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AAA: a little bit Open Access, a little bit closed

7 October, 2008

On October 7th, I got a press release from the AAA dated, inexplicably, September 17th:

September 17, 2008

AAA Creates “Open Access” to Anthropological Research

In a groundbreaking move aimed at facilitating greater access for the global social science and anthropological communities to 86 years of classic, historic research articles, the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association announced today that it will provide, free of charge, unrestricted content previously published in two if its flagship publications – American Anthropologist and Anthropology News.

The initiative, among the first of its kind in the humanities- and social science-based publishing environment and made in coordination with publishing partner Wiley-Blackwell, will provide access to these materials for the purposes of personal, educational and other non-commercial uses after a thirty-five year period.

Starting in 2009, content published from 1888 to 1973, will be available through AnthroSource, the premier online resource serving the research, teaching, and professional needs of anthropologists. Previously, this information was only available via AAA association membership, subscription or on a so-called “pay per view” basis.
“This historic move, initiated by the needs and desires of our worldwide constituency, is our association’s pointed answer to the call for open access to our publications. This program, I believe, is an important first step in answering the call to un-gating anthropological knowledge,” AAA Executive Director Bill Davis said in a statement issued today.

The initiative, which will be re-evaluated by internal AAA committees in the next year (the Committee on Scientific Publication as advised by the Committee for the Future of Electronic Publishing), may be expanded in the future.

“Our Association is committed to the widespread dissemination of anthropological knowledge,” notes Oona Schmid, AAA Director of Publishing “and our Executive Board is acting to support this goal in two ways: supporting the sustainability of our publishing program and facilitating access to more than eight decades of studies and content in the discipline.”

Read what Savage Minds’ ckelty and rex have to say about this move: ckelty points out that

The AAA has breathlessly announced that it is going open access!! American Anthropology and Anthropology News will now be Open Access. (um, but just those issues between 1888 and 1973).

So, this is great, really, despite my snarkiness. The AAA has realized that opening up 35 year old scholarship is not a threat to their publishing revenue…

and rex speculates:

My guess is that the AAA has discussed the issue with Wiley-Blackwell (WB) and WB has told them what the OA community has told them—their revenue does not come from selling content, or at least not huge chunks of old content.


One Comment leave one →
  1. 9 October, 2008 1:03 pm

    As an anecdote on the need for OA in anthro…
    Hadn’t yet read anything specific about AAA’s OA content. Saw some blog posts about the issue and opened those in new tabs.I then started writing a comment about some other anthro-related topic.
    As I was writing, I wanted to check the date for the seminal seminar in Santa Fe which gave us Clifford and Marcus, 1986 (I’m guessing it’s some time in 1984 but I wanted confirmation). My copy of Writing Culture is in a box downstairs. The section of the book which discusses this seminar doesn`t seem to be accessible on Amazon or Google Books. I notice a recent Anthropology Newsletter piece which seems to describe the seminar, so I click on it thinking that AnthroSource had gone OA. No luck.
    Of course, I could find the information elsewhere. In fact, I could connect to Concordia’s (recently set up) VPN to get AnthroSource privileges. But it’s such an unnecessary hassle.
    As finding this information wasn’t really important, I basically gave up digging for this specific date. The issue will probably come up again and, by that time, I’ll be more willing to find the relevant tidbit.

    It’s just an anecdote. Closed access, in this case, is basically the same level of annoyance as DRM on media files. Nothing to go to the barricades over.
    But there’s a deeper issue, which is much more specific to anthro: we collaborate with people all over the world and many of these people have no access to what we write with/about them. Given the “crisis of representation” which started over 20 years ago and which still seems rather relevant today, why aren’t the ethnographers among us talking more about OA for our collaborators, friends, detractors, and larger audience?
    Is it simply because access to AnthroSource is fairly easy from university offices? Is it because we see AAA membership as a requirement for anyone who wants to work with us?

    Ah, well…

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