Welcome Libraria!

When twitter lit up last week with the news that PKP and SPARC had partnered with EASA, SCA, and 4S your response was probably “WTF?” The new project is called Libraria and is an important development in open access publishing for anthropologists. So important, in fact, that it deserves a bit of explanation for those who are not insiders into the acronym-filled world of the open access movement.

Ever since the open access movement picked up steam in the late nineties, there have been a wide variety of initiatives, movements, and programs out there all aimed at creating a world where knowledge is free for all. One of the oldest and most well-known are the Public Knowledge Project (PKP). PKP is run by Stanford Professor John Willinsky and is supported by Canadian and American universities (including Simon Fraser university, home of Kathleen Gough, author of the seminal piece “Anthropology and Imperialism“).

One of the biggest issues facing open access journals is the business model: How do you get the money to publish a journal if you don’t make people pay for journal articles? There are lots of good answers to this question, but they have all evolved organically over time and often have some fishy politics. For instance, one option is to have governments give money to researchers and then have the researchers pay for-profit journals to publish open access work, a situation in which companies wring profits out of tax payers.

So PKP got roughly half a million dollars from the MacArthur Foundation to conduct a study on what new ways of publishing might be possible — ways that totally rethink and break down the traditional divide between author, publisher, library, and reader. The focus here is not on rethinking what a book is or what peer review is, but rethinking how journals are funded, produced, and put together.

TThe good news is that anthropologists have a part to play in this. Several of the leading independent forces in anthropology publishing have formed up like Voltron to create Libraria, a coop that will participate in the PKP study.

So who is in Libraria? The Wenner-Gren Foundation, known to Americans for Current Anthropology and Wenner-Gren fieldwork grants. The people behind HAU and Cultural Anthropology of course, the two largest open access anthropology journals. The European Association of Social Anthropologists — Europe’s AAA and publisher of Social Anthropology — is also on board. There’s also Anthropological Forum (once less-tactfully known as Mankind), a well-known Australian journal which dates back to the days when Katherine and Roland Berndt founded the anthropology department at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

Anthropologists are not alone in Libraria. 4S — the AAA of Science Studies — is involved, as are the open access journals Limn (run by Savage Mind Chris Kelty) and the interdisciplinary journal Valuation Studies (which studies what value means, who and what gets it, and how its assigned). So Libraria is anthropology, science studies, and some of the more bleeding-edge mixtures of the two of them.

So far Libraria hasn’t done to much more than just come into existence. But over time I hope that it finds new ways for its members to pool resources and find new ways to publish open access scholarly content. If anyone can do it, they can. Welcome, Libraria!


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 rex@savageminds.org