January 2010


J. Hadro has an interesting article in Library Journal about the American Library Association‘s 2010 Midwinter Meeting: “Open access (OA) publishing models, pricing concerns, and the cannibalization of print sales were the headline topics at the SPARC-ACRL forum session on Saturday at the ALA 2010 Midwinter Meeting in Boston, titled ‘The Ebook Transition: Collaboration and Innovations Behind Open Access Monographs.’ The conclusion? Open access monographs are an unprecedented boon to the scholarly mission of dissemination, yet challenge the financial sustainability of an academic press.” (thanks to Chuck Jones)

The Brooklyn Museum continues to push the envelope:

“When it comes to progressive, public-friendly copyright policies, few art museums can match The Brooklyn Museum. In 2004, it was the first art museum to adopt a Creative Commons license, allowing any non-commercial copying of any image in which the museum holds the copyright. In 2008, it was the third institution to join the Flickr Commons, making available high-resolution images of Public Domain artworks from its collection. Last week, the musuem published the detailed copyright status of every image in its online collection–that’s over 12,000 artworks–and made this information available through its API so that anyone can easily cross-reference the data with their own copyright research. It also switched to a less restrictive Creative Commons license, allowing non-commercial remixing as well.” (Jonathan Melber in The Huffington Post).

The museum possesses many archaeological artifacts from the Middle East, Latin America, etc. Here’s an example:

Bahía. Seated Figure, 500 B.C.E.- 500 C.E. Clay, post-fire pigment, 17 3/4 x 13 1/4 x 8 1/4 in. (45.1 x 33.7 x 21.0 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Tessim Zorach, 88.57.7. Creative Commons-BY-NC

Bahía. Seated Figure, 500 B.C.E.- 500 C.E. Clay, post-fire pigment, 17 3/4 x 13 1/4 x 8 1/4 in. (45.1 x 33.7 x 21.0 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Tessim Zorach, 88.57.7. Creative Commons-BY-NC

A recent report—thanks to Clifford Lynch via Melinda Burns—by Kathy English, The Longtail of News: To Unpublish or Not to Unpublish, draws attention to an old issue that is gaining new prominence: published content can be challenged but open-access and Google-indexed content brings even passages of material that was “obscure in practice” out into the open. Newspapers and news websites are of course foremost confronted with this (I remember lawyers contacting me a couple of times when I was editing IW&A). People don’t like something published about them (or a pet cause), erroneously or not, and ask for it to be removed from an online archive, sometimes years after the fact. Before, one would easily move on and forget but, now that one can google oneself, old wounds are easily ripped open again, listed prominently in Google search results. In archaeology, we haven’t been subject to this kind of problem much yet—correct me if I’m wrong—but it may very well be only a matter of time. We all know how politically sensitive certain research can be, e.g., Native American repatriation, Biblical archaeology, national heritage vs. colonialism, etc. Personal issues (accusations, challenges, …) do interfere often in the study of the ancients too. A long-forgotten diatribe against an esteemed colleague, “buried” in a Festschrift or some other obscure volume, may suddenly pop up on the Google radar. Excavation notes could list certain artifacts as having been excavated by Ms. X while her arch rival, Mr. Y, remembers differently.

Paradoxically or as a matter of purpose, the endeavored better user experience leads to easier access to information: open-access and Google-indexing means open to legal and other potentially unpleasant challenges. Our academic gentlemen’s agreement on such issues may become antiquated. The general cultural context under which we operate influences our research and the way we communicate our research. The open-access movement is making great strides but there are counterforces. We are not insulated from them. Only time will tell how the balance will evolve, I suppose. One more thing: this also draws attention to archiving and retention policies of online collections. In the future, will outdated, controversial or neglected publications  be included in the migration of a collection to the umpteenth new data standard? Who will decide and on what grounds?

antique printing press

(Crossposted with minor alterations from Heritage Bytes)

Via AWOL came the announcement of a new open-access monograph series: Ancient Near East Monographs/Monografías sobre el Antiguo Cercano Oriente (ANEM/MACO—yes, it trips from your tongue, doesn’t it?). It publishes archaeological/historical/linguistic research on the ancient Near East (Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, …). This initiative is welcome as always, of course, the more peer-reviewed, open-access publications the better. Have a look at Alan Lenzi’s empassioned and eloquent explanation of why open-access publishing is a good idea. I’m probably preaching to the choir here but just in case…

President Obama’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has been conducting ”a public consultation on Public Access Policy. The Administration is seeking public input on access to publicly-funded research results, such as those that appear in academic and scholarly journal articles. Currently, the National Institutes of Health require that research funded by its grants be made available to the public online at no charge within 12 months of publication. The Administration is seeking views as to whether this policy should be extended to other science agencies and, if so, how it should be implemented.” “To that end, OSTP is currently conducting an interactive, online discussion that began Thursday, December 10, 2009. We will focus on three major areas of interest: Implementation (Dec. 10 to 20); Features and Technology (Dec. 21 to Dec 31); Management (Jan. 1 to Jan. 7). UPDATE: Due to a high number of requests, all three phases of the Public Access Policy Forum will remain open through Jan. 21, 2010.”

Surely NSF-funded archaeological research would be covered under this proposal, maybe even NEH-grant research. Archaeologists are bound to be impacted by this. I for one would definitely applaud our field and the humanities to be included in this mandate. Now is the time to express our opinion in this forum…