What’s an Anthropological Grey Literature Portal?

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.”

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

9 thoughts on “What’s an Anthropological Grey Literature Portal?

  1. I wonder what the SAA leadership and rank and file thinks about the project? Gatekeeping archaeological grey lit has the dual function of aiding site preservation and guarding the disciplinary rice bowl.

  2. Kerim, Sorry the podcast format/content didn’t provide answers for you. It was a step in the process of creating something and not meant to be self-congratulatory marketing speak propaganda. We think, like the SM crowd I assume, that OA is important and I’d be happy to answer specific questions or address your concerns by email or on the phone. Thanks for covering the podcast and most importantly, being concerned about grey literature in anthropology. Gregg

  3. Gregg,

    Thanks for dropping by. Sorry if the initial comment put you off, but it would be great if you could read the rest of the post and clarify, correct, or confirm what I’ve written about AARN.

  4. I think it´s good that the AAA is looking into putting something together with the SSRN. That said, I am not all that interested in creating an archive that is only accessible to *members* of the association. Personally, I would rather work toward creating and participating in an archive system that extends beyond the limited purview of the AAA. If you are already a member of the AAA then you already more than likely have access to the vast majority of this material–so I don’t see the point.

    “I really wish Ms. Schmid had taken the opportunity to talk more about what SSRN will and won’t admit as grey matter.”

    I agree Kerim. The rationale for inclusion/exclusion in the archive is pretty vague.

    “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.”

    Yep. I’d like to hear about the costs of this as well.

  5. Kerim, I’m never (ok very rarely) offended. I’m working on a piece for a fall issue of AN this week but will provide some details by Fri.

  6. Ryan, couple of quick answers:
    -You don’t need to be an AAA member to submit or download from AARN. Submitting is free to everyone. Downloading is also free, except for some published papers. Author submissions are always free to download.
    – AAA is using donations to RDC to support SSRN’s creation of AARN and help get it to a sustainable level.
    – SSRN currently allows PDF submissions and is testing other content including videos and datasets. The PDF must contain scholarly information (paper, slides, etc.) to be on the author’s SSRN page and searchable on SSRN. Nonscholarly information can also be submitted but those papers are available on the author’s SSRN page. All of the content is exposed to search engines and included in them.

  7. Hi Gregg,

    “You don’t need to be an AAA member to submit or download from AARN.”

    That is really good news. This issue was a little unclear on the AAA blog post. I already have an account at the SSRN, so I am happy to see this taking shape. I have been spending some time there getting to know how things work and checking out the content available. I see a lot of potential with this kind of publishing.

    “AAA is using donations to RDC to support SSRN’s creation of AARN and help get it to a sustainable level.”

    Ya, what I would like to learn more about is how much it costs to run and sustain these sorts of archives. What kind of money does it take to get to the sustainable level? We all know OA isn’t free, so the next question is how much we’re talking about to keep it up and running.

    “The PDF must contain scholarly information…”

    I may be getting a little too focused on details here, but I was just wondering how SSRN determines that something qualifies as scholarly information. What measures or parameters do they use to make this judgment?

    Thanks for your replies!

  8. Sorry for the delay, last week didn’t stop until Mon afternoon.

    “Scholarly work” is a tough thing to define. When we started SSRN it was stuff that was published in a book or journal. Now, blog posts, preprints, interviews, videos, etc. can all be considered scholarly. We want to be as broad as possible and basically define it as being part of the scholarly discourse in one or more SSRN subject areas. Most of the early work on Ryan’s anthropologies site would not be publicly searchable in the SSRN eLibrary but could be included in the Other Papers section of the author’s SSRN page. A quick review of some of the articles in the Kinship issue looked like they could be included and publicly searchable in the eLibrary. Authors can submit any work where they hold the copyright or sufficient rights, including post prints.

    Money is always an interesting topic especially in an OA environment. SSRN spends over a $1,000,000 on development and maintenance each year. We pay for these expenses by providing subscription and partner services. RDC’s support jump started AARN and I think we will be able to continue the network after it ends.

    Pls let me know by comments or email if I missed anything or there are add’l questions. There is much more about my view of anthropology today and OA in the Oct issue of AN and I plan to attend the Annual Meeting in SF.

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