#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.

 

Notes:

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)

One thought on “#OA at #AAA2014: What do we talk about when we talk about Open Access?

  1. Tim Elfenbein

    Thanks for putting your thoughts about the discussion over open-access publishing at the AAAs down on paper. Just a couple of quick thoughts (which don’t necessarily represent those of the SCA or anyone else):

    (1) I believe the term “self-publishing” was creeping into the discussion during the SCA roundtable because this is currently the language the AAA is using with its sections. All sections with journals had to produce a 5-year sustainability plan over the summer, and their big choice is whether to be a part of the AAA’s next RFP for a publisher once the Wiley deal ends, or for the section to take responsibility for publishing their own journal. Self-publish, in this context, means published by a AAA section. So Cultural Anthropology in this terminology is self-published (the self being the Society for Cultural Anthropology). But you are right, this can easily be confused with other meanings of self-publishing.

    (2) Some of the anxiety being expressed by folks from Hau and Cultural Anthropology comes directly out of experiencing the practical difficulties of pulling off a publishing venture. As I’ve said before, the vital question isn’t whether we can start an open-access journal or book series, it’s whether we can figure out how to make them last beyond the start-up phase. Neither Hau nor Cultural Anthropology has accomplished this yet. We are both struggling to find sustainable streams of funding, establish stable labor arrangements, and develop and maintain the necessary infrastructures. If we are taken as two examples of successful open-access publishing in anthropology, then I would caution that our success is very provisional. (We are only examples of one type of high-profile publishing: there are many other successful OA journals out there with lower profiles.) The way these two groups have moved into open access entails some very big risks. (As any publisher will tell you, one of the roles of a publisher is to assume risk.)

    (3) Yes, absolutely, scholars who are interested in their own publishing ventures should be talking to and collaborating with the people whose profession it is to work on these issues, most especially librarians and publishers. Nonetheless, librarians and publishers are themselves a long way from having good answers to the challenges of new forms of scholarly communication, and what they can offer is limited. A library might be able to offer you hosting and IT help for your OJS instillation (as the Duke University Libraries does for Cultural Anthropology), but they probably cannot help with an editorial workflow, typesetting, or strategic planning. With a few exceptions, libraries are quite new to this kind of publishing and they have a very long way to go. A university press might be able to offer advice, but unlike libraries, they are not organized as free service delivering institutions. The majority struggle to make enough revenue to keep the lights on, keep the books and journals flowing, and to pay their staff sufficiently. They have a very limited capacity to seriously enter into this arena. In short, scholars should be collaborating with librarians and publishers, but there are distinct limits to what these partners can currently provide. The question is whether we can develop the institutional arrangements and capacity to fill an unmet need. The development of new publishing services firms might be the best way forward.

    I know you are frustrated that the conversation is not moving as quickly as you would like. I would suggest that there are good reasons for this. If open-access publishing was easy or a sure thing, then everyone would be doing it. In contemporary scholarly publishing, there are simply no easy answers. That is why we take strategic risks on publishing experiments and try to learn as much as possible along the way. That’s my take, anyway.

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