How Anthropology & Aging became Open-Access: some thoughts on transitions and trajectories

Screenshot 2014-09-02 09.56.19.pngLink to the new Anthropology & Aging website here

On days like today, I will most likely spend several hours at the computer, mostly reading. When I have a moment away from other work, I will open some links to articles that google scholar sent me, or scroll through the updates on blogs I follow, and spend twenty minutes here, an hour there, filling up with ideas and images that often find their way into my lectures or a presentations.

If you are like me, you expect to be able to access important news, thoughtful essays, and even high-quality academic articles instantly and effortlessly as your curiosity leads you. I expect my students to be able to do the same when they are writing papers or considering research projects (sometimes we do this together as we brainstorm). With my academic affiliation I can access a lot more than most people, but even then, I always manage to find dead-ends, blocked by some pesky paywall. In these cases I will usually do what my students do, take down the citation for another time, and wander back to the free stuff.

And why not? Lately the free stuff, not only in anthropology, but in aging studies as well, has been really top notch. It may have once been the case that digital journals lacked the clout and the credentials to be taken seriously, but open-access sites like Anthropology of This Century and HAU: Journal of Contemporary Ethnography not only have contributors and editorial boards that include some of the most prominent anthropologists in the world, but they have embraced the potential of new media, creating attractive, interactive formats with unique content. (I have included links to examples of open-access digital journals in anthropology and aging studies below) The scholarly digital publishing wave is exciting, and as a small, non-profit run, niche publication like our journal, it allows us to get our work out into the world and have a greater impact on both the field of aging studies, and on the lives of older adults.

Pages from AAQ31(3-4) Nov 2010When I began as Editor of Anthropology & Aging Quarterly in the fall of 2011, it was already digital in the sense that readers would have to download a PDF file and read it on a computer or print it out themselves. Moreover, since the journal was, in part, a member newsletter as well, readership was limited to members of the AAGE. In my view, AAQ was the only scholarly forum that dealt with the kind of problems and topics that I was most passionate about, like using ethnographic methods in aging research, applying theories of subjectivity and the body to issues of caregiving, or examining the spiritual and religious lives of older people using qualitative, empirical, and cross-cultural perspectives. Rather than picking out articles here and there from a dozen journals, I knew that every article I read in AAQ would directly support the things I taught and the research I wanted to do, and I knew that our authors deserved a bigger megaphone and a wider stage.

AAQ33.2coverAnd so began the gradual process of redesigning the journal’s look and feel, attracting more submissions and expanding the editorial board. We started to see room for more ways to engage with anthropology and aging, and began a “Portfolio” section to engage broadly with issues of visibility, representation, process, creativity, and beauty. There was a huge sense of freedom and fun behind all of this, and in just seven issues (starting with the first one with the new design) we had published 24 articles, 5 commentaries, 4 portfolios, and 30 reviews (more than twice the scholarly content of the previous four years combined). I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the editors, reviewers, authors, and supporters for all the hard work it took to make this happen.

Encouraged by this momentum, AAQ made its first push to into the current of digital publishing at the AAGE business meeting in 2012. In my report, I argued that the Open Journal Systems (OJS) platform or something very similar would make us more accessible through directories and searches, and as a result help us attract authors and AAGE members. While there was still concern within AAGE that full open-access for AAQ would result in member desertion, the idea of updating our online presence gained some ground, and through discussions in the first half of 2013, AAGE launched its new website.

The new website provided an easier framework for publishing AAQ, and made it more attractive, interactive, and accessible. It looked the way it should look if one were searching for an online article. Since no member filter was set up on the site yet, the content, including AAQ would be accessible to non-members as well. This provided, somewhat by chance, a nice test run for the open-access idea. In the fall of 2013, as the Society for Cultural Anthropology was celebrating their open-access move at the AAA meeting in San Francisco, I submitted an AAQ annual report recommending that we team up with University Library System and the University of Pittsburgh and make it happen for AAGE. ULS and Pitt would not only host the site, but help us design, maintain, index, and promote it.

Of course, the journal is not and never was the venture of a single editor or even the AAGE executive board, but has always depended on the support and readership of the membership as a whole. In order to prepare for the move to open-access and get a better sense of its impact on the use of the journal and the membership of AAGE, we distributed a simple online survey via our listserv in early 2014. The results were overwhelmingly approving, with the majority of respondents claiming that open-access would make them more interested in submitting content to AAQ and more likely to use our publications with students. They also indicated that their decision to become an AAGE member or renew their current membership would not be affected by moving the journal to open-access, and for some, this move would make them more likely to become a member.

It was a risky step, and we worried about what we would need to do to make the plan sustainable into the coming future, if we would be able to keep the submissions flowing in, if we would be able to successfully build a support network with organisations outside AAGE. Some of these worries remain. And yet, if I am to remain true to my responsibility as an editor to push the journal further along towards AAGE’s goals of advancing critical and cross-disciplinary dialogue, fostering support for research at all levels, and making our work accessible to people around the world (including to carers, professionals, and many older persons), these were risks worth taking.

Gratefully I do not have to take these risks alone. While I was busy conducting research on family caregivers in Japan, my co-editor, Phil Kao was working closely and diligently with the ULS digital resources team (especially Timothy Deliyannides, Vanessa Gabler and Lauren Collister) to prepare the site, and the AAGE executive board voted to dedicate enough funds to get us started. Portfolio Editor Jonathan Skinner has been linking up with visual contributors, and Book Reviews Editor Joann Kovacich has been steadily working through the long list of titles to send out. We are always interested in providing opportunities for new staff or student interns to join the journal and strongly encourage you to contact us if you think that there might be a place for you here.

Though no longer published quarterly, Anthropology & Aging is dedicated to maintaining the same amount of content per volume as in previous years, as well as the same degree of scrutiny and thoroughness in our review process. There will be no publication fee for open-access (publishing OA with Ageing and Society will cost $250; Journal of Aging Studies $1800, e.g.)– authors only need to have a current active membership in AAGE (currently $28 professional, $18 students).

Looking ahead to 2015, we are excited to publish articles from the winners of the 2014 Margaret Clark Student Paper Awards, which have been revived by AAGE after a seven year hiatus. We accept and review submissions in all categories (with the exception of book reviews) on a continuing basis, and with the new author management features on the website it is even easier for us to provide authors with prompt replies and communications. Indeed, however hard our editors work, ultimately, the success of the journal is dependent on the new ideas and fresh perspectives that our authors provide and on the group submissions or special issues that you can’t wait to read, cover to virtual cover. We look forward to working more with ULS/Pitt and with colleagues, institutions, libraries around the world as we make this next step.

Archives for the last year of AAQ are now posted and searchable on the new site. Register for free and receive updates when new issues and articles are are uploaded or when a new CFP is released. Hope you enjoy it, and I look forward to your submissions and your feedback.

Jason Danely

Editor, Anthropology & Aging

Senior Lecturer of Anthropology, Oxford Brookes University

Related links

Completely Open Access Journals in Aging Studies
Age culture humanities
International Journal of Ageing and Later Life

Savage Minds blog discussion on OA in anthropology
Society for Cultural Anthropology goes OA

SCA podcast series on OA publishing in anthropology

Discussion on the AAA position on OA

(There are many more journals, blogs, and associated links not listed here, so if there is anything I miss, let us know in the comments section!)


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