‘nother thing.  

Other fields can help.  There are models out there.


Because when we talk about OA publishing, we are not just talking about OA publishing.



Our panel abstract here, for those who can’t get into the (#ironyclaxon) AAA proceedings:

As information technologies have lowered barriers to content generation and user participation, anthropologists using digital means of transmission and communication have encountered a slate of challenges and opportunities. Traditional practices for the creation and dissemination of new knowledge are in a state of flux, transforming and shifting how anthropology research is produced, measured, and accessed. Rapid growth of Open Access (OA) journals, institutional and federal mandates, and sites for sharing academic work are coupled with confusion surrounding ownership and author’s rights. Researchers must navigate the new landscape to facilitate the communication of new knowledge, satisfy funding mandates, and leverage new venues to share research data with collaborators and communities. This roundtable will bring together scholars and practitioners to discuss these issues of access, ownership, copyright, production, and dissemination and what this means for the future of anthropological research. A variety of OA projects will be explored to expand the conversation beyond the author-pays model. OA publication and the social life of documents on the web raise practical and technical issues as readily as they reveal digital divides of unequal participation and representation. Negotiating of the agreement between author and publisher can increase access to anthropology research published in toll-access journals through the use of disciplinary and institutional repositories. We will discuss common publishing agreements and steps authors can take to negotiate their right to deposit in a repository and their right to make their work more widely available especially as publishers such as Elsevier have become more aggressive in policing how published work is shared. New modes of disseminating anthropology research allow one’s research to be widely available, beyond sharing drafts of papers or completed articles. It is a new way to share fieldnotes, data, videos, images, and audio recordings. This data sharing can expand collaboration opportunities with other anthropologists and students while creating digital collections and opportunities to communicate in formats beyond the traditional journal article or book format. As our methods of publishing and disseminating anthropological research shift, so do the ways in which we measure the impact of that research. Options beyond the traditional journal impact factor and citation counts will be explored including article level metrics, altmetrics, and how these new venues affect one’s publication record.

This session would be of particular interest to:
Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students, Those involved in mentoring activities

Organizers:  Juliann Couture (University of Colorado Boulder) and Richard B Freeman (University of Florida)
Chairs:  Donna Lanclos (J. Murrey Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte)
Roundtable Presenters:  Richard B Freeman (University of Florida), Matthew D Thompson (Old Dominion Univeristy), Timothy W Elfenbein (Society for Cultural Anthropology) and Juliann Couture (University of Colorado Boulder)



Corridor in UCL’s Main Library.

So I’m thinking a great deal about control in libraries, and have been for a while.  It is sending me back to the point, late in my graduate career, when Laura Nader’s Controlling Processes essay came out, and when some of my classmates were working with Nader’s paradigms in their own research.   Her argument is, in part, that tracing, describing, and analyzing the flow of power within systems is crucial to illuminating the potential to transform cultural ideas.  The redistribution of control in the law, in medicine, and in museums was the focus of her 1997 essay, but of course many institutions are fair game, and libraries are no exception.

Libraries are rife with controlling processes–they are cultural institutions infused with very particular senses of what scholarship and studying looks and sounds like, what the proper material environments are for such activities, what resources should be provided by institutions (and what should not be).  Rules around noise and quiet, consumption of food and drink, occupancy of space (when is the library closed?  Does it close?  Who is allowed in?  Who is prevented?) are all performances of library institutional control of library spaces.    These rules are shot through with power–who determines what is quiet?  What is noise?  Who makes the decision about who is allowed in the library?

Signs are great evidence of the attempts to control spaces in libraries.  “Quiet Zone.”  “No Phones.”  “No eating or drinking.”  “Silent Zone.”

LSE Saving Space Crop

The LSE is trying to address student demand for space with a “ticketing” system.

A lot of the conversations I participate in around configurations of library space involve me, at some point, advocating letting go of control.  Is there a noisy space in your library?  Why is that?  Maybe you don’t need to “fix” that?  Maybe just label it as such and move on?  Where are there “naturally” quiet areas?  Do they need policing to be that way?  Maybe they are not so “natural?”  Why are you trying to make atriums Quiet Zones?  Where do students go who need to talk to each other about their work?  Do you want them in your library?  Why or why not?

Are you sure about all of that?

This is a big part of my work.  Asking annoying questions.  But it’s also my job to pay attention to more than my personal theory that less policing in libraries is a good thing.

Because the thing is, that students are also asking the library for controlled spaces.  Tomorrow is the Last Day of Classes (#LDOC!) for students this Fall semester at UNC Charlotte.  The library is already full of people, and will only get more full.  This is the time of year when we get the most requests for protected spaces, reserveable spaces, for quiet spaces.  This is the time of year when requests for control are most acute:  make them quiet, make these computers available, give me space to think, give me space to talk, make them move so I can do my work, make this print.  The student sense that there is so much they don’t have control over spills out into the demands they make of their institutional spaces (I’m willing to bet they have demands for their living spaces this time of year, too, with regard to noise and quiet, access, technology, clutter).

If we think carefully about the nature of controlling processes in the library, what they do and who they are for, we need to remember that one of the defining characteristics of libraries is, in fact, control.

Libraries are constructed in part in contrast to the perception that everything outside of their spaces is uncontrolled.  The environment of the library is physical spaces, resources, and the people within the library.  Some of these things are easier to control than others.  The implications of controlling people are myriad, and not entirely benign.  Who is perceived as out of control?  Under what circumstances?  Is there another interpretation of their behavior?  One person’s “out of control” is another person’s “engaged conversation.”  These differences need to be navigated, negotiated, explored, not enshrined in rules.

Libraries in popular discussions of public spaces are often described as “oases” (for example, most recently and visibly, but not unproblematically, the public library in Ferguson).   Discussions around public libraries are of course infused with the same complicating factors of race, class, privilege, and politics that are present in any discussion of the public sphere, in the US and elsewhere.  One person’s “riot” is another person’s “protest.”

Of course non-library spaces are controlled, too.  And holding the library up in contrast to “chaos” is often an unnecessarily antagonistic way of framing the rest of reality.

I find myself sympathetic to the desire to find one place in the world where you can feel that things are controlled, if not by yourself, then by someone you trust.  Students trust libraries to control their environment, as students frequently feel they themselves cannot.

So while we listen to that desire for control, we need to not abuse that trust, and we need to listen deeply and carefully to what is behind it.  We need to trace the requests, listen to who is asking, consider what the mechanisms for effective control might be.  There are many models–they do not have to all be top-down.  I think about community self-policing.  I think about wide and varied student engagement in library spaces so that they are part of the solutions they want to see, not just demanding that someone else execute policies on their behalf.

What does control look like?  When is it strictly necessary?  When can it be let go?  What happens then?