Everything that AnthroSource was supposed to be, Open Folkore is — and more.
In his recent entry on the future of AAA publishing Chris Kelty linked to a long memo by Kim Fortun which quotes one anthropologist’s condensed history of AnthroSource:
When AnthroSource was first unveiled I… fell in love with it. If AnthroSource meant that all members of AAA had electronic access to all AAA publications, then we could ditch paper copies… and that would mean that institutional subscriptions and perhaps even membership fees could have been lowered. But none of that happened. Now, when I try to use AnthroSource, I discover that I am better off going through my university library which takes me right to the Wiley-Blackwell site. And I now frankly find the Anthrosource search function useless. Do you use it? I have gone to AnthroSource and put in the search field a word that I KNOW appears in a wide range of articles – yet the search returns with no matches… I do not know what is the cause of it going from a great resource with yet untapped potential to a useless piece of junk.
Anthropology had a vision to create a sustainable, open, and innovative publishing system — and we’ve ended up buying our own work back from Wiley-Blackwell. The folklorists, on the other hand, seem on the verge of bringing this ideal to fruition.
OpenFolklore is — or is going to be — an online portal connecting folklorists with… well, pretty much everything. The project has several interrelated components: Flagship journals are being made available online through JSTOR, while other journals will be available open access. Content of all sorts — published or not — will be put in institutional repositories, including the massive IU Bloomington collection, which Google has digitized. Its a very, very impressive project that is already well underway.
OpenFolklore’s MO appears to be: get it online, by any means necessary. And their means do vary — in some cases, they are using traditional “we’ll let you market our content if you digitize it for us” methods by working with Google and JSTOR, but they are also using institutional repositories based out of libraries and open access journals run using open source software. As a result the project hardly seems to be one seamless, flawlessly machined whole. Rather, it is made up of many components, each one using a method appropriate to its goal and relying on mechanisms and models whose drawbacks and advantages are by now reasonably well-understood in scholarly publishing.
How has OpenFolklore gotten on the road to success when AnthroSource has fallen so, so far off of it? To be honest, I don’t know the answer, but I can make several guesses: the association is much smaller, and probably much less controlled by non-academic executive officers. They probably recognize that they are in it for the love it, and that folklore is always going to be a marginal proposition, budget wise. The result is a small, relatively agile, values-driven group run by academics with their heads screwed on straight and willing to get their hands dirty. On other words, very very different from the AAA.
This work is relavant for anthropologists — just the other day I was stuck in the reading room of my library reading a non-circulating book and dreading the costly xeroxing I would have to do when I suddenly saw in the introduction that the papers originally appeared in Oral Tradition — a journal whose website I’ve visited before. As a result instead of photocopying South Pacific Oral Traditions I was able to check out the original special issue from over 20 years ago, including Papua New Guinean scholar John Waiko’s “Head” and “Tail”: The Shaping of Oral Traditions Amongst the Binandere of Papua New Guinea . And indeed, if I wanted a printed copy of the published book for myself, Indiana University Press is selling print-on-demand paperbacks for US$15. How rad is that?
Of course like all great ideas, OpenFolklore still has plenty of time to utterly crash and burn — to this extent its only difference from AnthroSource is that it is newer. But I think — and hope! — that it will be a huge success. The project certainly has the potential to transform folklore and to lead the way for the social sciences and humanities. It looks likely that OpenFolklore is going to be a model for other scholarly societies to emulate in the future.