Open Access

I received a request to discuss “the fact that so many archives journals are not available to many archivists because they do not eventually become open access” (thank you for submitting a topic!). This is a challenging topic, not just in archives journals but scholarly publishing in all fields.

In 2014, I finished a two-year project to put the back issues of Provenance and Georgia Archive online. This was in progress when I became Editor in 2012 and went back several years (see my article in Archival Outlook for details and history). Since both went online and including the 2013 special issue on advocacy, there have been about 30,000 downloads/views of articles and full issues. The numbers are gratifying and indicate that archivists desired, and use, this resource. Archivaria went online in 2006, American Archivist in 2007, and AA published “Open-Access Publishing and Transforming of the American Archivist Online” in 2011. This article has a great overview of the complexities and definitions of open access. And Hathi Trust has some content available.

In particular, I want to briefly comment on point 5 (p. 487). With Provenance, we paid to digitize the back issues. Though not an exorbitant amount, it was a factor. We were very lucky and I’m eternally grateful to Kennesaw State University, who agreed to host the journal free of charge through their digital commons. Costs are not just hosting (annual subscription with Bepress), but also design of the interface, which they also didn’t charge us for. Academic institutions are often in the best place to provide this service, which means that small, non-profit, and/or non-academic affiliated institutions have an extra challenge to figure out open access.

Lastly, there are the costs of human labor to initiate as well as sustain the journal. I can’t say how many hours Kennesaw staff put in, and though I didn’t track closely I estimate I put in at least 300 hours (volunteer) to get the journals online. As noted in my AO article, this was contact with the vendor, quality control on all the files, and creating metadata. I spent a lot of time correcting skewed pages, cropping, and saving individual articles for better access. At over 600 PDF files and thousands of pages, it took several months. Though both journals have been available for more than a year, I still make behind-the-scenes tweaks (and correcting spelling errors) on a regular basis and am continually learning how to navigate the system. It’s been a great experience and I’m glad to have the opportunity, but it definitely takes time and commitment. It was more than 10 years from when it was first proposed by a previous editor until completed last year.

The submitted question prompted me to go through the list I compiled and do an unscientific analysis. Having never explored these journals with the specific point to see if back issues were available, I am surprised, and pleased, at how many provide access to back issues. However, I did not go through to see specific dates of embargoes, therefore I don’t know precisely the amount of access. The above question didn’t provide specific examples of what he/she was looking for, so if I’ve overlooked something let me know.

Several new journals purposely opted for open access: Archive Journal, Archival Practice, Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies, Journal of Western Archives, Practical Technology for Archives, The Reading Room: A Journal for Special Collections, and SLIS Connecting. Others created an online platform for back and current issues (see list, and let me know if any journals are missing), and just this past June IASA made their journal and bulletin available. The majority provide access to back issues, though often recent issues are embargoed. I found that The Moving Image is available in JSTOR, recent issues of Archives and Manuscripts is available through Taylor & Francis, though one has to have a subscription to access those databases. Archives and Records and COMMA (both international journals) are pay or subscription only. Some journals restrict access as a member benefit; if one pays to belong to an organization, access to the journal is one of the perks. Academic archivists and students are more likely to have access to some or all of these through their institutions, but that leaves out non-academics. That is an unfortunate, and detrimental, example of the digital divide within our profession. I wish I had suggestions on how to reconcile that.

I agree, having all content, especially back issues, is a resource we all desire and can benefit from. Reading literature helps us grow as archivists and have a deeper knowledge of our profession. I do understand the business side of it too. What I don’t agree with are the companies or journals, like Elsevier, that ask authors to pay to have their content open access, and it seems to be a trend in science journals (read an explanation in Nature). In my opinion, that’s unethical and goes against the purpose of scholarship. As we are in the business of providing access to information, I’m glad that (to my knowledge) library and archives journals are not likely to go that route.

Publishing, in general, is in transition in our digital age. It has been for a while and in my opinion I think it will be some time, if ever, before it settles down. E-books, self-publishing, open access journals, institutional repositories, and so forth are transforming the options to disseminate information. I do hope that more journals provide open access to back issues, and someday current, and that we continue our practices of sharing information.

2 thoughts on “Open Access

  1. I think it is quite likely that more and more university libraries, especially the important ones, will support OA journals and their prestige will make such journals acceptable in short order. Academics and professionals are doing the work of editing (if anyone is; many subscription journals apparently never heard of copyediting) for no pay, so they might as well benefit their communities of practice as well by donating their services to OA journals, and the libraries can acquire an important new function by taking up the hosting. It is really indefensible that practitioners in any field are barred from access to “the literature” and it is up to those who publish to seek better and less elitist ways to reach our archival and records management communities. Kudos to AA for going online and to SAA for placing valuable historical materials on HathiTrust; and congratulations to those who are working to create new online journals. I know from my acquaintance with it that the interest and usefulness of Primary Source has exploded since it went online. One more thing: we also need to be sure that our literature continues to be archived as it goes digital.


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