For a long time now many of us have been arguing that the AAA should have a “grey literature” archive, so I was excited to read on the official AAA blog that they have partnered with the Social Science Resource Network (SSRN) to create a new tool – the Anthropology and Archaeology Resource Network (AARN). Unfortunately the announcement is done as a podcast, so you have to listen to a 12 min interview in order to find out very little beyond what was already announced last April.
I also found the whole style of the podcast very off-putting. The discussion between SSRN President Gregg Gordon and AAA Director of Publishing Oona Schmid is self-congratulatory and sounds like a Hollywood parody of how corporate executives speak at marketing meetings. I’m not saying that this isn’t good news, but learning that “gray is the new black in scholarly literature” isn’t what I expect from an academic podcast. Moreover, the podcast promises that by the time we listen we can go to the SSRN website and click on the AARN link, but I couldn’t find such a link. (The blog post says “AAA members will be able to utilize AARN by this fall” so I assume it isn’t ready yet.)
Given that the podcast isn’t very informative, and there isn’t really anything yet to look at, I thought I’d try to see if I can’t provide a kind of Q&A about this announcement, filling in the answers in this post as I figure them out:
1. What is “grey literature”?
Here is what Wikipedia says: “Grey literature…is a library and information science term that refers to written material such as reports that is difficult to find via conventional channels such as published journals and monographs because it is not published commercially or is generally inaccessible. It is considered an important source of information, however, because it tends to be original and recent. Examples of grey literature include patents, technical reports from government agencies or scientific research groups, working papers from research groups or committees, white papers, and preprints.”
- What is SSRN’s definition of “grey literature”?
I’m not clear if SSRN’s definition is the same as Wikipedia’s definition. They write: “A paper must be part of the world-wide scholarly discourse covered by one or more of SSRN’s subject area networks to be eligible for inclusion and public display in SSRN’s eLibrary. Every submitted paper is reviewed by SSRN staff to ensure that the paper is a part of the scholarly discourse in its subject area. SSRN does not provide peer review for papers in the eLibrary.” Papers which don’t’ meet their definition of “world-wide scholarly discourse” can be submitted, but won’t appear in SSRN’s search page, the network page, or the browse page (basically you have to link to them yourself or find them on Google). I really wish Ms. Schmid had taken the opportunity to talk more about what SSRN will and won’t admit as grey matter.
- How about multi-media grey matter?
As far as I can make out, SSRN is a PDF-only archive. You could, perhaps, include photos in a PDF and upload them that way, but I don’t see any information about non-textual material listed in their FAQ. This is disappointing as one of the great potentials of having an anthropological archive would be to store multi-media material such as video, photographs and audio recordings. You can, of course, still store this stuff on Archive.org, but it would be nice to have it in an academic repository.
- What about “post prints”?
While preprints are explicitly mentioned in the FAQ, I couldn’t find anything about post prints, but according to this PDF document, SSRN can also archive post-prints, assuming they are legitimate according to SHERPA/ROMEO. This is great, because that means this is not just a “grey literature” archive, but a full fledged open access institutional repository. According to the AAA website: “In the author agreement for AAA journals, the author reserves the right (among other rights) to post the postprint manuscript draft or uncorrected page proofs of article on free, discipline-specific public servers.” That should include SSRN, but it would be nice for the AAA to make this explicit.
- Who is paying for this?
In their April post, the AAA wrote: “The Resource Development Committee raised funds to support AAA members and anthropologists in sharing their research faster and more efficiently. With donations for the Gray Literature Portal, AAA has partnered with the Social Science Resource Network (SSRN) to create a new tool – the Anthropology and Archaeology Resource Network (AARN).” They didn’t, however, say how much this has cost, or for how long the deal will last. It would be nice to know more. As far as I can tell, the payments are going to maintain the “portal” but anyone can join and post articles to SSRN for free whether or not this portal exists? What would happen, however, if the payments to SSRN were to stop? Would the portal go away?
That’s all I could figure out for now. I will update this FAQ as I find out more information or as more questions/answers get posed in the comments.