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Another World is Possible: Open Folklore as Library-Scholarly Society Partnership


In the wake of the SOPA/PIPA protests, debate over the Research Works Act, the growing boycott of Elsevier by scholars in many fields, and more local discussions of the ways that various scholarly societies in my own fields of interest (anthropology, folklore studies) responded to the recent call by the [U.S.] White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for comment on public access to federally funded research, there is a great deal of additional attention being given to the changing nature of the scholarly communications (publishing) system and our hopes for its future.

One key issue centers on scholarly society publishing programs and how they can best be advanced in the present and into the future. At the 2011 American Anthropological Association meetings I spoke in two different contexts about these issues. I have shared here previously my remarks to the “Future of AAA Publishing” event (Jackson 2011b; for context, see Nichols and Schmid 2011 and Brown 2011). That presentation was on “Green Open Access Practices.”

I also spoke in the Digital Anthropologies: Projects and Projections panel organized by Mike and Kim Fortun and sponsored by the Society for Cultural Anthropology. In that event (which has been well documented by Daniel Lende (2011), my goal was to describe the Open Folklore project as both a broader community effort and as a specific digital platform, so as to illustrate a more general point about the fruitful possibilities that can come from direct partnerships between libraries and the library community and scholarly societies.

Libraries and scholarly societies now have a customer-to-business relationship and it is one that is growing ever more strained as commercial publishers become central partners in many scholarly society publishing programs. I evoked the alter-globalization motto Another World is Possible in my title because I wanted to suggest that the course that we are on is not the only one available to us. I believe, on the basis of a lot of time spent over the past five years with university librarians around the Midwestern U.S., that the research library community would much rather work with scholarly societies collaboratively in the shared real and digital spaces in which scholars and librarians (and students) already labor together rather than engage antagonistically in a neoliberal marketplace that has been shaped by the business practices pioneered by firms such as Elsevier, Springer and (yes) Wiley-Blackwell. Open Folklore is just one of many university-scholarly society partnerships that are exploring how to make this alternative framework real.

I should have just shared my presentation at the time of the AAA meetings, but I had hope that I could quickly work on it some more before getting it into wider circulation. Time has not been available for that work, but the current interest in these issues suggests that I might now have an interested audience and a second chance to share it below in the form that I presented it in Montreal.

My remarks below should not be taken as an official statement of the Open Folklore project team, the Indiana University Libraries, or the American Folklore Society. They reflect my own experience with these issues, although they of course also draw upon the rich experiences that I have had partnering with talented, committed colleagues working toward the goal of achieving Open Folklore’s aspirations. The paper below has been edited lightly just to recontextualize the language for a reader not at the original panel (meaning simple removal of language like, “so and so will probably speak later this morning about…”). I wish to take this opportunity to especially thank Mike and Kim Fortun for their remarkable service to the field as editors of Cultural Anthropology and as organizers of the Digital Anthropology event.


Another World is Possible: Open Folklore as Library-Scholarly Society Partnership

Jason Baird Jackson

Indiana University

Building upon shared values, facing common problems, and recognizing new opportunities, partnerships linking scholars, scholarly societies, and research libraries are a particularly hopeful development in the changing scholarly communication system. In my remarks, and as an example of current possibilities, I will quickly describe the Open Folklore project and situate it in the context of the serials crisis, the corporate enclosure of society journal programs, the erosion of the university press system, the development of open source software for scholarly communication, and the rise of the open access movement as a progressive response to these changes. For those wanting basic information on using Open Folklore associated resources in your research and teaching, I urge you to visit the Open Folklore Portal site online and to consult the instructional screencasts that my collaborators and I have shared there, and on YouTube.

By way of introduction, I can note that OF is a joint project of the American Folklore Society and the Indiana University Bloomington (IUB) Libraries. The two lead partners share as desire to make more reliable folklore scholarship—in many genres—discoverable and freely available online.  The Open Folklore team is doing this work but so are many colleagues in many places. Consulting the Open Folklore website, which I will come to in a moment, provides an eye-opening and encouraging sense of the OA work that a wide and deep network of folklorists have already been pursuing. Launched in 2010, the project has grown rapidly and made significant progress in its efforts to foster and encourage the development of an interconnected and interoperable, but also distributed and low-cost, system of open access projects and resources.

The Open Folklore project is more than its associated portal site. The project is pursuing educational projects aimed at educating scholars about open access issues. Importantly, it is also working with rights holders and publishing partners to encourage the pursuit of sustainable open access projects that comply with the basic technical standards already extant in the broader scholarly communications community. Read more

Three Cheers for the Librarians–Lets Help Them Help Us

Three cheers for the librarians who look after us, whether we know it or not. As a student, teacher, researcher, and citizen I work with a wide range of information resources everyday. Whether I step into a library building or not, a large proportion of those resources are available to me because librarians work to make them available to me. Even when I use resources that come to me without the direct intervention of librarians and library staff, I am benefiting from the worlds of education, research, and democratic governance, including values of access and privacy, that librarians work hard to foster and defend everyday. I cannot say thank you enough for their work.

In his round up on “Anthropology and Open Access” (dealing with HR 3699 and SOPA), Jason Antrosio at Anthropology Report has kindly cited my comment on Ryan Anderson’s Savage Minds post on these themes. Under my own by-line, here is what I said in response to Ryan’s post. (Ryan is the Savage Mind who kindly interviewed me on OA issues in anthropology a while back.)

It is crucial that faculty and graduate students are part of the push back (against SOPA and HR 3699) for a number of reasons. One of which is that we need, in doing so, to give the librarians a morale boost. They have been fighting for us on this front for decades with too few of us knowing or caring about it. They have been getting tired, really tired. The way that, on this one, faculty and graduate students have been unusually vocal, has been encouraging to them. We need their help. Keep it up.

Thankfully tons of smart people have been explaining the problems with H.R. 3699 and SOPA. I could list links all day. If you do not yet know about these issues, dive in quickly and get them figured out.

Open Access Discussions at #AAA2011 and @savageminds

One last thanks to Ryan Anderson for his interview with me on open access issues. The final third was published today on Savage Minds. I hope that it proves useful to someone. The timing of the interview is great because I will be party to a couple discussions of scholarly communications issues at the American Anthropological Association meetings, which have already begun in Montreal.

In the session Digital Anthropology: Projects and Projections, I will be discussing library-scholarly society partnerships on the basis of my work with colleagues on the Open Folklore project. This panel is packed with wonderful colleagues and great projects. Thanks go to Mike Fortun for organizing it. It happens Sunday morning.

On Friday I will be part of a forum on The Future of AAA Publishing. I thank the AAA leadership for the invitation to participate in this gathering.

For everyone going to #AAA2011, have a great meeting.

Matthew Guterl on The Future of the Library/Libraries

A fellow faculty participant in the November 2, 2011 “Faculty Discussion on the Future of University Libraries” held at Indiana University under the sponsorship of the Dean of Libraries and the Provost was my Department of American Studies colleague Matthew Guterl. Matt is Rudy Professor of American Studies and History and the Chair of the the Department of American Studies. A historian of race and race-relations in the Americas, he is the author of numerous key works in American Studies, including The Color of Race in America, 1900-1940 (Harvard University Press, 2001) and American Mediterranean: Southern Slaveholders in the Age of Emancipation (Harvard University Press, 2008). This site does not have a flashy title like The Edge of the American West, Crooked Timber, or Savage Minds but it is fun to welcome such a talented guest contributor to the blog part of my website. Rather than see them filed away unread, here are Matt’s thoughtful reflections on the future of libraries at IU and everywhere.

“The Future of the Library/Libraries”

Matthew Pratt Guterl

I haven’t been to the big limestone box on Jordan in over a year, but I use the library every day.

Once I needed to use the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature; now I use Google.  I used to check the stacks; now I just search by keyword on Project Muse, or wait for a Google Scholar alert to arrive in my inbox.  I used to store my handwritten notes and copies in fireproof boxes or plastic crates; now I have digital reproductions of the entire archive of my current project stored on my phone.

The last time I was there, in the Wells Library, it was for coffee and donuts.

Maybe the future of the library is not the same thing as the future of that building.

Wells Library, Bloomington, Indiana. Courtesy of Indiana University.

After all, even if I’ve been absent physically, I’ve clicked on the IU Libraries link more times than I can count, and trolled through its rich databases with great delight.  I have more need of the library-in-the-abstract than ever before.

The big limestone box – and all that it includes – is still important.  But ours is not the Fitchburg State library, and IU isn’t a second tier, branch campus.  When I wonder about the short-term future of “real” academic libraries with walls and windows and floors, my thoughts race to Rutgers-Newark, to IU-East, or Washington State-Tri-Cities, or Lincoln University, the places most likely to be first erased by budget cutting and spatial reallocation.  I think about small town libraries in places less well off than Bloomington.  I think about corporate libraries and law firm libraries and museum libraries.  I think about the impending extinction of the bookshelf at the old ski lodge, or the hotel lobby, where the accidental discovery of some old Faulkner text, or some Philip K. Dick collection, encourages a new thought. Our research library – the Wells Library – may be safe, for now.  These other, less secure sites, are not.

I worry, after thinking about all of this, about the right now, and about short term access for the less fortunate, confronted with the boxing up of the local library stacks, however meager, or the end of the hard copy, however scarce, and about the corresponding absence of laptops and ipads and wifi, which we imagine as open substitutes, available to anyone, in this age of receding material reality.

Yes, the Wells Library will survive for some time, much like the 42nd Street Branch of the New York Public Library, or the Library Company in Philadelphia.  The scale of the architecture ensures that, as does the vastness of the collections and the professionalism of the research faculty.  Such places, awe-inspiring and beautiful, still generate new knowledge, even while they also encourage new and necessarily generous donations, and serve as delightful backdrops for critical fundraising campaigns.  But eventually, perhaps inevitably, as the library becomes ever more disembodied, even these historic buildings may become repurposed reliquaries, like old Masonic temples turned into state office buildings, or old movie theatres turned into restaurants, or old plantations turned into museums and beds and breakfasts.  Or, like abandoned factories, they will simply be emptied of content and left to fall apart, or turned into loft apartments.

Of course, for those of us caught up in the past, it is easy to get nostalgic about what is lost in this transition.  I remember the smell of my first public library, nestled in a retrofitted old fire station next to my childhood home.  I remember reading Santayana on the steps of the New York Public Library, waiting for the doors to open, and excited about what might be revealed within.  I remember the pleasure of waiting for something to arrive, for my call number to light up, or of finding something unexpected, and of the pervasive smell of glue and paper and ink.   I remember discovering a letter, misfiled under the wrong name, proving what I thought to be a powerful point.   In my most troubled moments, I grow concerned that all of this – this set of possibilities, this travail – will be lost.

Nostalgia, though, is the conservative reflex of those confronted by rapid change.  And so I push back against it.  I imagine what is possible in our future.  And I think, instead, of how cool it will be when the poorest person in the world can press a button – even if the button is worn, and the screen is dingy – and call up the complete works of Toni Morrison, linked to every video interview she’s ever given, and joined with her correspondence, archived in public and for free.  As a public university now more indebted than ever to a bigger, more global “public,” we have a big role in making this future possible.

I’m not sure that this utopic vision includes the bricks-and-mortar of the Wells Library, though it surely includes research librarians.  In many ways, it is the antithesis of this place, which has more in common with the Royal Library at Alexandria than it does with Google books.  And I remember that when the College’s Strategic Planning Committee met a few years ago, we half-joked about creating a rooftop biergarten, with crystal slides to the ground floor.  But this vision most certainly includes the library as a liberal ideal, with a social function worth expanding, a political mission worth protecting, and a research agenda that deserves better articulation.

Open Access Proposals Made at an IU Faculty Forum on the Future of Libraries

What follows are the remarks and proposals that I offered during the libraries-focused event held today at Indiana University. Hosted by IU Provost Karen Hansen and Dean of the Libraries Brenda Johnson, the event was framed as “A Faculty Discussion on the Future of University Libraries.” I was one of eight members of the faculty invited to offer 5 minute reflections on the questions before the assembly. I took the opportunity to suggest that the time has come for the IU faculty to get moving toward a green OA mandate. A proposal towards that goal, and two related ends, are expressed in my comments, which I share here for those who might be interested. The opening remarks and slides by the Provost and the Dean did a nice job framing the issues and my fellow panelists all offered important reflections and goals. The event was very well attended and I thank everyone involved in organizing and attending the gathering. I think that the event was a good step forward towards additional discussions and the work ahead.

I want to thank Dean Johnson and Provost Hansen for their kind invitation to participate in today’s discussion. This afternoon, I wish to carefully offer three proposals while keeping to the allotted five minutes. This context explains my pre-preparation of these remarks.

I am not speaking on anyone else’s behalf, but my suggestions are conditioned by my past experiences, present commitments, and the collaborative projects on which I am working. My efforts as a curator, teacher, researcher, journal editor, library committee member, scholarly society board member, and collaborator working with disadvantaged communities still dealing with the legacies of colonialism, all shape my concerns and motivate my efforts as an activist for scholarly communications reform. My knowledge of the current scholarly communications system and its prospects have been profoundly shaped through my collaborations with librarians and technologists at the IU Libraries and I appreciate the many ways that they have supported and taught me. I have tremendous appreciation for all that the Libraries are doing to support my work and that of my students and colleagues.

I look forward to our discussions of the full range of topics surveyed by the Provost and the Dean, but my proposals focus on the activity that we once called publishing and the changing ways that the libraries engage with it. My hope is to provoke the faculty to take greater ownership in the work of scholarly communication and thereby to partner more meaningfully with our library in fostering a more equitable, ethical, sustainable and sensible communications and learning environment for ourselves, for the communities that need our work, for our debt-crushed students, and for every lifelong learner, regardless of their ability to pay to access our scholarship.

Later I will be very willing to provide needed background, but the most economical approach for me now is to just offer my three proposals for the faculty to consider. The IU Libraries are contributing in a number of key ways to an international effort to protect and improve the scholarly communications system, but without broader leadership here on our campus, there are limits to what can be accomplished. I have tremendous hope for what we might do by working together. Here goes:

  1. I propose that the Bloomington Faculty Council, in consultation with the Dean of the Libraries, the Office of the Provost, and the Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs, begin formal work towards what is known as a green open access mandate for faculty on the Bloomington campus. With mandates already in place at Harvard, MIT, California, Oberlin, Kansas and hundreds of other institutions worldwide, we are prepared to take advantage of the experiences of those who have preceded us on this path. Our leadership in IT, our international commitments, the prominence of our scholarship, and the stature of our library insure our success in such a venture. Delay wrongly suggests that we are not an institution of the first rank. Read more

Libraries’ Collections and Services: Changing Expectations

Here at Indiana University, I am really looking forward to being part of a campus-wide discussion tomorrow that has been organized by the Provost and the Dean of the Libraries. The focus of the event is the future of research libraries in general and at Indiana University in particular. Much time will be devoted to general discussion with attendees, but the Provost and Dean will offer framing comments and I am part of a faculty panel with great campus colleagues. We will each offer five minutes of commentary to foster the general discussion. I am very appreciative of the Provost and Dean for organizing this event on questions so crucial to the future of the university and of scholarship in general. It will be interesting to see where things will go through and beyond this gathering.

Our Provost is headed to a position at her alma matter, the University of Minnesota. Having myself participated as a guest in cognate discussions with excellent librarians and faculty there, I have hope that our discussions in Bloomington will serve her well when she gets to Minnesota. IU and UM are both amazingly fortunate to have such excellent, forward looking librarians and great libraries.

Folklore Collection Special Exhibition at Wells Library for #AFS11

Today I got to see the exhibition at the Wells Library focusing on Indiana University’s unbelievable folklore studies collection. The exhibition, in the library lobby, was put together by a team led by IU folklore librarian Moria Marsh and has been installed as part of the programming for #AFS11. I got to see the exhibition today and it is great.

Among the cool items on exhibition at the Library is the award recently won by the Open Folklore project, a joint effort of the AFS and the IU Bloomington Libraries.

There are tons of AFS-related exhibitions around campus and town. Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to get them ready.

On Making Conference Programs and Reports Back to 1889 Freely Accessible Online

Earlier I posted about the recent news from the Open Folklore project. One piece of the larger story was the news that the American Folklore Society, in partnership with the IU Bloomington Libraries, has made a nearly complete set of AFS conference programs and conference reports available for free online. These documents provide information on the annual meetings of the AFS going back to the society’s founding.  There are still a few missing items to be found and added to the collection, but its almost all there and this is an important accomplishment. These documents are can be found via Open Folklore search and browsed in IUScholarWorks Repository.

Most importantly, these documents are a valuable resource to scholars. They are key historical documents, but they are also invaluable to those who need to know who studied what when?

Beyond their documentary value, the folklorists and ethnologists involved in the AFS should be proud of this accomplishment. Through collaborative partnerships and the deployment of some elbow grease, another worthy open access milestone has been met. Such efforts require labor and in-kind support, but they do not require a major grant, custom digital infrastructures, and outsourced service providers.



New Open Access Tools, Resources, Partnerships, and Content Announced @openfolklore

I am happy to report that real and significant progress in the Open Folklore project continues to be made. A year ago (October 13, to be exact) the American Folklore Society and the Indiana University Bloomington Libraries launched the Open Folklore project and its associated web portal. Open Folklore is about promoting open access in the field of folklore studies (/ethnology) and about fostering partnerships among those working towards the goals of open access in the field. On behalf of the OF project team, I was the author of a news release/project report on the most recent accomplishments of the project and the most recent content additions accessible via the portal site. This was published this morning and is available from the Open Folklore portal.

As readers of the news release will discover, highlights over the past six months include making programs and reports related to the annual meetings of the American Folklore Society (going back to 1889) freely accessible, the launch of the AFS Ethnographic Thesaurus, and the continued growth in the number of AFS section journals being made freely accessible in digital form. The big picture is that the community is continuing to come together to advance the goal of making folklore scholarship and resources more discoverable and accessible to community members, students, tradition bearers, and scholars worldwide. As was recognized this summer when OF was recognized with the Outstanding Collaboration Award by the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) during the American Library Association meetings, folklorists have a lot to be proud of. We are pioneering in many parts of the scholarly communications world, from the development of open access journals, books, repositories and archives to developing generalizable collaboration strategies for organizational partnership, especially between libraries, non-commercial publishers, and scholarly societies.

I encourage everyone to get caught up with what OF has been up to over the past six months and to continue to spread the word about the project while putting the tools and resources available at to use in your work.

Tinker Toy Story II – Inside Higher Ed

Tinker Toy Story II – Inside Higher Ed.

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