Open Exclusion | The Personal Open Access Experience

Updated | 6-Jun-2013 to add LSE blog link
Updated | 7-Jun-2013 to add “blogs as scholarly publication” link

The issue of open access is a boiling pot of frustration (cost) and anxiety (ethics and legality).

open-accessFor independent researchers, like myself, whether previously in academia and/or aspiring to be enrolled, or for community practitioners (I loath the term “amateur archaeologist“) or for members of the public where even access to public libraries is becoming an increasing luxury (if that library has access at all to academic journals, print or online)—open access is a friction point.

While governments, UK and Federal US included, are grappling with and legislating for open access to learned materials, funded by or as a part of publicly financed research, the incumbent publishing monopolies are lobbying to parry such initiatives based on “sustainable cost” doctrines, and their financial interests therein.

Personal Experience

I can certainly vouch for the pain, being outside academia right now, that pay-wall “open access” causes. I subscribe to the few e-publishers and academic societies that I can afford—a gradually diminishing number since I don’t presently have a regular income stream. I am grateful, as a university alumnus, in having access to JSTOR, although in archaeology the titles which are freely accessible are far from comprehensive, especially for fields like Mesolithic archaeology—a discipline that also spans many specialisations in science and social science, the humanities, cultural heritage management (CRM) and derivative disciplines. I am even more grateful for the “green” and (very rare) “gold” open access vehicles that allow me either time-delayed or immediate access to scholarly material.

Implications

One thing is certain: I will likely be several steps behind those lucky enough to be within formal education or post-doc (yet paying excruciating tuition fees for the pleasure). Open exclusion is part of the reason. That feels neither fair nor productive—the public are an equal and obligatory participant, a partner in our shared heritage, moreso in the evolution and management of our shared environment, the collective owners of our cultural assets? The public are not a simple “consumer bucket” happy to receive amorphous outputs or media sound-bites. Exclusivity and access-by-means are surely forms of cynical discrimination unworthy of our societies, not least those that espouse a lifetime education and education-for-all ethos? Aren’t these educational aspirations also being subjugated to a market-driven “economic return” mandate, naive in its focus on immediacy and therefore myopic in leveraging the true meaning of past, place, presence, well-being and footfall for healthier (and less welfare-costly, more inclusive, more sustainable, more attractive) communities?

Example

And yet, if I were to subscribe to the venerable Journal of Archaeological Science (publisher: Elsevier), by example, it would be beyond my budget (online access is a 5-user license). They are a respected and profuse publisher. If I were to pay-to-download every article they publish across monthly volumes in a given year, I would have to pay over $11,000 (obviously far more than the individual subscription, but it does illustrate my point around reasonable cost—many papers are only six or so pages). Something is amiss?

Returns

Any law of diminishing returns suggests a tipping-point between over-pricing in any given marketplace and realising income streams as a function of volume-based consumer viability—if not “popular” demand. I really don’t mind paying a few dollars/euros/pounds for a worthy, scholarly and life-changing article. I do, however, resent paying $31.50 per article or a mandate to cluster papers into discounted blocks that are still priced beyond my means.

Please read THESE blogs

These excellently written blogs go a long way to explaining both the terminology as well as the seemingly intractable issues that are not without tragedy. I highly recommend reading them. There are plenty more too.

» Sustainability at Any Price is not Sustainable: Open Access and Archaeology
By: Eric Kansa, UC Berkeley and OpenContext.org

» Academics and universities must continue to develop open access alternatives to break the monopoly of large publishers
By: Ann McKechin MP (LSE blog)

» Blogs as scholarly publication: “Taking a Chance: My Blog is a Publication”
By: Katy Meyers (2011) Bones Don’t Lie (blog), Michigan State University | The comments are also supportive and interesting

And now think about how YOU are and will be affected, how you will respond, what you will say, how you will canvass for a fairer outcome, what you will do.

Acknowledgements

Prof Julian D Richards (University of York) for posting it on Twitter today. York is also home of the Archaeological Data Service (ADS) who work continuously to digitise archaeological resources for the greater good. The authors of the ASOR blog need to be congratulated for a well-written and well-appraised status quo and portent for some difficult battles ahead.

Microburin

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2 thoughts on “Open Exclusion | The Personal Open Access Experience

  1. I know exactly what you mean – except my university won’t even allow alumni access to JSTOR. Happily old colleagues will help me out emailing me interesting articles but I can’t hassle them all the time. I work for a foundation doing rescue excavations and do some research on the side. But the university and publishing system are making it very difficult for me to continue this line of work. It is such an old, outdated system and utterly frustrating.
    Whenever I can I will publish open access, not just because I dislike the current pay-through-your-nose system but alsoe because papers I publish that can be shared are read far more than those behind a paywall. The only thing the paywall does is allow you to add a prestigious journal name to your CV. But it’s the openly available work I publish that actually gets read and disseminated.

    • Hi Asa, thanks for the comment. I’m glad I’m not the only one in the boat without a paddle. Begging for articles is not the best experience, but friends are very helpful and supportive. The bigger questions remain and it seems a shame we don’t have academia itself singing the same hymn, and understanding the other side of the paywall?

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