Last week’s announcement by the American Anthropological Association that it was moving it journals and database (AnthroSource) from the stewardship of the University of California Press to the more commercial hands of Wiley/Blackwell publishers has caused a lot of outrage and hand-wringing. There is a comprehensive blog post about the announcement here at Georgia State University and an excellent article in Inside Higher Education here.
The most important point that is made by the Inside Higher Ed. article is that this news should be seen in context. Alongside the Anthropology announcement the article also notes the recent decision by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the nations second largest funder of bio-medical research, to join BioMed Central in order to make it even easier for the researchers it funds to place their articles in open access journals. It is tempting to see the Anthropologist’s decision as unmitigated bad news, but it is really just part of the growing pains as we move toward new forms of scholarly communications.
Several possible explanations of the move to Wiley/Blackwell have been circulating. Some people see the decision as a hardening of the line against open access taken when the Association came out in opposition to the Federal Public Research Access Act (and to many of its own members who support that initiative). Others interpret this as an economic move; more money will presumably be available to pay editors and support Association activities, although it may mean that less “commercial” research gets even less attention. A third way of looking at the decision is as just another contretemps in a highly dysfunctional organization. A blog post at Savage Minds tries to sort out these different interpretations and help us see that they are not at all mutually exclusive.
All scholarly societies are facing difficult choices these days. The same economic pressures that worry libraries – spiraling costs from commercial publishers, more journal outlets every day and consolidation of the ownership of those outlets – threaten the societies that have traditional published a great deal of their own research. Joining the march toward commercialization may not seem like the best or most far-sighted solution on the part of the AAA, but it is understandable.
Far more productive, however, given the similar situation of societies and libraries, would be cooperative innovation to find new means of disseminating scholarship. Most everyone recognizes the problems we are facing; many voices, including many within the AAA are beginning to call for all those interested in the future of scholarship to talk together and think creatively about the long term sustainability of scholarly communications. The AAA has chosen a quick and short-sighted fix that will not make the problem go away; it is hoped that more creative long-term solutions await.