Tag Archives: writing

Advocacy, Critique, and Communities of Practice

picture by Juliann Couture, another partner in anthro Crimes.  Myself and Andrew after we’re done writing and thinking for the day.


Last week Weave, the open access journal for usability in libraries, published a piece that I wrote with Andrew Asher.  The piece, part of their Dialog Box series, was (as is a lot of stuff I publish) a moment that is part of a larger conversation–in this case, one that Andrew and I have been having about what our work looks like in library contexts, over the last several years since we’ve known each other.  

In particular, since he and I have at this point been working for a while now as anthropologists who have academia as their field site, we wanted to raise our heads up, look around, and talk about why, this far into the ethnographic moment in libraries, there are still so few full time positions for anthropologists in libraries.  Our questions were around the structure and culture of libraries because we are:  anthropologists.  And our work usually ends up with us pulling back to get a sense of the bigger picture, to get a sense not just of what things look like, but why.

This work is important right now in part because evidence suggests there’s a great deal of free-floating frustration around what is and isn’t possible in higher education.  Individuals have a few choices when they hit a wall around their practice–they can blame themselves, and decide they are at fault.  They can blame other people, and decide they are at fault.  Or, they can do as Andrew and I are doing and try to look at the bigger picture, and the structures that surround the work we do, and ask:  why does it look this way?  What forces other than individual interest and capability shape practices in libraries, and in higher education generally?

It’s a similar impulse to that which leads people to deconstruct imposter syndrome (you don’t suck, society just sets you up to think you don’t belong, particularly if you are any category of person other than a straight white dude), or which leads people to define educators as ineffective, when their individual practice has less to do with student success than larger contextual problems.  I am, as an anthropologist, a big fan of finding the historical and cultural reasons behind the structures of institutions, as a prelude to describing and situating practice.

The space that classic ethnography provides for open-ended inquiry, for exploring situations without requiring a solution or any other specific output, is something we think is particularly valuable in a time when institutions across the board (eg in industry, in education, in scientific funding bodies) are narrowing the window for people who want to pitch “let’s see what happens” work in favor of “I can fix a problem!” work.  It’s not that problem fixing is bad, per se, it’s just that if that’s all we do, we lose the opportunity to be strategic, to step back, to consider insights that would not otherwise be arrived at when focused on specific things to solve.  Ask anyone who has applied for an NSF grant lately how successful they were with their “We’re not sure what this will do” grant proposal.

So open-ended work without a hard stop is increasingly scarce, and reserved for people and institutions who can engage in it as a luxury (e.g. Macarthur Genius Grant awardees).  But this is to my mind precisely wrong.  Open exploration should not be framed as a luxury, it should be fundamental.  

How do we get networks properly valued as scholarship?  How do we de-center content and outputs in favor of process and community?  How do we get institutions to allow space for exploration regardless of results?

Libraries are not immune to these pressures, obviously.  And we share the frustration of practitioners who know there is more that can be done, because we experience those pressures in our own work.  The critiques we level in this article are aimed squarely at our own practices.  We want to make the case for the work yet to do, for the cultural transformation yet to have.

Shifting methodologies from quant to qual is not enough to effect institutional change away from tactical problem solving to strategic engagement with the situation on the ground.  “Your methodologies will not save you from the culture of libraries.” And there is a continuum of practice, clearly, within qual approaches, getting closer to and further away from classic immersive ethnography.  Which is not bad, it’s just practical.  But it bears identifying and discussing.

And being at TriangleSCI this past week reminded me that qual narratives can be just as misused as quant justifications–it’s never just about the methodology, it’s also about the mindful practice, and the values therein.  This, too, is not a problem unique to libraries

So we hope, if you read this piece, that you engage with it.  In particular I’m interested in a wide range of new work around ethnographic and other qualitative techniques in libraries being pushed forward as a response to our call for more, and different engagement with the possibilities of anthropological ethnography and ethnology.    I know that some of you are working hard on as yet unpublished work–has it been hard to do, because of institutional pressures like we describe here?  Or was it really straightforward, with lots of support?  You know, I hope for the latter, and would love to hear about it.

Our piece is intended as a catalyst for out-loud discussion of what might be possible now that there’s widespread grass-roots enthusiasm about ethnographic techniques.  And want it to provide an opportunity for making these possibilities not just visible but more likely.   To move open-ended inquiry into the core of what we do, not just leave it in the periphery.

Please let us know what you think.  Agree or disagree, but let’s talk.  If not here, then on Twitter, or by submitting a piece of your own to Weave, or some other place where the conversation can continue.

This field, the community of practice involved in UX and ethnography in libraries and elsewhere in higher ed, is strong enough to sustain critique.  It is with such critiques that we can move to create a culture of change.


We look forward to the discussion.

#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)

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.

Science Friday, Digital Scholarship, and the End of the (Academic) World as we Know It (with apologies to REM)


If I didn’t listen to NPR, I think I’d never come up with blogpost ideas.  This time, it was listening to Science Friday that did it.   Ira Flatow was interviewing Michael Nielsen, whose book, Reinventing Discovery:  the New Era of Networked Science appears to be something I should get my hands on.   During the interview, Nielsen discussed the Galaxy Zoo, a project that allows non-scientists to get into NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope archive, and help classify galaxies by shape.   So far, more than a quarter of a million people have participated in the project.  That’s scaling up something fierce, and something that would not have been possible without the kinds of digital tools we now have at our disposal.  It’s also a kind of crowdsourcing. a kind of knowledge production made particularly possible and accessible by tools like wikis, blogs, etc. 

Crowdsourced knowledge is trusted by Digital Residents (so far as we can tell) far more than by Digital Visitors, who still seem to insist on institutionally produced knowledge as the authoritative standard.  Some fields, such as Bioinformatics, have scholars working with projects so novel that the peer-reviewed literature just has not been produced in enough quantity to be helpful to researchers when they are actively engaged in their research–they turn to blogs, tweets, emails, phone calls, and face to face conversations to keep up with the field–the latter two happening, I suspect, only after quite a bit of the first three take place.

My own library has launched a Digital Scholarship Lab, and while we expect that at first, there will be a large Digital Humanities component, I think it’s no accident that we are naming it Digital Scholarship, and Nielsen’s book makes me think my hunch is a solid one–these digital tools are, as he said in the interview I heard, fundamentally transforming the ways we construct knowledge, broadly defined.  This transformation is not limited to a particular field or discipline, it is global, and it is utter.

It is also frightening and destabilizing to many traditional academics, who see in digital tools as a way to trivialize, ignore, or fail to achieve the insights gained through traditional scholarship with old fashioned tools like books, paper,  images, and manuscripts.  Peer-reviewed journals are increasingly threatened by Open Access, blogging, and twitter, as primary ways to share and discuss scholarship.   Twitter and blogs make it possible to have a “conference” at any time, no matter where you are in the world–we do not have to wait for a national disciplinary conference to engage in scholarly exchange, nor do we want to wait anymore.

Nielsen pointed out that junior scholars and senior scholars tend to be happy to get on board with radical changes, and I can see why:  junior scholars are a part of the changes, they are fish in the water already; senior scholars are in a position to actually make change happen, and they are senior scholars, so less is at stake for them.  Scholars in the middle of their career, either trying to get tenure, or just post-tenure and now with even more work to do, may well feel that they’re being told to change doing everything that, up to this point, had been working out just fine for them.  It might be like coming up to someone halfway through their dissertation and insisting that they try this new reference management system.  Or making someone who is writing a book switch word processing software just as they are writing their conclusion.

I don’t have a conclusion here, just a string of thoughts that have come to an end (for now). 

Spring Break OVER

…and so now what do you have to do?

Are you writing papers? Studying for another test? Are you applying for graduate schools, and preparing for GREs? Are you getting ready for the job market?

UNCC’s Spring Break is scheduled to fall exactly in the middle of the semester (which is why, apparently, our break doesn’t realiably synch up with any other schools, colleges or universities in the area). When I was teaching, this was the time of the semester when I would assign writing that would be due at the end of the semester. I figured that, even if I assigned it at the beginning, most students wouldn’t work on it until after Spring Break. I wonder if I was correct.

What does your schedule look like from now until May? How are you going to fit it all in?