The AIA and Open Access: A response
It’s a cliché but this time both of us writing this post were surprised and then dismayed to read in Archaeology Magazine’s most recent “Letter from the President” that the AIA has “taken a stand against open access.” While the Letter began with discussion of US government efforts to enforce open access for research it has funded, the words “a stand against” go well beyond any specific case to formulate a general – and we think backward looking - position. If that’s where we are, it seems unusual that news of such an important decision appeared in the Institute’s magazine and seems to have done so with no consultation of the membership. But we suspect that no new general policy exists.
We write that in the context of the very large amount of open content that the AIA in all its manifestations either links to or actually publishes itself. The AIA’s Site Preservation program publishes articles under the series “Heritage, Conservation and Archaeology” (http://archaeological.org/sitepreservation/hca). These are all open access. The website of the American Journal of Archaeology highlights its “Open Access” content, where you can download some articles. The “Archaeological Blogs” (http://www.ajaonline.org/students/blogs) section of AJA’s “Resources for Students” links to AWOL – The Ancient World Online, which is maintained by one of us and includes a list of more than 1100 open access journals relevant to antiquity as very broadly defined.
We could go on with more examples but our point is that the AIA exists in, contributes to and benefits from a network of open access resources. Faced with this reality and these actions, it seems, as we said above, that the Archaeology Magazine statement doesn’t reflect an official AIA policy. Clarity from the Institute’s leadership on this point would be very welcome.
Even more welcome would be a dialog on the role of open access content in the AIA’s mission going forward. To start that a definition of the term is useful so here’s one: Open Access means that anyone, including the general public without institutional affiliation, can read at no cost, and preferably on a wide variety of devices whether connected to the Internet or not, digital content available from the AIA or elsewhere. To paraphrase that long sentence, “anybody” and at “no cost” are the key terms.
Those of us who practice “open access”, meaning we generate research and analysis and then look to place it in venues that will allow free access, strongly believe that both the professional discipline of archaeology and the public are best served by free access to high-quality content. To cut to the chase, the site OpenContext (http://opencontext.org) publishes many thousands of excavation records that anyone can search and download. You can already find the work of AIA members on the site; see in particular the material from Petra in Jordan. The Carolina Digital Archive hosts field notes and preliminary reports from the site of Azoria in Crete (https://cdr.lib.unc.edu/record?id=uuid%3a1add9fbc-f5c4-49a8-848e-96a52e3ade9c), and you can download both field notes the final published reports of the excavations at Kommos, also on Crete, via the University of Toronto’s digital repository (https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/handle/1807/3004). Again, we could cite more examples to show that the full range of works that archaeologists produce – including peer reviewed scholarship - is increasingly becoming available at no cost and with no requirement of academic affiliation. This all counts as progress.
But what of the AIA’s most carefully produced scholarly work, articles in the AJA. JSTOR currently charges $12.00 to download most AJA articles. That’s $12.00 too much. And it is little help that many US colleges and universities subscribe to JSTOR so that faculty, students and staff don’t pay that price. The general public has to pay and that reduces the impact that archaeology has on public discourse. Shouldn’t we be giving our best, most carefully produced work the greatest chance to be widely read?
Doing so is fairly straightforward: let anybody download any AJA article for free. In truth, we don’t expect that the AIA will choose this path in the short term. But we offer it as a goal and note that there are transitional steps that can allow the AIA’s and AJA’s leadership to test models that will take us all toward this future.
Right now, there are articles in journals from Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, SAGE, and Wiley-Blackwell available for free download. This happens because the authors paid upfront to allow subsequent no-cost distribution. The Public Library of Science takes this model one step further and uses a Creative Commons license to publish its articles. This means that readers and libraries can not only download PLOS content but also archive and redistribute it legally. The published fees for such programs range from $2,900 at PLOS – which is too much for humanities scholars – to $195.00 to place an article in the Sage Open Access program. That starts to be a manageable amount, one that can be written into grants or solicited from administrations.
Regardless of the specific source of funds, the initiation of such a program by the AJA would be a sign that the AIA’s long-standing support of Open Access – as indicated by ongoing action, if not by its latest words – will continue and even grow.
Sebastian Heath and Charles E. Jones.