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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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.