Friday, February 15, 2008

The AAA Discusses Open Access

The Feb 2008 issue of Anthropology News (newsletter of the American Anthropological Association) has a special Focus section on Open Access. Several anthropologists (NOT including archaeologists) provide essays on the nature of OA and its possibilities for the AAA. Although a few good issues are brought up, I am disappointed for the exclusive emphasis on Gold OA (open access journals) and lack of consideration of Green OA (self-archiving). See my earlier posts on these alternatives. The fact that this focus section was not made openly available (e.g., through a Creative Commons license) is a signal of just where the AAA stands on OA.

The good points I noted include:
  • Lack of OA means lowered access to anthropological knowledge. The lack of OA for AAA journals means that people outside of anthropology, when looking for anthropological knowledge on the internet, are likely to bypass AAA journals and sources and find their information elsewhere. Anthropology as a discipline has done a horrible job over the years of getting its basic data and findings in front of the public and non-anthropological disciplines. Failure to embrace OA will just continue this poor track record into the future.
  • The AAA needs to rethink not just OA, but its whole mission and organization in light of changes in the internet and publishing.
  • Who are scholars working for? The AAA publications program has been subcontracted to Wiley-Blackwell, one of the largest commercial publishers. Lets look at the work involved in publishing, assuming that I publish an article in American Anthropologist:
  1. I do the research and writing for free. I give up time that I could devote to other activities (some of which actually earn money) in order to write scholarly articles for free.
  2. My colleagues review the manuscript for free.
  3. Editors at AA take the time to edit and work on the ms. for free (or maybe they are paid, I'm not sure)
  4. AAA turns over the paper to Wiley-Blackwell to publish. W-B earns profits on the article, based on our free scholarly labor.
  5. If I want to post the article on the internet, I have to pay W-B for the privilege of doing this.
  • I don't recall signing an employment contract with Wiley-Blackwell, and I don't really want to work for them. Maybe I will just not publish in AAA journals any more.
Why doesn't the AAA set up an institutional repository for the publications of anthropologists? This will accomplish the goals of OA without waiting for major upheavals in professional societies and commercial publishers. With innovations like the E-prints reprint button the goals of OA can be reached quickly and easily.


Anonymous said...

Prof. Smith,

While not an institutional repository, anthropologists can deposit their work with the Mana'o Project ( We accept submissions by email ( rather than by self-deposit. If you are interested in sharing your work with us, send me an email and we can talk more about it.


John Russell
Librarian, Mana'o Project

Michael E. Smith said...

I'm waiting to see what happens with the Mana'o project. If my university or perhaps the SAA (ha ha) don't come up with a repository soon I will probably go with Mana'o.