Sustainability at Any Price is not Sustainable: Open Access and Archaeology

Posted in: Archaeology and Media, Archaeology and Politics, Conservation, Digital Archaeology
Tags: archaeology & politics, ASOR, cultural heritage and patrimony, digital humanities, open access, preservation, publications
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+2

By: Eric Kansa, UC Berkeley and

This blog post looks at the open access debate, and notes how sustainability is as much of an ideological and political question as it is a financial issue. It is intended to follow up on previous blog posts (first, second, third) that discuss how the Aaron Swartz prosecution and death highlighted tremendous injustices in the legal framework governing scholarly communications.

At this year’s Society for American Archaeology (SAA) conference in Honolulu, I took part in discussions about open access in various forums, including the Digital Data Interest Group and a forum sponsored by the SAA Committee on Ethics. Sarah Kansa, a member of the SAA Publications Committee has also been participating in open access debates. There’s very little to report just yet, except that the issue of open access is clearly on the agenda of archaeology’s professional societies. The Obama Administration’s (Feb 2013) move to require open access of federally funded research outputs has clearly raised the stakes and urgency of the open access issue. This policy move followed years of advocacy efforts, culminating with a petition signed by over 65,000 people.

In these debates, open access has little explicit opposition as an ideal. Rather, resistance to open access focuses on fears of financial “sustainability.” The leaders of professional societies tend to cling to the status quo because they do not see a way to underwrite the costs of open access publication.

So let’s look at the issue of sustainability more closely. (more…)

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+2
5 Comments for : Sustainability at Any Price is not Sustainable: Open Access and Archaeology
    • Christopher Ecclesto
    • June 3, 2013

    Excellent and thoughtful article… The open access debate may be almost "academic" at this point. With growing exponentially the trend is something like one of Holland's dikes breaking, a small breach inundates a very wide area. Students whose papers would go unread are putting their papers up, academics lower down the status ranks are finding that their works which have long been ignored or inaccessible are now able to be accessed. The future is here and the troglodyte publishers shall be swept away.

    The thing that needs to be exposed with this new trend is that publishers are collecting fees on old articles but are heirs receiving their due in royalties? Or are academic publishers pocketing the royalties and describing the heirs as unknown?? If I were to "buy" online an article published in 1935 by an academic that died in 1953, how does the publisher ensure that the royalty gets to the authors grandchildren? Where is that money going?

    • Eric Kansa
    • June 5, 2013

    Thanks for the comments Chris! I agree we've seen great progress toward Open Access, but there are many questions remaining. Here are two:

    (1) is not really Open Access. It has a register-to-read model, and that raises privacy flags (similar concerns apply to JSTOR, see:…. I like much better than some commercial models, but it is a commercial venture, and its mission is to make money. That means it can be bought by the likes of Elsevier (see Elsevier's purchase of Mendeley:… and made into something worse. Finally, I also wonder about the legal risks of hosting copyrighted papers (many are not just preprints, but are final versions.).

    (2) Our tentative steps to Open Access can be subverted, especially if we rely upon commercial infrastructure. Here are two excellent posts that hightlight the risks of letting the big commercial publishers own commercial infrastructure: and…

  1. Pingback: Open Access Debate | Excellent blog by ASOR | microburin

  2. Pingback: Open Exclusion | The Personal Open Access Experience | microburin

  3. Pingback: Living in the Golden Age of Open Access Archaeology -

Leave a Comment cancel

Sign in to view all ASOR Blog content!
If you have not set up a username and password for the ASOR Blog, please close this box by clicking anywhere on the screen then go to the Friends of ASOR option in the menu above. If you have forgotten your password, please click the Forgot Login Password option in the above menu.