Last week, when I challenged readers to think about how to make open access happen, Jason Baird Jackson had a ready answer: the Open Folklore project. This project is drawing a terrific map for societies unsure of how to proceed. Partnering with Indiana University libraries, the American Folklore Society is identifying where their literature is and how much of it is accessible, bringing attention to existing and potential open access journals, asking rights holders if material can be set free, digitizing gray literature so it will be preserved . . . these folks are sharp. And they're doing what scholarly societies should do: promoting the field and sharing its collective knowledge for the greater good.
I just visited their site again after reading a thoughtful article by Ted Striphas on the bizarre blind spot that cultural studies scholars have about the system that they depend on for conveying ideas and (perhaps even in their wildest dreams) making a difference in the world. He points out that cultural studies often unpacks the politics of media - except for those media that they participate in most frequently. He takes issue with the claim that I and others make repeatedly, that they system is broken. He says on the contrary, "the system is functioning only too well" - it rakes in terrific profits based largely on unpaid labor and a captive workforce. It just doesn't work very well for scholars, He does a great job of analyzing the issues and laying out steps that cultural studies scholars should take. It's a rousing call to action, and it's perfectly tailored to the concerns of his field.
I also spent some time today browsing the Savage Minds blog, a really good academic blog on anthropology, which has several posts on the unfortunate decision the American Anthropological Association made to pull away from a progressive relationship with a university press and instead outsource their journal publishing functions to a for-profit conglomerate. This is what Striphas calls a "devil's bargain" that many scholarly societies are making. "They have begun outsourcing the business and production aspects of their journals to large, for-profit corporate publishers—often the very same companies whose business practices have pressured them to contemplate outsourcing in the first place." Savage Mind blogger Christopher Kelty predicts that this bargain can't be reversed. He reported earlier this month on a request for comments from editors and others and reproduces one astute and incisive commentary by Kim Fortun that asks all the right questions.Seriously, this state of affairs is one that any society looking for a quick fix should think hard about. Once you outsource your journals to the corporate sphere, hoping the invisible hand will help bring more money to the society's coffers or to solve cash flow problems, it may be too expensive to go back.
Somehow I ended up full circle, reading a commentary by Jason Baird Jackson on the "circulatory system" that is scholarly publishing and the threat that we face with corporate enclosure of knowledge. It includes wonderful head-smacking factoids, like this:
"At the time that Museum Anthropology Review got started, a single page of Museum Anthropology cost about $202 to publish. This cost did not include the very considerable subsidies that Indiana University was investing in supporting the editorial office. At this rate, an article cost about $5000 (pre-subsidies) to publish. The resulting article was then made available in print to about 500 subscribers . . . in spring 2007, the Council for Museum Anthropology was loosing about $79 per page.
"In contrast to loosing $79 per page publishing Museum Anthropology as a gated, toll-access journal, Museum Anthropology Review began publishing–using the same editor, the same peer-review community, the same university subsidies, the same computer, the same office, and the same file cabinet–at an out of pocket cost of less that 42 cents per article. In contrast to Museum Anthropology, Museum Anthropology Review was (and is) available freely to anyone able to muster an internet connection. Most contributions to Museum Anthropology Review have now been accessed thousands of times by readers from most corners of the globe."
Contrast this with a situation that Ted Striphas describes: a scholar, having signed away his copyright to Sage, was provided a digital copy of his article that was cleverly booby-trapped: he could share it 25 times, but no more. Printing was okay, but it required downloading special software. The publisher was diligently protecting its intellectual property from its author. Sharing knowledge becomes the enemy of publishing it.
Sometimes I think about the tangle of cross-purposes and interests that seem so hard to disentangle and wonder if change can ever happen. But then I read something as sensible and smart and principled as Jason Baird Jackson's commentary or see what Open Folklore is up to and think ... you know, maybe we really can pull this off.
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