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Our Circulatory System (or Folklore Studies Publishing in the Era of Open Access, Corporate Enclosure and the Transformation of Scholarly Societies)

The following essay is adapted from a talk given on March 6, 2009 as part of the symposium “The Form of Value in Globalized Traditions” organized by the Center for Folklore Studies at the Ohio State University, Columbus Ohio. At the time, I discussed my participation in this event here. This essay builds upon three reviews of open access issues in folkloristics that I authored for the weblog Open Access Anthropology in winter 2008 (Jackson 2008a, 2008b, 2008c). Inspired this week by the Hacking the Academy project and by Ted Striphas’ recent examination of scholarly communications issues within the field of cultural studies (Striphas 2010a, 2010b), I decided not to leave the essay sitting on the back-burner. In lieu of doing something more formal with it later, I am publishing it here in the hope that it will prove useful to a colleagues in folklore studies and neighboring fields.

Our Circulatory System (or Folklore Studies Publishing in the Era of Open Access, Corporate Enclosure and the Transformation of Scholarly Societies)

Jason Baird Jackson
Indiana University, Bloomington

The system of scholarly communication in which folkloristics is a small but important part is quickly changing in some dramatic ways. The phenomena falling under this rubric become more diverse and interconnected everyday and the good and bad news seems to come at an every quicker rate. To begin with a tangible example, a key publisher in our field and the home to three of its four main English-language introductory textbooks is Utah State University Press. When I prepared this essay in the spring of 2009, our field feared that the press would cease operations in the context of its university’s response to the current global economic crisis (Howard 2009; Jaschik 2009; Spooner 2009). On the brink of disappearance, Utah State University Press was instead made a unit of its university library (Utah State University 2009). It is not unique in undergoing such a dramatic transition. The present economic climate will almost certainly accelerate further various processes of change that were well already underway. Many of these shifts are positive, but whether for the good or for the bad, they are prompting some fundamental reconsiderations of: (1) of the genres of scholarly production, (2) of the paths down which we circulate our work, (3) of the publics whom we seek to address, (4) of the hierarchies of value that we used to judge and reward good work, (5) of the partners with whom we collaborate, (6) of the technologies that we harness, and (7) of the means by which we pay the bills.

I am far from the most knowledgeable commentator on scholarly communication issues. There are many outstanding people in many fields who are working to interpret and shape the changes that scholars are experiencing. What I have been trying to do over the past several years is to carry the lessons of the wider conversation into the domain of folklore studies, where we might put them to our own uses. Such work is just beginning, but we have begun to pursue it in a collective way. An outstanding group of colleagues has agreed to join American Folklore Society (AFS) Executive Director Tim Lloyd and I in a series of strategic conversations under the rubric of an AFS Working Group on Scholarly Communications in Folklore. The purpose of the working group is to assess the current scholarly communications system in folklore studies and–on the basis of experiences and needs in and beyond the field–to develop approaches that will help the discipline pursue its scholarly communications work more self-consciously and effectively. My comments here derive from the earliest phases of this work and draw, as well, upon my experiences grappling with these issues during the period from 2005 and 2009, when I was involved in the publishing work of the American Anthropological Association as the editor of the journal Museum Anthropology. This experience in turn shaped my founding the open access journal Museum Anthropology Review, which I edit in collaboration with its publisher, the Indiana University Bloomington libraries.

Let me return to the situation of Utah State University Press. University presses such as Utah State–long treated as self-sustaining auxiliary business units by the universities that host them–have been asked, in recent years, to compete against commercial rivals whose scale and capitalization are staggering. Publishing 20 to 25 books per year and having no journals program, Utah State University Press does good work for our field with a staff of less than five people. It can be contrasted with the big three consolidated multinational publishers who now control almost the entire scholarly publishing landscape. Elsevier claims (as of spring 2009) to publish 2,000 journals and 2,000 new book titles each year while employing 7,000 people working in 62 countries (Elsevier 2009). Its competitor Springer employs about 5,000 people who publish 1,700 journals and 5,500 new books annually (Springer 2009). Nearly as large and now absolutely central to anthropology, and therefore of special interest to folklorists, is Wiley, which employs 4,900 people worldwide (Wiley 2009a) and is the publishing partner for more than 700 scholarly societies, including the American Anthropological Association (Wiley 2009b). As a token of the financial scale of these enterprises, I can point to Wiley’s regular quarterly profit reports. In spring 2009, when I authored this essay, they had just they reported quarterly revenue of $432 million (Wiley 2009c). While niche markets continue to open up and some small scale for-profit and not-for-profit presses are thriving, the vast proportion of scholarly publishing is now under the control of these, and a few other, large, global publishing conglomerates.

The lion’s share of any university research library’s materials budget is now devoted to payments to these firms and this is just one front on which the university presses are fighting a loosing battle, as spending on their stock and trade–scholarly monographs–is the place that libraries have been forced to turn in order to make the cuts that–for now, and just barely,–enable them to continue paying astronomical sums to provide their students and faculty with access to the toll access journals that these firms provide. For fields that privilege the book, particularly specialized monographs without wide general audiences, this dynamic has been particularly painful–especially within the regimes of value that govern academic tenure and promotion.

University presses and commercial publishers are not the only players on the field. Scholarly societies are also involved in complex and changing ways. Some remain the sole publishers of journals in their fields. The distribution here is interesting, with self-publishing continuing at the smallest and largest ends of the continuum. Think American Psychological Association on the one hand and Hoosier Folklore Society on the other. In the middle, most scholarly societies now publish in partnership with a university press (as the AFS does) or a commercial publisher (as the AAA does). The awkward fact in the case of all but the smallest publishing societies is that publishing is now a revenue generating activity used to support other, usually worthy, non-publishing society activities. I will set aside this theme for the moment after making the observation that, prior to any consideration of the changes that are on the horizon, this arrangement sets our concern for the health and well-being of the disciplinary societies in tension with our concern for the health and well-being of university libraries and the parties that support and use them. The link between changes in the ecology of scholarly communication and the future of scholarly societies is the focus of the 2008 paper that some colleagues and I published in the journal Cultural Anthropology (Kelty et al. 2008) and then made freely available in several formats outside the AAA/Wiley pubishing infrastructure.[1]

I could continue down this path, focusing on the generally negative trends that characterize scholarly publishing in general and in folklore studies particularly. Instead, I want to focus briefly on the more exciting, positive dimensions of scholarly publishing in our current moment. The great counter-trend to the story of corporate consolidation, to the progressive enclosure of our labor and our university budgets, to the disappearance of the monograph, and to the associated “serials crisis” is the story of the open access movement. Beyond the basics of being a consumer and producer of scholarly writing, I am a partisan and a participant in the transformations that I have been evoking. During my then on-going work as editor of Museum Anthropology, I was surprised and discouraged by the AAA’s decision to partner with Wiley in 2007. While I understand its terms and appreciate the confluence of forces and opportunities that motivated its acceptance, I opposed the AAA’s agreement with Wiley. At the time the agreement was struck, the AAA publications program was in dire financial straights and numerous journals appeared headed toward extinction. For reasons that I can explain on another occasion, Wiley committed relatively large sums of money to the AAA and the previous financial crisis was averted, but at costs that the AAA still has not fully examined. [For background and discussion, see: AAA 2007; Blackwell 2007; Friedman 2009; Golub 2007a, 2007b, 2008a, 2008b; Jaschik 2007;  Kelty 2007a, 2007b, 2008a, 2008b, 2009, 2010.]

I will bracket out my concerns and just explain that Museum Anthropology Review was not founded in opposition to the implications of the Wiley deal. It was created during the last days of the University of California Press co-publishing agreement, when it appeared likely that Museum Anthropology was going to have to cease publication because the AAA section that publishes it was going to become broke in the effort or, in one scenario, separate from the AAA. I could spend a lot of time talking about what has been learned from starting Museum Anthropology Review, but I want to open up a consideration of open access publishing with a simple cost comparison.

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 and was made available in digital form via the then-current version of AnthroSource. Non-members of the AAA who lacked access to a research library could pay a not-insignificant sum to purchase access to the paper online. At the time I did these calculations, 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.

With this evocation in mind, the most efficient way of introducing open access (OA) in general is to cite Peter Suber’s very brief explanation. He notes:

Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. What makes it possible is the internet and the consent of the author or copyright-holder. OA is entirely compatible with peer review, and all the major OA initiatives for scientific and scholarly literature insist on its importance. Just as authors of journal articles donate their labor, so do most journal editors and referees participating in peer review. OA literature is not free to produce, even if it is less expensive to produce than conventionally published literature. The question is not whether scholarly literature can be made costless, but whether there are better ways to pay the bills than by charging readers and creating access barriers. Business models for paying the bills depend on how OA is delivered.In most fields, scholarly journals do not pay authors, who can therefore consent to OA without losing revenue. In this respect scholars and scientists are very differently situated from most musicians and movie-makers, and controversies about OA to music and movies do not carry over to research literature. [Suber 2009]

In his very brief introduction, Suber goes on to explain the two main mechanisms by which open access to the scholarly literature is being achieved–through open access repositories, like OSU’s KnowledgeBank, and through open access journals like Museum Anthropology Review. Understanding these two main channels is crucial to appreciating the emerging OA landscape in folkloristics and to charting courses for the future of scholarly communications in our field.

The repository path is associated with what is known as “green” OA and when the AAA has articulated that it supports open access, this is what it (in large part) means.[2] Under specified conditions, the current AAA author agreement allows authors the right to post copies of their final accepted manuscripts–as these stand prior to any editorial or production work–to personal websites and, more crucially, to institutional or disciplinary repositories. Such peer-reviewed, but not yet copy-edited, typeset or digitally marked up papers, are known as post-prints, in distinction to pre-prints, which are manuscripts that have not yet been peer-reviewed or revised on the basis of peer-review. Repository deposit is at the center of the open access requirement established by Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (and numerous other institutions worldwide) and it was what was at issue in the blistering battle over the U.S.’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) Public Access Policy. In the United States, the debate over OA mandates for federally funded research has now moved on to consideration of the still-pending Federal Research Public Access Act.[3]

While repositories are playing a very significant role in the opening up of the older folklore studies literature (a topic to which I will turn in a moment), there is, as yet, very little repository use by individual folklorists and the concept of green OA is nearly unknown to our colleagues, as is reflected in the author agreements used by the field’s major journals. Few folklore journals are, for instance, present yet in SHERPA/RoMEO, the key database used to sort journals by OA (or author’s rights) status. While most anthropologists do not yet understand the relevant distinctions, anthropology–at least North American anthropology–has made some headway in the establishment of green OA, as is evidenced by the promotional work of the Open Access Anthropology and Savage Minds weblogs and the effort that many members invested in adopting a green AAA author agreement.

The other main pathway to open access is via the movement of established journals to open access and the founding of new journals that begin using this approach. Despite there being very little general awareness of open access issues in folklore studies, the field has already moved remarkably far down this path, organically and almost without fully recognizing that this was what it was doing. In contrast to those “green” journals that allow authors some rights to individually deposit their work into accessible repositories, journals that themselves publish work in a form that is freely available online and minimally encumbered by copyright restrictions are known as “gold” OA journals. A remarkable proportion of the folklore journal literature is already gold in this sense and I want to devote some attention to characterizing our journal landscape from this perspective.

There are some practical reasons for the rapid spread of OA in folklore studies despite the almost complete lack of a communal discussion of the subject (contra anthropology). One factor in my analysis is the persistence of “house journals” in folklore in contrast to their progressive disappearance in anthropology. American anthropology can point to a few such journals that remain central, for instance Ethnology (still published by the anthropology department at the University of Pittsburgh), the Journal of Anthropological Research (published by the department at New Mexico), and Anthropological Quarterly (published at George Washington University). Still, many of those that once existed as such have either gone on to become part of some publisher’s portfolio or have ceased publication. For purposes of a switch to OA, a house journal stands the best chances among the varieties of established (as opposed to start-up) journals. House journals of various kinds are still in the hands of a small group of people and they have not become key money makers for either a press or a society. This positions them more easily for a move to gold OA. Their established track records and deep back files make them especially appealing to those scholars whose career concerns prompt worry about the status risks of publishing in an untested online start-up journal.

An OA folklore title that I can highlight in this context is Oral Tradition. OT has been published for over 20 years by the Center for Studies of Oral Tradition at the University of Missouri. It was once a standard print journal, but its editorial team has made an active and complete move to OA, making over 10,000 pages (the complete journal run) available for free online. It has also worked hard to develop media supplements to enhance standard articles, while maintaining continuity in peer-review, editorial style and significance within the field. Another established folklore studies journals that has made this switch is Asian Ethnology, an important and well-established (founded 1942) journal that was known until recently as Asian Folklore Studies. Asian Ethnology is published by Japan’s Nanzan University.

As alluded to above, a second OA path in folkloristics involves the use of institutional repositories as an effective means of getting the back run of a journal available online and in the open. The two instances that I know best are projects at my home institution, Indiana University. Again, such efforts are easiest for journals that remain, in some fashion, under the control of a small, localized collective.

No longer actively published, but of considerable value to the field is The Folklore and Folk Music Archivist, a journal that was published by the Archives of Traditional Music (ATM) at IU between 1958 and 1968. In 2007, it was made freely available online as part of IU’s institutional repository, known now as IUScholarWorks Repository. This was a publication that was small enough that it could not easily be found everywhere it was wanted and the ATM staff were regularly responding to requests from scholars seeking copies of individual articles. Making it available in OA is an obvious increase in the collective good as well as a minor problem solver for the archives staff. The ATM’s labor investment in scanning and uploading the journal will pay dividends for years to come and, because the journal is no longer being published, it was a project with a recognizable starting and ending point. There are surely many more closed journal runs that could be readily added to appropriate repositories in similar fashion with relatively small investments of time and money.

Adding to the critical mass of folklore content archived and online in the repository side of IUScholarWorks is an effort by the editors of Folklore Forum. Folklore Forum, another long serving journal in the field, is an example of different kind of journal especially suitable for OA conversion–the student run, student published journal. Forum was founded in 1968 and has been continuously published by the graduate students in what is now the IU Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology since this time. The student editors worked with the IUScholarWorks project to make the entire back run available. While the repository collection for the Folklore and Folk Music Archivist contains 76 works, the Folklore Forum collection contains (as of this writing) 1314 items, making it one of the largest discrete collections in IU’s repository. Because Folklore Forum is still a going concern, the repository collection will continue to grow. Folklore Forum’s new content is published dynamically using WordPress software in an open access format (see here), but the long-term preservation of, and access to, these materials is predicated on their being continually added to IUScholarWorks Repository, where they will be cared for by the IU Libraries, where they can be searched amid the journal’s full run, and where they can be found via services such as Google Scholar.

Like Oral Tradition and Asian Ethnology, Folklore Forum is an established print journal that has made the transition not only to digital presentation but to a gift economy-centered version of the open access business model. With their established place in the field and their deep backfiles, such journals contrast with new efforts that are being founded as born open, born digital publications. Perhaps the best North American-based example of the later is Cultural Analysis. This journal was founded by several students in (now alumni of) the Berkeley Folklore Program. In its seventh volume, Cultural Analysis has featured articles and commentaries by some of the brightest scholars in our field and the journal has captured considerable attention beyond the immediate borders of our field, as is evidenced by its receiving a Savage Minds open access award and the discussion given to Flory Gingging’s (2007) article on the antropologi.info weblog (Kelty 2008c; Lorenz 2009).

If one checks the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and similar sources, one can find other born digital, born open folklore and ethnology journals. As others have noted, new OA journals (across the disciplines) are particularly appealing to scholars working in other national and regional contexts. Among folklore journals that can be pointed to in this context are Elore published by the Finnish Folklore Society and Folklore, published in Tartu by the Estonian Literary Museum. The former journal’s contents are mainly in Finnish, while the later publishes in English. One of the first online journals in the humanities, Folklore has been published online since 1996. (It is not to be confused with the toll access journal of the same name published by Taylor and Francis for the Folklore Society in the UK.)

Particularly dramatic are the efforts that have been undertaken by Indian folklorists to build an open access journal system for folkloristics in and beyond South Asia. The National Folklore Support Centre has led this effort and has established a portal for journals that makes available a wide range of titles in folklore studies, ethnomusicology and tribal studies. The flagship titles, both now well established in the field, are the Indian Folklore Research Journal (IFRJ) and Indian Folklife (IFL). IFRJ and IFL have both published work of a general and theoretical character and have welcomed contributions from scholars living and working outside the region. (I discussed this project in an earlier posting available here.)

For a several disciplines, The Bryn Mawr Classical Review, which was begun in 1990 and is based on the circulation of as-they-are-ready emailed book reviews, has provided a model for similar publication projects. In folklore studies, a email-based review service, with a searchable online database of content, was founded by my colleagues at Indiana University in 2007. Called the Journal of Folklore Research Reviews (JFRR), the project is based on the inspiration of The Bryn Mawr Classical Review and is an open access spin off of our house journal, the Journal of Folklore Research (which is published in a conventional partnership with Indiana University Press). As a free service to the whole of folklore studies, the uptake on JFRR has been remarkable. Colleagues across the field really seem to value the bite-sized format of one review at a time delivered right to the email box.

I want to conclude by returning to the compare and contrast work that I have been doing between folkloristics and anthropology. While sharing a great deal of common ground and common history, folklore studies and anthropology pose a contrast relative to OA publishing. In anthropology there is significant activism relative to OA and clear sense of a debate about the future to be engaged in. Developments in the AAA’s publications program (discussed on Savage Minds and in the pages of prominent higher education periodicals) have been a catalyst for these conversations. By contrast, far fewer folklorists are aware of such debates yet. Because of the social organization and political economy of our field, OA is, at this point, much less of a major transformation in the means of doing business for folkloristics. Barriers to achieving OA are much lower, but the longer term values that OA connects up with are also central to many folklorists sense of purpose.

This is perhaps clearest for “public folklore.” In the United States, many of our colleagues work in the public sector, outside academia (Baron 2008). Public folklore work centers on community-based culture work, including activities such as documenting the creative lives of traditional artists, developing public programs (festivals, exhibitions, concerts, presentations, demonstrations, etc.), and implementing public grant and curriculum initiatives. Public folklore programs, which are generally not-for-profit organizations or part of state or local governments, have long sought the most cost effective means available by which to bring their research–both as documentation and as curated products–to the attention of various stakeholders, including students, source communities, policy makers and the general public. This goal has roots in the long term values of folklore studies in general, but it is also a very practical strategy at several levels, from the contingencies of project management through to the politics of program funding. The principles of open access, and even of open data, whether recognized as such or not, seem like second nature to many U.S. folklorists. Like other kinds of scholars in public practice (social work provides a useful disciplinary illustration), public folklorists often lack the time and incentive to prioritize the scholarly article or monograph relative to more immediate and historically more accessible genres of scholarly production–the white paper, the lesson plan, the event program, the museum exhibition, the briefing for policy makers, the conference proceeding. Like workers in neighboring fields, public folklorists have for many years grown accustomed of producing works in formats such as PDF and making these available via CD-ROMs and website-based internet downloads. Viewed from the perspective of U.S. public folklore work, OA in folklore studies predates the narrower, more strictly journal-like projects that I have been mainly discussing in this essay.

Despite the advantages that I have highlighted, folklore studies does face some of the same limitations and challenges found in anthropology. Several of our major journals are entangled in the usual web of financial considerations. Still, most of these are published in partnership with not-for-profit university presses who remain strongly invested in the health of the field and who, while greatly constrained by business considerations, want to do all that they can to maximize the public good.

For both fields, safeguarding the future of valued scholarly societies is a shared concern in an environment in which publications revenue is central non-publications work. Finding new ways to fund the work of professional societies is a key concern in both fields.

As in anthropology, of course, there is great variance among folklorists in terms of technical sophistication and access, and with respect to relative willingness to engage with new media. Folklorists, after all, have a long-term intellectual commitment to engaging with, and sometimes celebrating, time tested (sometimes moribund) technologies and of maintaining respect for those who prefer not to jump on technological bandwagons. It will be interesting to see where OA projects go in folklore studies and to see what lessons other disciplines will offer our field. Conversely, I anticipate that folklore studies will offer neighboring fields its own home grown insights and experiences. After several years spent wrestling with these issues in the big tent of anthropology, I am excited and energized by the prospects for progressive action in our, much more humanely scaled, discipline. We have already accomplished a lot of good work for which we can be, I think, proud.

Endnotes

1. Doing this in the formats in which we made the paper available required our use of a Science Commons author agreement. This author’s rights tool is available here: http://scholars.sciencecommons.org/, accessed May 26, 2010.

2. Beyond citing the SHERPA “green” status of its author agreement, the AAA announced in 2008 an initiative (intended to begin in 2009) to provide free online access (via AnthroSource) to all content published by the association (in the American Anthropologist and Anthropology News prior to 1973 (AAA 2008). As of the May 2010, I do not know the status of this effort.

3. For the Harvard mandate, see: http://chronicle.com/news/article/3943/harvard-faculty-adopts-open-access-requirement, accessed March 3, 2009. For the established NIH policy, see: http://publicaccess.nih.gov/, accessed March 3, 2009. For the Conyers Bill that seeks to bar the U.S. government from requiring open access for federally funded research, see: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lawrence-lessig-and-michael-eisen/is-john-conyers-shilling_b_171189.html, accessed March 3, 2009. For information on the more recent Federal Research Public Access Act, which aims to broaden public access to federally funded scholarly research in the United States, see: http://www.arl.org/sparc/advocacy/frpaa/index.shtml, accessed March 27, 2010.

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