Thursday, March 1, 2012

We are the One Percent:
Open Access in the Era of Occupy Wall Street

The People's Library at Occupy Wall Street by A. Strakey, October 10, 2011.
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Challenged to write on the place where the open access (Suber 2012) and Occupy movements (Occupy Wall Street 2012) meet, I immediately started composing (in my head) a string of disgruntled, rhetorical questions. This is no way to begin, but I have been getting cranky in recent years (Jackson 2011a). Unlike me, my librarian friends—citizens who work so hard everyday to steward and enact democratic principles—have real rights to angry talk. If you wonder what I mean, consider this single ethnographic report from the front lines in my home country (Codacorolla 2012; see also Fister 2012). Vis-à-vis the narrower battle for a more just, more public-interest, less corporate-interest scholarly communication system, I have perhaps earned a few seconds of despair. Stopping short of anger, I will just ask one long, frustrated question.

How it is that the same scholars who can produce such nuanced, complex, critical accounts of the workings of power and capital, of mediascapes, of speculation, of neoliberalism, of privatization and enclosure, of circulation, of exploitive labor practices, of union-busting, of social change, of technology, of educational practices, of inequality, of law, of injustice, of everything that matters—past and present—could seemingly be so out of touch when it comes to the political economy of the scholarly publishing system to which they contribute free labor as editors and peer-reviewers, through which they circulate their research findings, and from which their scholarly organizations increasingly extract rents that their home institutions, their students, and their societies cannot afford (and should not need) to pay?

Let that biased question rest. I was not trained to write in provocative ways and as my friend Alex Golub has rightly noted, I tend to bury my lead (Golub 2011). Being myself then, here is a less accusatory path to the place where these two movements for a realistically imagined, practically achievable, and clearly better world meet.

In 2009, The Chronicle of Higher Education (2009) published UNESCO data on total global postsecondary enrollments for 2007. According to this source, there were 150.7 million college and university students in that year.

Seeking a world population figure for that same year, I found the "2007 World Population Highlights," a summary of the Population Reference Bureau's "2007 World Population Data Sheet" (PRB 2007). It reports that the global population for 2007 was 6.6 billion.

In a quick search, I could not find an estimate for the size of the global professoriate, but for purposes of this thought experiment, let us imagine that there is a global 10:1 student teacher ratio. Given that such a ratio is characteristic of an elite U.S. liberal arts college the real global average ratio is surely more imbalanced, even when taking into account non-teaching researchers, such as postdoctoral fellows, that are found at major research institutions. A real ratio greater than 10:1 would decrease a faculty estimate based on the Chronicle of Higher Education/UNESCO student count. At 10:1, there would be 15,070,000 faculty worldwide.

If we combine these student and faculty estimates, the result is 165,770,000 students and faculty worldwide in 2007. As a percentage of global population, these university folks would represent 2.5% of the world's people (ca. 2007). I am not a demographer, a statistician, or a student of global higher education. A professional in these fields could surely do better than I have done in this quick calculation, but hopefully this number is adequate for my argument.

Now let’s imagine something ridiculous. Commercial scholarly publishers and their scholarly society partners regularly point to their philanthropic initiatives designed to expand access to the scholarly literature in the “developing world.” Such initiatives include HINARI (health topics), AGORA (agriculture topics), and OARE (environmental topics). On top of such widely participated-in initiatives, the American Anthropological Association (2012) has created a unique one of its own, targeting Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges, and First Nations Colleges in the U.S. and Canada. While some observers understand them mainly as public relations and marketing activities, I do not wish to diminish the real value of such initiatives to those positioned to benefit from them or to question the goodwill or good intentions of those working to provide and enact them (critiques include Chan, Kirsop, and Arunachalam 2011). I bring up such programs with a different intention. The ridiculous thought is simply the idea that such programs might reach all (100%) of their target end-users. These programs aim to provide access to the scholarly literature for those students and faculty at work in institutions of higher education (mainly in the developing world) that otherwise would not (for lack of financial resources) have access to toll access scholarly publications. A huge range of factors—language issues, technical issues, expertise issues, and many more—can be cited as factors that reduce actual participation in these programs.

The companion ridiculous thought would be that every student and faculty member in the so-called "developed world" had complete, paid-for access to the entire toll access scholarly literature. Even those who have the privilege of working or studying at elite research universities in the United States know that this dream is far from realized and that there is little hope that the toll access system will provide anything approaching access to the whole of the scholarly literature. Despite the best efforts of the commercial publishers to deny the serials crisis, the warning signs are everywhere. College and university librarians do triage work everyday trying to figure out what databases, journals, books, and disciplines to abandon so as to be able to continue providing others. (For the state of these issues, see Fitzpatrick 2011.)

For special purposes, what I have just imagined is a kind of utopia built out of the toll access publishing system that we already have. In summary, it would be like this. Every student and faculty member in the developed world gets access to the whole of the scholarly literature because they are affiliated with an institution that can and does have the capacity to pay (vast sums) for this literature as provided for by a mix of mostly small not-for-profit publishers and (primarily) very large, very profitable commercial publishers. Up until the time that their home countries move out of the category "developing" and into the category "developed," students and faculty in places like Angola and Bangladesh would gain access, where necessary, from philanthropic initiatives supported by this publishing community.

If such an impossible vision were achieved, it would still be terrible. Why? Go back to the statistics. I calculated that the global population of university people was about 2%-3%. In toll access utopia, these are the people who have access to scholarship. The 97%-98% would not (except through pay-per-view options that only the most economically advantaged could afford). Given that we do not have such a utopia now and that it seems unachievable any time soon, then it follows that the percentage of people with something approximating good access to scholarship (and I am one of these fortunate few) is surely more like 1%. 

Especially for a field that studies, and relies upon the goodwill of, people (the 99%) and that aspires to be, and certainly can be, engaging, accessible, and useful outside the groves of academe, the reality of 1% access and the dream of 3% access should be absolutely unacceptable (Kelty et al. 2008:564). In a world filled with lifelong learners seeking knowledge, desperate social problems needing redress, rapid cultural change to be negotiated, and nearly boundless deprivation and suffering, we have unprecedented need for an anthropological scholarship that is widely and freely available. Open access activists are addressing this problem and finding new ways to get the job done. Whatever else they are doing, the major commercial publishers and their allies are working to defend their market share, a profitable status quo, and their dominance over the key nodes in the scholarly communications commodity chain.

While 3% access is probably unobtainable with a toll access system in the hands of multinational corporations, we already know that existing open access strategies can get scholarship into the hands of 13.5% of peoples on the African continent (on the low end) and 79% of peoples in North America (on the high end) (Internet World Stats 2012). Whether it is a gold OA journal like HAU or Museum Anthropology Review, a blog like Savage Minds or Neuroanthropology, a book like Chris Kelty’s Two Bits (2008), a collections database such as the Quilt Index or the anthropology collections database of the American Museum of Natural History, an open access portal such as Open Folklore, a subject repository such as the Digital Library of the Commons or the World Oral Literate Project, an ethnographic film such as those made available via, or open source software tools such as Mukurtu, open anthropology projects of many sorts are already showing that another world (of scholarly communication) is not only possible, but is vital here in the present. 

There is much more nuance that could be added, of course. Even being a member of the elite scholarly access 1% is a precarious thing. For instance, most of this count is based on students, but student status is a very temporary life stage. Excluding a few tiny and new alumni access schemes, students have access, of whatever real sort, only as long as they are students. A student in Hungary studies to be a social worker. She has some access to the relevant literature in her field as a student but then when she leaves school and takes up practice in this profession, she loses this access just when she needs it most. U.S.-based practitioners in fields like applied anthropology and public folklore know this dynamic painfully well. A utopian toll access system was the best that we could dream of in the era of paper publishing, but it is hardly a dream worth dreaming in an era of digital publishing. This is all the more true when we realize the vast costs of this legacy system and track the ways that it has been transformed into a remarkably profitable engine of privatization and enclosure through which public goods and resources, including the university subsidies and the unremunerated labor of scholars, are transformed into earnings-generating intellectual property assets most often owned or managed by massive multinational corporations whose profit producing capacity can range as high as 73% (Morrison 2011). 

Those working to make open access journals, open access repositories, and other open access projects succeed cannot single handedly overcome the global digital divide. Just as not everyone in the world has access to clean water or to formal education, not everyone in the world has access to the Internet, the communications technology that makes open access possible. As anthropologists and Occupy protesters are particularly well aware, there are a multitude of human problems to be addressed. In the world that we live in now, open access projects alone move toward a relative improvement in public access to scholarship and therefore to useful knowledge. The bottom line is that this is a realizable goal that is in our reach. Open access doers have already demonstrated that it can be done. 

In the context of the Occupy movement and its demand that we all acknowledge the reality of growing economic disparities and their social consequences, 99% of the population is set off from the 1% who control a disproportionate amount of wealth and political influence in the U.S. and in many other states. As my scratch pad demography was intended to show, this division holds for access to scholarship as well. While scholars like David Graeber (anthropology's most prominent link to the Occupy movement), the other contributors to this issue of Anthropologies, and myself surely are not part of the economic 1%, we absolutely are part of the scholarly access 1%. North American college and university faculty are the Bill Gates, Warren Buffets, Christy Waltons and Charles Kochs of access to scholarship. Taking the long way around, this is perhaps an answer to my frustrated opening query. The wealthiest 1% surely are not monolithic and neither are the scholarly access 1%. But like some of the economically most advantaged, many research scholars are insulated from the world of lack and the world of want. Inability to access scholarship is literally not their problem, but that hardly means that it is not a problem overall. Thankfully a growing number of scholars and administrators in many fields—including in anthropology—are waking up to the access-to-scholarship problem and the means by which we can solve it. For some—as is illustrated by the growing boycott of Elsevier and increased opposition to other commercial megapublishers—the problem of access is recognized as a component problem within a larger network of political-economic ones that include the role of corporate money in politics, flaws and inequities in the intellectual property system, the growth of student debt, the systematic impoverishment of public educational systems (including libraries), the “disruption” of higher education, and the broader privatization of public resources and erosion of the commonwealth.

It should not come as a surprise that grassroots libraries figured so prominently in Occupy encampments. Anthropologists and folklorists know better than most that teachers and learners exist everywhere and that university campuses are the site of only a tiny fraction of the teaching and learning that goes on everyday. Librarians remain committed to values—true privacy, human dignity, democracy, access—that should still be our scholarly values. Just as librarians joined in the work of putting those Occupy libraries in working order and of salvaging them from dumpsters, librarians are also our allies and have proven to be unbelievably willing to labor for us, and with us, in achieving open access goals in the service of broad human interests. We have an reciprocal obligation though, both to our librarian allies and to the publics that we both aspire to serve, and that is to do a better job of making sense of the contexts and processes that underpin the publishing of our scholarship and the ways that people do or do not have access to it once it is published. We are obligated to ask how our efforts and the systems that they support align or misalign with the interests of both relatively powerful and relatively powerless actors. If we have made mistakes, gotten confused, or made dubious choices in recent years, we still have some ability to do better and to change course. The confluence of open access struggles and Occupy ones that began in 2011 is proving synergistic. While it is only one battle among many, the withdrawal by its sponsors (on the day that I write this) of the Research Works Act in the face of an unprecedented outcry by concerned scholars is an hopeful illustration of this linkup (Howard 2011; Kolowich 2011). Whether you are part of the 1% or the 99%, please join in this work.

Jason Baird Jackson
Indiana University

Note: This essay is an indulgent footnote to more straight-forward things that I have written concerning publishing and open access in my fields. Those seeking an introduction to the issues might find the interview that Ryan Anderson and I did together of use (Anderson and Jackson 2011a, 2011b, 2011c). Other pieces of relevance include an account of opting out of the corporate sector of scholarly publishing (Jackson 2009, 2011a), a mapping of the prominence of this sector in anthropology publishing (Jackson 2011b), an examination of open access issues in folklore studies (Jackson 2010) and a consideration of the Open Folklore project, a initiative of the American Folklore Society and the Indiana University Bloomington Libraries (Jackson 2012).

On the day after my essay was accepted for publication in Anthropologies, Chris Kelty (2012) published an important article on these themes in Al Jazeera. As I tried to do, he linked the issue of the 1% and the 99% to open access and the imperative of supporting a world of "people who want desperately to learn."


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Anderson, Ryan and Jason Baird Jackson. 2011a.  Anthropology and Open Access: An Interview with Jason Baird Jackson (Part 1 of 3). Savage Minds. November 7, 2011., accessed February 29, 2012.

Anderson, Ryan and Jason Baird Jackson. 2011b.  Anthropology and Open Access: An Interview with Jason Baird Jackson (Part 2 of 3). Savage Minds. November 11, 2011., accessed February 29, 2012.

Anderson, Ryan and Jason Baird Jackson. 2011c.  Anthropology and Open Access: An Interview with Jason Baird Jackson (Part 3 of 3). Savage Minds. November 15, 2011., accessed February 29, 2012.

Chan, Leslie, Barbara Kirsop, and Subbiah Arunachalam. 2011. Towards Open and Equitable Access to Research and Knowledge for Development. PLoS Medicine 8(3): e1001016., accessed February 29, 2012.

Codacorrola. 2012. [Comment on: "California Dreamin'.] MetaFilter. February 12, 2012., accessed February 25, 2012. 

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Jackson, Jason Baird. 2011a. Getting Yourself Out of the Business in Five Easy Steps. In Hacking the Academy. Dan Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt, eds. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press., accessed February 29, 2011.

Jackson, Jason Baird. 2011b. How Enclosed by Large For-Profit Publishers is the Anthropology Journal Literature. Shreds and Patches. September 5, 2011., accessed February 29, 2012. 

Jackson, Jason Baird. 2012. Another World is Possible: Open Folklore as Library-Scholarly Society Partnership. Shreds and Patches. February 3, 2012., accessed February 29, 2012.

Kelty, Chris . 2008. Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. Durham, NC: Duke University Press., accessed February 29, 2012.

Kelty, Christopher M. 2012. The Disappearing Virtual Library. Al Jazeera March 1, 2012., accessed March 1, 2012.

Kelty, Chris, Michael M. J. Fischer, Alex “Rex” Golub, Jason Baird Jackson, Kimberly Christen, Michael F. Brown, and Tom Boellstorff. 2008. Anthropology of/in Circulation: The Future of Open Access and Scholarly Societies. Cultural Anthropology 23(2):559-588., accessed February 29, 2011.

Kolowich, Steve. 2012. A Significant Flinch: Major Publisher Bends Under Pressure from Frustrated Scholars. Inside Higher Education. February 28, 2012., accessed February 29, 2012.

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1 comment:

barbara fister said...

Thanks for this. Thought-provoking, and "we are the 1%" should get the attention of people who are too busy to be bothered doing what they could do to change the system. I'll be using it, for sure.