Open access anthropology needs a civil service, a staff, a personnel. For Big Content, it’s easy: hire and pay staff with the money you’ve received for charging professors to read the work they themselves have written. For open access anthropology, finding a staff to proselytize and educate open access is difficult — finding people to actually edit and produce publications is even more difficult. The two key factors involved are time and money, and so far anthropology’s usual solutions to these problems have not been working out.
The professional association of most anthropologists, the AAA, has failed the discipline. Attempts to shift paradigm from paper to digital publishing revealed the association’s underlying lack of capacity: unable to successfully tap or organize volunteer human resources, the AAA could only run its website and publications by hiring outside contractors to do so. When the cost was too great, they mortgaged our content to keep their journals afloat. As a result anthropology, like many disciplines, now exists in two worlds: a for-pay, exclusionary professionalized world and a volunteer, open-access, nonprofit one.
This open access world currently works via a loosely knit, sometimes-connecting network of people who each keep their own pots boiling and their own pet projects up and running. This has been great — the days when a group of us would meet around a table for an ‘open access lunch’ have been obsoleted by the proliferation of personnel and projects that we are working on. But at the same time large-scale projects which require more structure have taken longer to take off.
There are exceptions to this — for instance, anything Jason Jackson’s involved in. But increasingly OA advocates have been looking at each other asking who is going to crystallize the energy in the room into a fully-functional, formalized publishing apparatus.
A lot of the work is currently done by graduate students, but graduate students eventually become professors (hopefully!) who have to start building and growing the institutions that have hired them. Uptake of OA ideals from high-prestige players is critical to legitimating the paradigm, and so far as been one of the great unsung successes of the movement: OA is not something that “community colleges do”. But by definition people at Princeton, Chicago, Berkeley and so forth are the very ones with little free time on their hand to acutally to the work of administering OA projects.
Right now a lot of OA projects — like the upcoming journal Hau — work outside the donought hole of tenure, leveraging graduate student initiative with emeritus emminence (thank you, Marshall, Justin, Keith, etc). It’s a promising model, and I think more and more senior professors should grasp the nettle and start their own publication programs. But in this case the donought we’re missing is acutally where most academics work: their career as full-time professors.
I think we need more tenured, secure professors taking charge of the administrative end of open access publications. And not people from research schools, necessarily. Teaching-first institutions seem a perfect location for this sort of work, since they reward teaching, an activity that leaves just enough time to edit work but maybe not as much as you’d like to do it and write it up.
It would be great if there were other careers that made this sort of free time available — Ph.D.s who become administrators, have part-time research positions, work as librarians, and so forth. In my own wierd imagination of the Durkheimians, a lot of their ability to produce major, movement-defining periodicals came from the fact that they weren’t professors, but had a string of demanding but not totally absorbing appointments.
Regardless of how the hours are subsidized, I think this sort of serious institutionalization is a necessary next step for the movement. The people who are already blogging, or already writing, or already have grants to create repositories cannot also take on the additional task of starting open access journals… as much as we’d like to! While some might object that this sort of service work doesn’t count towards tenure, I think that there are positions out there where tenurable activities could coexist with a major sideline in open access adminsitration — and that’s what we need right now.