This time last year I was in the middle of a ‘survey of relevant literature’ for my PhD. What that really meant was browsing every journal I could lay my hands on to track down articles which discussed castle slighting. It was a task which spanned months. There’s a lot to be said for hard copies and I find it much easier to read the printed word for extended periods than a screen. But when you are searching article titles to see which ones merit further investigation, digital is so much easier.
It is all about open access.
In short, open access means making content available to as many people as possible. The Archaeology Data Service leads the way in this area, making journals, monographs, and even excavation reports accessible. It can be used by the general public, archaeology professionals, or academics and researchers. A few months ago, English Heritage worked with the ADS to make 80 high-quality monographs available through the service. From their website, you can access back issues of Medieval Archaeology, The Archaeological Journal, Proceedings of The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Surrey Archaeological Collections, and many more.
Open access is not uniform. At one point I was keeping track of whose journals were available online and whose weren’t. I contacted a couple of societies, asking if they planned to digitise their catalogue. The answer was that while they hoped the journals could be made available digitally, the process was time consuming and by implication expensive.
Some societies, such as the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, opt to host their content themselves. I’m not sure of the reason for choosing this over using the ADS, but it may be because it is easier to control how the content is delivered that way. While I would like to see a central place where people looking for open access journals can go to find information, the important thing is that the research is available in the first place. A straightforward Google search is often enough to flush out open access journals, but Open Access Archaeology has a search function which makes browsing easy.
This means that we should celebrate the lengths some organisations have gone to to make their contents freely available online.
Sites such as Research Gate and Academia allow authors to self-archive their work. The University of Exeter stipulates that a copy of any research published while you are a student there must be deposited in Open Exeter Research. I’m pleased that my university has adopted the policy. Pragmatically, making your research open access – whether as an individual researcher or an learned organisation that has been around for 150 year – makes it far more likely that it will be picked up by others and influence their work. If you want to make a difference, you need to put your research out there. My experience is that open access helps young researchers, especially those who might have limited time such as myself. The economics behind it are interesting, but not something I’m really familiar with. What I do know, is that without open access I would not only have taken much longer to get to the current stage in my research, but that there are some sources which would have essentially remained out of my reach.