Sunday, November 18, 2007

Publication?

Two pretty recently published books that I consult with increasing regularity are Gundula Lüdorf's typology of Roman and Early Byzantine coarse wares from western Asia Minor and Dominique Pieri's discussion of the distribution of Late Roman Eastern Mediterranean Amphoras in Gaul, which also presents a useful typology that extends Riley's well-known LR series.

These two works indicate that our ability to categorize and compare a greater percentage of the pottery that we find on Mediterranean, and particularly Aegean, sites is only increasing. This is a good thing and, as works of scholarship, Lüdorf and Pieri's efforts show that trends are looking up.

Unfortunately, these books also show that trends are heading in the wrong direction when considered from the perspective of publication and distribution of such scholarship. The Lüdorf book costs USD 115.00 when purchased from David Brown. The Pieri volume is available for EUR 65.00 from Librairie Archéologique, my preferred source for French books that aren't on Amazon.fr. As of writing, that's approximately USD 220 for both books before shipping and handling. That amount of money will keep this important information out of many people's hands.

And there are further subtleties. I live in New York City and often use the Columbia Library, which is undoubtedly a first-rate research environment. Its online catalog indicates that the Lüdorf volume was received on February 14, 2007. The location of the book, however, is listed as "In preparation for Offsite". While I can't give specific dates, it has been this way since shortly after the book was received. Expensive books are going straight offsite. Something is broken with this system of publication. I know I'm not the first to say this and I'm sure I won't be the last.

A rhetorical question: is the price of their work or the storage policies of major libraries the fault of the authors? Not entirely. And not yet. I am not so naive as to rail against these two scholars for not choosing open access digital publication. But I do think the time is coming when authors will have to explain why they haven't made their scholarship available through such outlets as The Stoa Consortium or the Public Library of Science. And perhaps we can look forward to a future when work not published in similarly minded venues or otherwise at no cost to the reader doesn't count in professional evaluation procedures. It's a fair bet that universities, as evaluators of scholarship, will press for this, given that they are also bleeding money to buy books that they can't even efficiently distribute to their users.

To repeat what I said before, I know I'm not the first to say all this and I'm sure I won't be the last.

1 comment:

Charles Ellwood Jones said...

Good points as always Sebastian. Did you attempt to page the Lüdorf volume from remote storage? If so, how fast was the turn around. It would be interesting to know what criteria they are using at Columbia (and elsewhere) to shelve newly acquired materials remotely, and where the decision is being made.

Sadly, the fact of the matter is that virtually none of the couple of thousand volumes produced annually in Classical Studies are available anywhere for download. One thing that might help is if a few imaginative senior scholars began doing this as a routine. I suspect there would soon be the beginning of a critical mass which would begin to attact the more wary among us.

Another example of forward thinking policy is reprecented by the new(ish) publishing policy at the Oriental Institute. Shortly before I left there I served on a committee which formulated the policy which requires each book published by the organization to appear in paper, as is customary, for sale, and to also appear online, free-of-charge. This has been happening now for two and a half years, and the OI has also begun the process of scanning its back-list and making all that material available as well.

It would be wonderful if other organizations would take note and follow suit.

The policy here at the ASCSA has been to make all publications searchable and discoverable (if not comfortably readable) in GoogleScholar, and to make its primary series available in JSTOR: Most volumes of Hesperia, Hesperia Suppplements and The Athenian Agora are already available in JSTOR, Corinth is in process. The Agora picture books, many of them, are available for download without charge at http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/publications/p_books.htm