Alerting Monopolies

Why aren’t great open access journals more widely read and cited? I am sure that the people who think about these things professionally know the real answer to this, but here’s my answer: alerting monopolies.

We are ‘alerted’ (made aware) of new content in AAA journals because the AAA ‘pushes’ alerts to us — in the old days, they used to actually send you a paper copy of the journal. These days there are email alerts, twitter alerts, and other ways of reaching anthropological audiences. A lot of these methods are opt-in, so you have to actually go sign up to receive emails about new issues. But because we interact with the AAA website and organization regularly, it is much easier to get people to sign up for these alerts.

If you are the kind of person who already knows about Tipiti and reads it regularly, on the other hand, then you are already savvy enough to hunt down some of the more obscure edges of the Internet for open access content. But how will the more mainstream anthropologists get signed up for alerting and be able to locate content from these journals?

It’s an interesting question. I’m increasingly thinking that as the amount of open access material increases we need to build services on top of it to aid discovery — as the old methods of publication change the old ways that scholars process them will probably have to change as well.

Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

9 thoughts on “Alerting Monopolies

  1. I have been thinking about this problem a lot. I’m working on an e-book now and I know that I’ll reach many more readers through my own “alert” mechanism than the traditional channels. And yet there are readers I would like to make aware of my stuff who don’t read internets. If a book isn’t in the book reviews in the usual places, it may as well not exist to these people.

  2. I can’t think of any point in time during my academic career during which an e-mail alert or something similar pointed me towards content. I find that in most cases signing up for any sort of listserv or similar alerting system just contributes more junk mail to my inbox if it’s not related to an organization with which I have direct involvement.

    A lot of open access journals are missing from the major academic journal databases and I would think that this is the larger problem. When I’m doing research, it’s much more efficient to hit four or five databases that bundle multiple journals together (plus google scholar, the local library catalog/worldcat for books, and the citation sections of articles I already have) than search multiple separate open access journals. The library at my current institution does list some open access journals in their list of journals but I generally find it to be a waste of time because they rarely contain information that is useful to my research (though they do contain stuff that might help others). I don’t have the time to spend hours looking for the one or two obscure open access articles that might be useful to me. If there was an actual database (as good as JSTOR or similar websites) that aggregated a large number of open access journals together then it would be much easier to find useful content. (If there is one that actually exists could someone post a link to it.)

  3. I’m reminded of the generational gaps when I discover that what I always thought of as marketing is now alerting! Still, the point is a good one, and may be intensified by the new scale of the issue: hundreds of OA journals, many available only online. Roddy MacLeod mentions one site, and I have regularly consulted another:
    the directory of open access journals, which as of today lists 7322 OA journals.

  4. The aggregation that grad student guy seeks is a goal of the Open Folklore portal (see OF Search). This approach requires gold oa journals to publish using standard tools that allow for the harvesting of metadata. I think similar tools will eventually emerge, probably for specific broad sub-fields.

    Gold OA journals are increasingly being added to the standard search tools alongside non gold OA ones. I am proud that Museum Anthropology Review was recently added to Anthropological Literature–its first gold OA journal.

    These are search not alerting things (see also Google Scholar). For alerting, I rely a lot on RSS feeds for the journals that matter to me. This also provides a kind of DIY collated alert without necessitating email alerts. Most journals provide for both email and RSS.

  5. It’s funny, the generation above me thinks of TOC alerts as marketing, while the one below me thinks they’re obsolete.

    I understand that there are numerous services to locate information about open access journals, and it’s great that they’re mentioned here. I guess in terms of technology I am thinking about tools that more carefully curate material, or allow us to sift through content in new and different ways than “here are 10,000 RSS feeds” or “here are 20,000 articles”… although of course I’m very thankful for those services! I dream of creating a big HTML5 map of New Guinea you can zoom in on and the articles for the places you cover pop up… someday someday…

    I also think a major part of alerting monopolies is changing the reading habits of and sociology of the generic professorate. This is (yet another) place where the AAA fell down — if they built a curated version of Journal TOCs and then pushed it hard and publicized it well with membership, just think where we’d be! Oh yeah… we’d have AnthroSource as we originally envisioned it!

    Thinking about the ‘awareness habitus’ of the general professorate is interesting to me. A think a lot of time when tenure committees speak half-heartedly of ‘publishing in major journals’ or citation statistics what they really mean is that they want junior faculty’s names to appear on the things that they read — to see them (although probably not read them!) ‘around’ in ‘important places’. It would be interesting to do a phenomenology of ‘importance’ as it is actually experienced in the lifeworlds of professors and how these experiences are or are not articulated successfully by us in our professional lives.

  6. A think a lot of time when tenure committees speak half-heartedly of ‘publishing in major journals’ or citation statistics what they really mean is that they want junior faculty’s names to appear on the things that they read — to see them (although probably not read them!) ‘around’ in ‘important places’


  7. Jason said, above, “Most journals provide for both email and RSS. ” Thiis is correct, especially WRT the bigger publishers, but there are still many thousands of journals that don’t provide RSS Table of Contents feeds. This is a great shame. My colleague, Santy Chumbe, has written about RSS and journals. See

  8. The essay that Roddy MacLeod points to is crucial because it is about the difference between simply providing RSS and providing RSS in the best possible ways. Using the best possible metadata protocols and standards allows for the kind of value added and curatorial projects that Rex is hoping for. I appreciate the link because it enables me to go back and make sure that RSS for Museum Anthropology Review is optimized for interoperability.

    Relating to Rex’s hopes, see @JasonAntrosio ‘s Anthropology Report experiment, launched today. I also like the model being experimented with at Digital Humanities Now. These considerations relate to matters discussed in connection with Greg Downey’s early November Neuroanthropology post on “An online anthropology compiler”.

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