Scholarly Journals between the Past and the Future by Martin Rundkvist.

PDQ SubmissionRundkvist, M. 2007. Scholarly Journals between the Past and the Future: The Fornvännen Centenary Round-Table Seminar, Stockholmm 21 April 2006. Konferenser 65. Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien.

It’s a meas­ure of the qual­ity of this book that I have delayed put­ting up a review until I have thought it could get the audi­ence it deserves. The volume brings together papers by nine edit­ors of journ­als across Europe, each with their own per­spect­ive on what the future holds for pub­lish­ing. Their opin­ions are diverse and pro­voc­at­ive, but even where some asser­tions are demon­strably wrong they high­light mis­con­cep­tions about pub­lish­ing which need to be tackled.

The first paper is ‘Scholarly Open Access Journals and Libraries’ by Jan Hagerlid. This can be an over­looked aspect of the Open Access debate, with aca­dem­ics con­cen­trat­ing on the con­tent rather than the medium. Hagerlid raises some inter­est­ing points high­light­ing that the aims even of of tra­di­tional and con­ser­vat­ive schol­ars do not neces­sar­ily align with those of pub­lish­ers. For example he notes that the trans­ition to elec­tronic sub­scrip­tion would have mean the end of the inter-library loan, had the pub­lish­ers been gran­ted what they deman­ded. He also argues that it would be wrong to treat pub­lish­ers as a mono­cul­ture. The big pub­lish­ers and their habit of bund­ling sub­scrip­tiosn with ever increas­ing prices threatens the sub­scrip­tion base of the inde­pend­ent journ­als. If the sub­scrip­tion model con­tin­ues to hold into the cur­rent cen­tury many smal­ler pub­lic­a­tions will either be bought out or dis­ap­pear. The paper provides an excel­lent sum­mar­ies of what Open Access means and why it is an import­ant issue. It also serves as a reminder that the changes ahead, how­ever they develop, are not trivial and will need col­lab­or­a­tion with lib­rar­i­ans if access of any sort to research is to con­tinue.

Hagerlid’s paper bumps out Kerstin Assarsson-Rizzi’s ‘Fornvännen On Paper and On-Line’ from the first spot, which is an inter­est­ing choice for a Fornvännen cen­ten­ary volume. Following Hagerlid’s paper, Rizzi’s piece is short, and pos­sibly would fit as an intro­duc­tion chapter. However the order­ing, mov­ing from lib­rar­ies to the KVHAA makes sense. Rizzi’s piece helps in intro­du­cing the role of the schol­arly soci­ety in some of the later chapters.

Martin Carver’s ‘The Future of Antiquity’ is the most prob­lem­atic paper in the book. Parts of it are demon­strably wrong in 2008, and were also known to be incor­rect in 2006 when the meet­ing was held. Initially it would be tempt­ing to simply state that Carver provides a use­ful cata­logue of mis­con­cep­tions about Open Access. This would be unfair, there are also ques­tions he raises for which there are no quick answers. After sev­eral read­ings my biggest con­cern is that Carver opposes Commercial and Open-Access pub­lish­ers. There are both OA and sub­scrip­tion journ­als which are said to be non-profit. Equally sub­scrip­tion and OA access are open to exploit­a­tion by com­mer­cial pub­lish­ers. Nor is there a divi­sion of medium, For instance in a table he pro­duces on page 39, com­mer­cial pub­lic­a­tions are dis­covered through the lib­rary, publisher’s web­site and off-prints. For Open Access the dis­cov­ery is baldly ‘Google’. Hagerlid’s own paper shows that OA is com­pat­ible with lib­rary access, pos­sibly more so than a sub­scrip­tion based model. Equally OA authors can provide off-prints more eas­ily than sub­scrip­tion based authors. Similarly demand for com­mer­cial pub­lic­a­tions is lis­ted as Researchers / Readers / Students while OA only serves Academics. He misses another obvi­ous demo­graphic, the Public, who have eco­nomic demand for pub­lic­a­tions from both, which is only likely to be sup­plied on a reg­u­lar basis by OA.

Some of Carver’s objec­tions are sound, if a little one-sided. He argues that the pub­lisher pays model puts pres­sure on the journal to accept a paper in a way that does not apply to subscription-based journ­als. This is wrong if one exam­ines the mar­ket. He is right there may be a pres­sure to accept papers, but a journal which con­sist­ently accepts poor papers will cease to be an attract­ive venue for other authors. Accepting a thou­sand dol­lars now could cost ten-thousand dol­lars in the future. The laws of sup­ply and demand still apply, but now to the authors rather than the read­ers. In con­trast there are pres­sures on com­mer­cial pub­lish­ers to cater for the expect­a­tions of their audi­ence. Quality is not the sole arbiter of accept­ance for a com­mer­cial pub­lic­a­tion, there is also the need to sat­isfy an audi­ence. Nonetheless Carver’s under­ly­ing point, the need for strong edit­or­ship, is important.

As an example of what could be lost with a move to OA, he talks about Antiquity’s focus on neg­lected areas of archae­ology such as African or Islamic Archaeology. Carver’s pos­i­tion is that journ­als should lead and that spot­light­ing over­looked areas is some­thing you can do with a journal where the read­ers are locked into read­ing what you pub­lish. It’s an inter­est­ing point, but I’m not sure that a subcription-based journal is neces­sary for that. This is why I am high ambi­val­ent about Carver’s paper. Carver is a tre­mend­ous advoc­ate for the import­ance of edit­or­ship in a journal. He clearly has strong ideas about journ­als being an act­ive player in research rather than a pass­ive record. He makes the case that there will be a need for inde­pend­ent journ­als for many years to come. Unfortunately he doesn’t make a case for the need for a sub­scrip­tion to guar­an­tee that independence.

Finskt Museum Between the Past and the Future’ by Helena Edgren, puts the cur­rent debates into a his­tor­ical per­spect­ive by examin­ing the past of Finskt Museum Finnish Museum a Swedish-language journal based in Finland. The journal faces chal­lenges which are men­tioned again in later papers, the prob­lem of lan­guage. She also states that the repro­duc­tion costs for images on the inter­net is simply too high for many journ­als. This is a major prob­lem. The devel­op­ment of Creative Commons licensed pho­to­banks may be a help, but this so far is a chal­lenge which schol­arly soci­et­ies have failed to take up.

Ruth Hegarty con­trib­utes ‘The Royal Irish Academy as a Small Academic Publisher: Keeping Up With the Times’. She brings out the social aspect of pub­lish­ing. Learned soci­et­ies exchange journ­als with each other and each journal costs. She estim­ates sav­ings of at least €40 per copy if exchanges went elec­tronic. She also charts how the Royal Irish Academy is adapt­ing its work­ing pro­ced­ures to meet the future. It would seem that the RIA is seek­ing to use its facil­it­ies to pro­mote the work of its authors in the pre­vail­ing con­di­tions, rather than and com­prom­ise with tra­di­tion. It sug­gests that the RIA will achieve its goal of present­ing itself as an organ­isa­tion at the cut­ting edge of research.

Archaeological Journals in Poland: Past, Present and Future’ by Zbigniew Kobylinski and Jesper Laursen’s ‘Kuml and the Jutland Archaeological Society’ make a good pair­ing because they present very dif­fer­ent, but equally sens­ible responses to a prob­lem men­tioned by Helena Edgren regard­ing Finnish lan­guage journ­als. What do you do if you pub­lish in a minor­ity lan­guage? Would an open access journal in Polish or Danish help expand the read­er­ship of work?

There’s really no need to make the case for the import­ance of Polish schol­ar­ship. The coun­try has his­tor­ic­ally been a source of import­ant work for cen­tur­ies. But while the lan­guage of the past was Latin, Kobylinski states that for some journ­als the mod­ern use of Polish will not get work the audi­ence it should. Archeologia Polski should have been a solu­tion, pub­lish­ing trans­la­tions into vari­ous European lan­guages. However Kobylinski had con­cluded that the only viable lan­guage for inter­na­tional read­er­ship is English. Despite this cir­cu­la­tion is now at 350 cop­ies. Poland is not that dull a coun­try. On the con­trary, from what I’ve read Poland is a fas­cin­at­ing coun­try with much of interest to be repor­ted. Yet left to the mar­ket it is clear that English lan­guage pub­lic­a­tion of Polish mater­ial is not viable, Kobylinski’s paper would indic­ate that Archeologia Polski may be one of the vic­tims of sub­scrip­tion con­sol­id­a­tion if work­able open-access solu­tion can­not be found.

Laursen’s paper in con­trast takes a dif­fer­ent view of who their journal is pub­lished for. Kuml is the annual of the Jutland Archaeological Society. It’s pub­lished in Danish, and Larsen reports that Danish lan­guage pub­lic­a­tion is seen as of lesser value than inter­na­tional lan­guage pub­lic­a­tion. This is a con­cern. If you can­not pub­lish high qual­ity work in Danish then where can you pub­lish it? Larsen makes much of Kuml’s con­nec­tion not simply to Denmark but spe­cific­ally to Jutland. As Kuml is a regionally-based archae­olo­gical journal he makes a strong case for pub­lic­a­tion in Danish, even if its res­ults are of inter­na­tional import­ance. I’ve known European archae­olo­gists out­side of the big five nations make the argu­ment that inter­na­tional pub­lic­a­tion means English-language pub­lic­a­tion, but Larsen’s paper shows there is a cost to be paid if this atti­tude is adop­ted across Europe.

Klavs Randsborg con­trib­utes ‘Blue. Reflections on Acta Archaeologica’ which is very much an inter­na­tion­ally ori­ent­ated pub­lic­a­tion. He makes power­ful points about the longev­ity of elec­tronic media. Archaeologists often con­sult books from the 19th cen­tury. In con­trast digital media from the 1980s can be inac­cess­ible. I sus­pect that he will be wrong in say­ing that noth­ing of the cur­rent day inter­net will be read by people in ten years’ time. HTML 1.0 pages are still read­able by the latest gen­er­a­tion of web browsers and being a text-based format, I sus­pect they’ll be read­able through XML browsers with pars­ers in a century’s time. However while file formats may be legible, the phys­ical formats will, as he rightly says, be upgraded many times. This would sug­gest that the lib­rary will play the role of con­ser­vator in the future, and that this may we be a more reg­u­lar task than the re-binding of texts. The con­sol­a­tion is that if stand­ard file formats are adop­ted the task can largely be automated.

He comes closest to ask­ing ques­tions about the shape of journ­als in the future. He fore­sees the use of hyper­text for link­ing between papers. I would add the evid­ence from web­logs would add the pos­sib­il­ity of reverse cita­tions, a bib­li­o­graphy of papers which cite the art­icle, as well as the tra­di­tional bib­li­o­graphy of sources cited. In this scene he shows the import­ance of access. How can this mater­ial be used, and will the abstract be all that the non-subscribers see? I would have liked to have read more about this. The exist­ence of gated com­munit­ies would have major implic­a­tions for the usab­il­ity of inform­a­tion between sites. It would be shame to see a sharp divide between sites like the PAS offer­ing open data access for re-use else­where being exploited by sub­scrip­tion only journals,

The clos­ing paper is some­what grim. ‘Meddelanden från Lunds uni­versitets his­torika museum 1930–1995. A schol­arly journal of the past’ by Berta Stjernquist reminds us what is at stake if the grow­ing fund­ing crisis is not solved. I hadn’t heard of Meddelanden. It is pos­sible that it’s because I haven’t read much about Scania, though as Stjernquist points out there was more to Meddelanden than that. But even if there were not should that mat­ter? The end of Meddelanden seems not to have been due to the qual­ity of its papers, nor its inter­na­tional import­ance. A major reason gov­ern­ment fund­ing ceased is that it was said to be too focussed on the area around Lund. The fact that these dis­cus­sions had value bey­ond Sweden was not suf­fi­cient. That is a mat­ter for grave con­cern because all archae­ology is, at some point, local. The Pyramids of Giza may be the world’s most fam­ous archae­olo­gical monu­ments, but to under­stand even these requires pla­cing them in the con­text of their locality.

The debate in this volume isn’t solely about open access, but also includes other issues of glob­al­isa­tion. Nonetheless the shadow of eco­nomic pres­sure casts a shadow over most of the papers in the book. Hagerlid says in the open­ing paper that main­tain­ing cur­rent sub­scrip­tion mod­els would be the most risky strategy for a journal, and Sternquist’s clos­ing paper shows the dangers are real and ser­i­ous. There are some highly ques­tion­able asser­tions used in some of the papers, but even so these papers are of interest and raise mat­ters which will need to be tackled. Rundkvist has pulled together a book which is well-presented, thought pro­vok­ing and, unusu­ally for a good book, hope­fully will be short-lived in import­ance. It is essen­tial for many journ­als that some of the prob­lems dis­cussed are solved soon. It is an import­ant con­tri­bu­tion to the debate upon aca­demic pub­lish­ing in archae­ology. Should I ever have the urge to set up a journal I’ll be sure to try and learn some of the les­sons in this book.


When he's not tired, fixing his car or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.

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  1. February 29, 2008

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