Tag Archives: anthropology

Control

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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?

 

 

 

 

It was EPIC

The Ethnography Praxis in Industry conference was in NYC earlier this month, and I was delighted to have a chance to attend.  I followed the #epiconference twitterstream avidly when they were in London last year, but couldn’t attend because I was busily applying for funding for the research I did in March.  

I wanted to attend for several reasons (NYC was just one of them).  Primarily, I wanted to be in a room full of people who do private-sector ethnography, because increasingly I am in contact with people, in libraries, in higher education generally, and also in architecture and computer science, who are interested in ethnography as a methodology but not necessarily in anthropology as a disciplinary frame for that method.  I need to have more familiarity with the range of ways “ethnography” is being talked about, used, justified, critiqued in practical contexts.  Industry is just one, but it’s an increasingly visible one, and is one that actually inspired the creation of library ethnography jobs, starting with Nancy Fried Foster at Rochester.

You can find the history of EPIC as an org, as well as the papers from all 10 years of the meetings since they began, here.  And the draft papers from this year’s meetings are here.  They are all worth reading.

If any of you follow me on Twitter, you know that I live-tweeted nearly the whole damn thing.  I will say again that is now one of my favorite ways of experiencing a conference–there are connections you can make in Twitterspace, not just with the attendees, but with people who are not in the room with you, around the content of the discussions.  I find it stimulating and enriching.  It’s like doing the reading for graduate seminars and getting to have the discussion all at the same time–I think better, IMO, in groups, I understand more, I have questions that can be thrown back at me and more interesting questions take their place.  I attend conferences alone, without Twitter, at my peril these days.  I was also lucky to be able to attend with my colleague Nicole Peterson, whose impressions of the conference you can read here.

I was struck by a few things.  The first thing was how much of an anthropology conference it seemed to me.  This despite the fact that those in the room were not exclusively anthropologists, but were also designers, programmers, other kinds of social scientists, like sociologist Sam Ladner.  Perhaps I was swayed by the unapologetically anthro-centric keynote of Christian Madsbjerg of Red Associates.  Perhaps this sense varies from EPIC to EPIC.  Nonetheless, I felt very at home in the discussions about the work and its implications.  I got a lot out of (to pick just a few out of a great sea of content) Sam Ladner’s discussion of embodied practice, Emilie Glazer, Anna Mieczakowski, James King, Ben Fehnert’s (from Eclipse) discussion of trust as an important part of motivating people to engage with digital devices, and Kate Crawford’s electric keynote about Big Data.

Part of the anthro-centricity too was the explicit contrast that EPIC-goers and presenters offered to academic work, and to anthropology in particular.  The insistence on the word “practice” in contrast to “applied” anthropological or ethnographic work was evidence of this, too.  I think I understand the reasons for it, but it was something to think about.  I still, for all of the practical work I am doing these days, identify as an academic, and I felt distinctly neither fish nor fowl in that sense while in the room at EPIC.

I loved that it was basically a plenary conference, with a few exceptions for workshops.  Everyone heard the same papers, attended the same keynotes, saw the same Pecha Kucha sessions.  I think it made for a richer conversation about the content of the conference, as people’s experiences were not fragmented across several small rooms.

The Pecha Kucha sessions.  I adored them.  And Simon Roberts has already said a lot of what I was thinking.  But I would also point out that I think that as a form, as a provocation, I wish the AAAs would do Pecha Kucha sessions at least as much (if not more often ) than regular paper sessions.  They are limited in time, visually arresting, and felt like really good uses of everyone’s attention.

I really enjoyed being in such a high-energy room full of people who wanted to think critically and engagingly about the practice of ethnography, and what it meant to their work, the work of the people who hired them, and to the wider world.  I may not make it to Sao Paolo in 2015, but will be happy to get to Minneapolis in 2016, to be in that room again.

#shoetweet #epiconference

London Travelogue, Part the Second: Mostly not London, the Pitt-Rivers Museum (with a bit of the Soane at the end)

My favorite thing about Oxford (once I figured out that DS Hathaway was not in fact waiting for me in a pub alongside the Thames) was the Pitt-Rivers Museum.  You have to walk through the Oxford Museum of Natural History to get to it.

 
Once I walked into the room, I laughed aloud.  It was 19th Century Anthropology Overload.  It’s magnificent and mad.

Every case is chock-full of artifacts.  Check out that totem pole.

 Pitt-Rivers was an amazing collector, with connections to collectors, explorers, and ethnographers who worked all over the planet.  The Pitt-Rivers Museum’s website is a great resource for visualizing the collection, and exploring as much as they have been able to reveal so far online.  All of the items collected were either given to the collectors as gifts, or purchased from the people who created the artifacts, and then donated to the museum.  The Pitt-Rivers site also describes the rationale for having all of these cases arranged as they are:

“In most ethnographic and archaeological museums the displays are arranged according to geographical or cultural areas. Here they are arranged according to type: musical instruments, weapons, masks, textiles, jewellery, and tools are all displayed in groups to show how the same problems have been solved at different times by different peoples. The cases appear to be very crowded, as a very large percentage of the collection is on view. In some instances the ‘displays’ are primarily visible storage, due to the museum being first and foremost a teaching and research institution and the curators are also university lecturers in either cultural anthropology or prehistoric archaeology. A number of degree courses are taught to both graduate and undergraduate studies. If you look carefully you will see that actually a great deal of information is provided about individual objects. The small labels, many of them hand printed by the first Curator, are very revealing. We offer more contemporary interpretative displays in our special exhibition gallery.”

Collected by E.B. Tylor!

My problem (you knew there was going to be a problem, didn’t you, I’m just having that kind of week) with these sorts of museums/collections is that they make it terrifically easy for those who are prone to think in terms of Human Universals to continue to think that way.  While a nuanced reading of these packed cases allows us to see the variety of ways that people approach similar natural phenomena, or social phenomena, there is a curious flattening effect that can occur when so much variety is put in a glass case.   It becomes “people all play music!”  “people all represent animals!”  “people do body mods!”  And in the drawing of connections, the distinctiveness of each culture can be lost.

While I value tremendously the sense of shared humanity that anthropology can bring, I think it’s dangerous to take collections of human artifacts from the 19th century, a time of tremendous cultural upheaval and colonial violence, and draw uncomplicated inferences about the shared human condition.  I should be clear here that I do NOT think that is what the Pitt-Rivers museum or their (fantastic) staff are doing.  I do think that this sort of museum is most effectively experienced with some sort of mediation.  The context in which these artifacts were collected is as important to the meaning of the museum as are the artifacts themselves.

The most striking case for me was this one:

Many of the human remains in this case (a two-sided case) were from South American and Papua New Guinea.  They are fascinating, repellent, sad, fierce.  They deserve a book (at least)  all to themselves.  How can we interpret the meaning of these remains in the isolation of the glass case?  How do we dare?

It occurs to me that the Pitt-Rivers collection is of a piece with the Regency House in London that is now Sir John Soane’s Museum .  The architect Soane (who is one of my favorite people only because he designed the TARDIS)  filled his house with furniture, bits and pieces of sculpture, architectural details from buildings, some of it copies some of it originals, from all over Europe, from Egypt, and parts of Asia, in the grand tradition of colonial Britain.  He put together disparate pieces on the same wall, in the same room, according to what he thought went together, regardless of where it came from, of the lost intentions of the people who made it.  He was a magpie, plucking attractive things from their original location, and decorating his own home with them.

Exterior of Soane’s House in London.

I think it’s worthwhile (and I know this is not an original thought on my part) asking what the purpose of such collections was, and is today.   Is it to illuminate the study of form (as was clearly the case with Soane)?  Of function?  Of meaning?  Yes, of all three.  But collections of objects disassociated from their origins,  I think say much more about the collectors of the objects than they do about the the people who created them.

 The Pitt-Rivers museum has a great deal of contemporary interpretation to overlay onto this collection, and their upper galleries take on some of the issues of representation and collections like these.  I suppose everyone can visit the museum they think they are in.  My preference would be that visitors to museums like this be directed very explicitly to the particular nature of collections like these, how situated they are in history, how important it is to approach these objects thoughtfully, as a way of thinking about the people who produced them, not just the scholars, explorers, and colonists who acquired them.

Spectacular mask collected from the NW Coast of N. America.  I am proving my own point by not having recorded which tribe this is from.  I want to say Haida or Tlingit.

Into the Field

So I have been noisy on Twitter lately, but relatively quiet on this blog, and that is in part because I have been gently (and not so gently) freaking out and getting prepared for going to do six weeks of fieldwork starting at the end of February.

The project will allow me to collaborate with the estimable Lesley Gourlay at the IOE, and Lesley Pitman at UCL, and extend and expand a project that I piloted in 2011 with the help of the UCL Institute of Archaeology.  There’s a .pdf of the report here.

March is going to involve me collecting cognitive maps as well as conducting interviews among students and faculty at the Institute of Archaeology, the Bartlett school of Architecture, and the SSEES.  I will also be spending time doing immersive observation in each of the 3 libraries, using the SUMA tool to facilitate head-counts and also an accounting of activities within each space.  Lesley Gourlay will be doing the same among IOE students and faculty, and at the IOE library.

I have collected cognitive maps from undergraduate and graduate students at UNC Charlotte already, and my graduate assistant will be conducting interviews and observations in Atkins Library while I am in London.

By the end of March, we will have a lovely comparative collection of qualitative data to play with.  Even a project as small as this will generate hours of interview data, and a rich body of field notes to mine for insights that such a comparative exploration of academic libraries can yield.  I am so, so excited to get to do this.

And part of my excitement comes from my strong investment in “going into the field.”   The anthropologists out there know how deeply felt that trope is in our field–yes, my work at Atkins library is my primary research location, but I have been “brought up” to think of field sites as Away (however problematic that may be).  And academic libraries in London are distinct in many interesting ways from the large, generalized, suburban one in which I work in Charlotte.  UCL/IOE libraries are specialized places, scattered across an urban landscape, and also contain materials on some of their shelves that would rightfully be in restricted-access special collections in the US.  I will acquire a new “arrival scene,” coming into the site libraries for the first time, I will have a new set of “key informants,” participants in my research, to interview, who are willing to share what they know with me so that I can learn, so that I can approach my library “back home” with fresh eyes, the familiar made exotic through the field experience.

It won’t be a completely isolated field experience, I’ve never been able to achieve that, and I think it’s probably to my benefit.  When I did my research in Belfast I was lucky to be embedded in a network of Queen’s U, Belfast graduate students, colleagues and eventually friends who helped keep me grounded when I was struggling with the usual alienating cliches of doing fieldwork.

In fact, I think that field experiences in applied anthropology in particular give the lie to the Anthropologist in Splendid Isolation cliche, not just because no anthropologist ever truly works in isolation (they are working with people!), but also because anthropology is always a team effort, even if it’s not immediately visible as such.  I am collaborating with colleagues in UCL and IOE, and this project began as an effort initiated by Dr. Bill Sillar in the Institute of Archaeology.  The work I have done and will do in London is a direct result of the work I’m doing here at UNC Charlotte, working with my colleagues in Atkins, and with my graduate assistants (the Atkins Ethnography project has benefited from the work so far of 4 different graduate assistants, and will continue to hire graduate students as a part of its research workforce), and undergraduate researchers.  My work is informed not just by what I find interesting, but what my boss needs from me, what questions my colleagues bring to me.  It’s a group effort.  There are no lone wolves.

I will also in this trip, have opportunities to talk about my work with colleagues old and new.  I’m participating in a workshop on Visitors and Residents, along with Dave White , Ben Showers, and Lawrie Phipps at the Jisc Digital Festival.  I’m speaking about my work at UNC Charlotte with Bryony Ramsden and her colleagues at Huddersfield.  There will be many chances in London to talk at length about my work, and especially to listen to people engaged with work that I need to pay attention to.

I can’t put into words just how delighted I am that I am finally getting to make my ambitions for a comparative, international ethnography of academic libraries begin to come to pass.  This phase of my research is funded by a UNC Charlotte Faculty Research Grant, and I hope to be able to take this project and springboard to a larger, more comprehensive treatment of all of the UCL site libraries, with an eye to informing with qualitative research much larger discussions of the role of academic libraries in Higher Education in the UK and the US.

But in the meantime, I get six weeks.   I’m going to make them count.

Entangled Technology and AAA2013, or, What I did on Friday

My AAA 2013 partners in crime this year were some people I have presented with before (and was delighted to have a chance to again: Andrew Asher, Maura Smale, Mariana Regalado), and some new-to-me colleagues I look forward to working with some more (Lori Jahnke and Lesley Gourlay).
Andrew brought the donuts. We managed to wait until after our session before eating them. That is some seriously professional self-control. Yes, that is bacon on four of the donuts, from Do-Rite Donuts. The other two were pistachio.
Never let it be said I don’t blog about important things like donuts.
Our session, Embedded and Engaged In Higher Education: Researching Student Entanglements with Technology, (here’s the link to the Prezi we used as a visual aid for the discussion) was a roundtable, where we presented and then connected the work we are engaged in, picking up on four main threads of discussion.
1) How institutional disconnect from student behavior and expectations affects access to education, to information, to what they need to engage with resources they need for their academic work, but also for the life they will build post-college.
Maura and Mariana’s work at CUNY spoke most powerfully to the everyday details of this, but I think Lori’s work text-mining IT and University strategic plans was equally important. The content of those strategic plans is just so strikingly distant from the priorities and realities of students and faculty members in higher education. We need to pay more attention to those sorts of documents, and in particular the urgency with which they need to be informed by social science research results.
2) How cultural, political, and social values are embedded not just in search, but in Higher Ed institutions generally. And again, the impact that has on #1
Andrew is doing such important work with this. Search is a cultural construction. Higher education is a cultural construction. Libraries are cultural constructions. They are not free from the values of wider society, and need to be observed critically if we are to truly concern ourselves with access to higher education, and the benefits, privileges, and problems inherent in the system.
3) The use of anthropological research to ground higher education policy (macro and micro) in the behavior of people, and the potential of the applied anthropological approach to improve outcomes of educational agendas broadly written, where ultimate goal of education is an engaged and informed citizenry.
I think this second theme is also linked to the underlying themes of the Liminality session that NAPA sponsored the previous day. My own work at UNC Charlotte is a nice example of what can happen when administrators are on board with a social science-informed policy perspective. Lesley is also trying through her work to effect change at the University of London.  But not all administrators are sympathetic. It can be challenging to inform policy beyond quantitative metrics, if qualitative approaches are not valued. Our challenge as anthropologists is to insert ourselves into institutional conversations, to become part of organizations that need more qualitative approaches, to provide perspectives that are currently all-too-scarce.
4) Our positions as professional outsiders in higher education contexts, but also as sort of native ethnographers, as we are all products of and participants in the kinds of systems we are studying.
My boss told me today that he values me at least in part because I am an outsider to the library. On the panel, our positions as people both within our institutions and tasked with thinking critically about those institutions can be personally and professionally challenging. And also, terrifically worthwhile.
Andrew, Maura and I live-tweeted this session, and I Storified it rather than put it here, because it’s kind of long.
I also quite liked our session abstract, and since you can’t see it without being a registered AAA member, I am going to reproduce it here:
Abstract:  Embedded and Engaged In Higher Education: Researching Student Entanglements with Technology
“In this roundtable we propose to explore our status, research, and findings as we work as interdisciplinary collaborators with non-anthropologists in academic settings. Our projects initiate and facilitate scholarly as well as policy discussions about the nature of information, the configuration of digital and physical spaces in academia, and the changing state of academic work and scholarly communication in the 21st century. Some of us, employed in academic libraries, are positioned as native ethnographers, as we are tasked with observing and analyzing the thoughts and behaviors of our own communities: the students, faculty, and staff in the practical, everyday spaces of academia. Our outside eye is valuable in pinpointing not just ways that academic institutions and libraries can reshape themselves for the 21st century, but also in illuminating the nature of scholarly work among our peers and the relationship of that work to the world outside of academia. This roundtable provides a forum for sharing our work and our perspectives on anthropology in higher education settings.
The panelists represent a variety of ways that anthropological knowledge and research are presented and conducted. Through a range of methods, including mapping, time logs, drawings, photo diaries, and research process interviews, we have examined how students and faculty engage with and are constrained by technology as they navigate the spaces and systems of academe. As researchers we are diversely engaged, bringing not only anthropological methods and theories to our projects but also the methods and theories of library and information science, science and technology studies, education, sociology, and user experience research.
Our research actively explores the role of technology for students in their academic work at colleges and universities. At this moment when educational technologies are very much a part of the broader, global conversation about the cost and value of higher education, we examine how these technologies constrain and enable students, and how they fit with the essential learning mission of college, especially in the academic library, a traditional locus of student use of information technology. As social scientists embedded in academia, we leverage our research to bring student voices to these discussions. Our studies produce data which may be brought to bear on policy decisions at the college and university, and which has the potential to positively impact student academic success.
As researchers who are well positioned to observe the complex interactions between digital technologies and the social organization and practices of students and faculty member, this roundtable will speak not only to how technologies are used within higher education, but also to broader cultural transformations within and outside the academy. For example, how do political and cultural values embodied in digital tools and technologies constrain or empower students? How do the social contexts of students’ communities and universities affect their technology use? By examining these questions, anthropologists working in higher education can contribute both to improving the learning environments of our universities, but also to better understandings of the meanings, effects, and lived experience of technologies and technological change. “

Liminality and Practicing Anthropology

The first session I attended at AAA2013 was the NAPA sponsored Liminality and Crossing Boundaries in Applied Anthropology.   My primary motive to attend was to see Nancy Fried Foster‘s paper on participatory design in libraries, but I was delighted that I had the chance to stay for all but the last 2 papers, because as a whole the panel was thought provoking and inspiring.

At the #NAPA Liminality panel being encouraged to ask what is new and to experiment in my practice of anthro #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

If there is IQ and EQ then anthros can provide institutions with solid CQ #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

Patricia Wall from #Xerox talking about liminality leading to innovation #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

This is the big takeaway for me from the panel. That the work, and even just the presence of anthropologists in industry and institutional settings creates a liminal space, which in turn is an opportunity for change and innovation.  It’s a powerful frame in which to see ourselves as professionals, and also one that requires responsible thought about what role anthropologists and anthropology should play in effecting institutional change.  Patricia was explicit about her hopes for social science (she was one of at least 2 panelists who pointed out “I am not an anthropologist”) in institutional settings:

Anthros can help orgs find “balance at the edge  of chaos.” help navigate through liminality, make processes viisible #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

Maria Bezaitis from #Intel and #EPIC talking now.
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

Maria’s energetic presentation pointed even more strongly to the potential for innovation that comes out of persistent and embedded anthropological attention to technology and the processes involved in producing that technology. In particular, we can bring up to people like engineers points about technology and the digital that we, as social scientists, largely take for granted, but not everyone else does:

“The social is always shaping the technological world” @mariabz I think tech and social interact with each other, too #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

Digitization changes relationships possible between 1) strangers and 2) people and things #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

Technology requires that we become more flexible in thinking about connections #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

“Instrumented products” are also “social products” that facilitate data sharing that people use to build community #AAA2013 @mariabz
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

Social Scientists in industry get paid to produce liminality =  opportunities for change #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

I single out these two papers in particular because I think the themes of the potential for change, and the importance of a consistent social science-informed perspective on the processes, technologies, and organizational structures coming from and constituting industry/institutions, is one that also resonated through my own panel.  That is post #3 (which, now that I have called it out, I hope I will actually write).

AAA 2013, Anthropology and Open Access

Just back from the American Anthropological Meetings in Chicago and I am so amazingly glad I went.  Library and IT conferences are a part of my professional rounds these days, but there is something so comforting about being surrounded by friends and colleagues to whom I don’t have to explain myself.  We can just have conversations (so many conversations!) starting off from our common ground as anthropologists.  It’s such a freeing feeling.  I am already looking forward to being in DC for AAA2014.

I was particularly energized by the panels I went to, and I will talk about the second one more in part because it was such a surprise to me.  When I saw the title, “The Future of Writing and Reading in The Digital and Open Access Eras,” I was worried, because much of what I’d been hearing about Open Access from my colleagues in anthropology was full of worry and pessimism, not to mention themes that appeared to be straight out of some publishers’ handbooks.  I had a pre-panel chat with my colleague Juliann Couture, who is the ACRL liaison to the AAAs as well as social science librarian at the University of  Colorado, Boulder.  We went over all of the things that we wished the panel would be about (but were afraid it would not be).  And then we went to the panel, and Tom Boellstorff from UC Irvine got up and said everything we had wished for.  I live-tweeted it.  I wanted to stand up at the end of his part of the panel and shout AMEN.

I have an #OA crush on Tom Boellstorff .  Just going to say DITTO and WHAT HE SAID #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 23, 2013

RT @DonnaLanclos: Tom Boellstorff appalled at level of ignorance among #anthros about #OA (I am, too!) #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 25, 2013

Issues: political economy, genre, authorship and collaboration, peer review, assessment, access and social engagement #OA #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 23, 2013

Can have:  not digital not #OA, not digital yes #OA, yes digital not #OA, yes digital yes #OA #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 23, 2013

Online journals are not “just blogs”–still take resources and $$ and labor #OA #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 23, 2013

make sure people know difference among Green #OA, Gold #OA (he prefers the latter), need to think about paying for it #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 23, 2013

A lot of book publishers don’t care if the dissertation is #OA, they know the book MS is different #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 23, 2013

#OA can be an important part of making sure that #anthro knowledge is public #AAA2013  #Amen
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 23, 2013

Need to think about how we assess value, how emergent models of evaluation are generated by new tech, forms #OA #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 23, 2013

Trust, Value, Authority, are related and different and are increasingly situated in individuals not institutions #OA #AAA2013 @daveowhite
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 23, 2013

The above tweet gets at some of what we are starting to talk about in the Visitors and Residents  project, how online forms of communication, scholarly production, and community have the potential to fundamentally transform notions of where scholarly authority, trust, and value lie.  Where before it has been associated with institutions such as universities and publishers, altmetrics and social media give us the possibility of individuals as their own authoritative selves, independent of institutions.

Life histories of MS are now much more complicated.  Afterlife of article is more important than ever.  No final version. #OA #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 23, 2013

The subsequent speakers were equally thoughtful, if a bit more cautious about some aspects of OA.  The fact that Gustavo Lins Ribeiro and  Giovanni Da Col are in university contexts outside of the US contributed a great deal to the critical eye they brought to the peculiarly market-driven narrative around OA in the US, and how problematic that is.

What happens to academic freedom when universities submit themselves to capitalist needs? #OA #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 23, 2013

Discussant Alisse Waterston highlighted the questions that needed to be answered about OA for academic publishing and the production of other forms of scholarship, but also made the point that

There are multple audiences for #anthro knowledge, our publishing strategies should shift to reach them #AAA2013 #OA
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 23, 2013

During the discussion Juliann and I both pointed out the role that university libraries are playing in the OA discussion, and that some of the models that anthropologists and other scholars are searching for could be found collaboratively, working with people in other fields (such as Biology, which has a robust OA scholarly presence, as well as Library and Information Science), as well as elsewhere on their own campuses.

There are structural solutions to the concerns about equity in an #OA model of publishing.  Libraries can be partners in solutions #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 23, 2013

@DonnaLanclos but challenge is trying to support OA while unis & libraries are still paying outrageous $$$ for trad scholarship. #aaa2013
— Juliann Couture (@julezig) November 23, 2013

And the managing editor of Cultural Anthropology, Tim Elfenbein, contributed his thoughts from his experience in trying to figure out what OA might look like, and the energy required to think not just about publishing, but broadly about scholarship.

Need to talk about scholarhip as a commodity sometimes and as a gift at others @culanth #AAA2013 #OA
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 23, 2013

This circles back around to the idea broached in the early parts of the panel by Boellstorff, that new forms of scholarly production, including OA forms, do not mean the death of the article or of the book (I wonder if it might mean the death of the journal, as we know it).  These are not mutually exclusive forms, they can co-exist and work within a more rich, complex system of scholarship.

The point about the need for us to be open and transparent in our scholarship, not just to our colleagues, but to the people among whom we do our research, is also crucial.  OA is an important tool to use in our project of making anthropological knowledge accessible to wider publics, not just the public of our fellow anthropologists, or even just other academics.

The potential OA has to transform the processes of scholarship, to make clear how people write, and what is involved in creating manuscripts for books, articles, even blogposts and other experimental writing genres, is so exciting to me.  All of my work, now that I am in an academic library, is collaborative, and I have no choice but to share awful rough drafts with my collaborators.  It is liberating and satisfying to take nascent ideas, and really work with people from the first word to get our collective ideas shaped and temporarily fixed into what we want to say.  There will always be a time and a place for working alone, but working with other scholars is, I think, the best opportunity for truly new things to arise.