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Diamond OA Library Publishing in Indigenous and Native Studies at the University of California

Published onApr 16, 2024
Diamond OA Library Publishing in Indigenous and Native Studies at the University of California


In April 2023, the American Indian Culture and Research Journal (AICRJ) officially re-launched as a diamond open access journal with eScholarship Publishing, the University of California’s open access, library-based publishing service. This ‘flip’ from a subscription-based publication model unlocked nearly 50 years of research in Native American studies and ensures that future work will be openly available to everyone. “Of all the communities represented in scholarship, Indigenous communities often lack the financial and institutional resources to even see what has been published about their lives,” notes Editor in Chief, Dr. David Delgado Shorter. “Reaching a point where we could be fully accessible was long in the making in American Indian Studies at UCLA, our host institution.”
In this presentation transcript from the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions’ (IFLA) Library Publishing Special Interest Group meeting at the 2023 World Library Congress Satellite, representatives from AICRJ and from the eScholarship Publishing program describe in greater detail the impetus for this transition to open access, the institutional and community-driven funding model that made it possible, and the efforts that went into migrating the journal, including its back issues, to a library publishing environment.

Justin: Welcome and thank you for inviting us to speak today. The topic of our presentation is Diamond OA Library Publishing in Indigenous and Native Studies at the University of California. My name is Justin Gonder. I’m the Senior Product Manager for eScholarship Publishing at the California Digital Library, and I’m joined today by Charlotte, David, and Pamela. I’ll let them introduce themselves.

Charlotte: Hi folks. My name is Charlotte Roh. My pronouns are she/her. I’m in San Diego on Kumeyaay land, and I am one of the Publications Managers at eScholarship with the California Digital Library at the University of California.

David: Hi, I’m Dr. David Shorter. I’m a professor in the Department of World Arts and Cultures at University of California Los Angeles, and I’m the current Editor-in-Chief of the American Indian Culture and Research Journal, currently on Tongva Lands.

Pamela: Hi, my name is Pamela Grieman and I have been the Managing Editor of the American Indian Culture and Research Journal for more than 20 years and have served in various capacities. Like David, I’m also on Tongva Land.

Charlotte: So Pamela and David: Can you please just give us a brief background of AICRJ?

Pamela: Sure. The American Indian Culture and Research Journal arose out of the maelstrom of political activism in the 1960s. Various groups on the UCLA campus and across the United States advocated for ethnic study centers so that they could produce scholarship, hire scholars, and recruit students who reflected a history that had yet to have been told. The journal had its first issue in 1970, and the first few issues really documented the progress of setting up the center and getting the journal started. Then in 1975, the journal transformed into a scholarly research publication that was peer reviewed. It was the seminal journal of the time and it has now been around for more than 50 years. Many scholars got their first publication in the American Indian Culture and Research Journal, and it still retains a great deal of relevance today, which is one reason why the editors, the publishers, everyone felt it was so important to take it open access.

Charlotte: That segues really nicely into our next question, which is the impetus for moving to open access.

David: I’ll take this one. I was a graduate student and was told that “David: as a premier journal, you have to publish in the American Indian Culture and Research Journal.” It’s the only journal that’s not only read by scholars, but read by people who are also not scholars because it literally has the word “culture” in the name. So as the journal editors, myself, Pamela and others before us wanted to bridge the gap between those who write and those who are written about. I mean, ethically speaking, our work should be accessible to everyone in both content and form for those that we research about, for, and with.

Secondly, in our case, most of our subject matter and many of our readers represent some of the most dispossessed and also smallest populations within larger nation states. So that means that there’s more misrepresentation and stereotypes that are waiting to be dispelled. So we have “culture” in our journal’s title, from its post-Civil Rights beginnings that Pamela was just talking about – this scholarship is written about, for, and by community members. Open access then is key: it’s not just about having indigenous scholars being able to access our content, but for general readers to learn more from well-informed writing about indigenous people. And at a time when there’s so many attacks on expert status and there’s bots writing tweets and there’s the questioning of history, I think we’re in a key historical moment to get scholarly, researched writing out from behind paywalls and to have them linkable, shareable, readable.

Charlotte: Pamela, did you have anything to add to that?

Pamela: Throughout my 20 years working for the journal, I and other scholars have come to realize how certain groups have a much larger platform and “megaphone” for getting information about their histories, their needs, their cultures, their current struggles within a settler / colonial situation. But it appears, anecdotally, that indigenous people – and American Indians in particular in the United States – have a smaller megaphone. So one of the key reasons we wanted to take this journal open access is to open up the platform to people who aren’t already interested in these issues. There are so many basic facts about American Indians that highly educated people don’t even know, like that they have sovereign rights based on treaties, and it’s shocking how little people in the United States know about indigenous rights, their status and their histories.

Charlotte: Thank you so much for that, Pamela. Can we talk a little bit about the process of actually moving this journal to open access? I know that you were previously subscription-based with a commercial publisher. What were some of the challenges to moving from a commercial publisher to a nonprofit, library-based publisher?

Pamela: I think the two primary challenges are: one, the financial challenge of continuing to keep the journal running and, continuing to keep it a very scholarly, accurate and well-published issue – labor which you do have to pay people for. So we engaged in fundraising campaigns through a group called Lyrasis and also through our university and the University of California library system at large, all of which committed to funding the journal for the first three to five years. It will be an ongoing challenge to continue to raise the funding.

The second challenge was just the technical one. We have more than 50 years of back issues. It’s a quarterly journal and, up until ten years ago, we published 80 book reviews a year. So we have tens of thousands of documents, all of which had to be prepared for publication. So we encountered some glitches and it’s just taken longer than we first anticipated, but it’s been highly worth it. We’ve finally gotten there and we’re all celebrating that we managed to get all 50 years of back content online in an accessible, open format.

Justin: Pamela, you mentioned briefly some information about funding in relation to your transition to open access. Could you talk a little bit more about how that went?

Pamela: When the decision was first made it took a couple of years to pull the funding together, but the director of the American Indian Study Center, along with the then Editor-in-Chief of the journal, made proposals to both the University of California Libraries (which is an umbrella library organization for the entire University of California system) and made a pitch to them and they committed to providing half of the operating expenses for three years. Then, to meet that other half, Dr. Shannon Speed went to the UCLA Office of Research and Creative Activities, and that office committed to providing the remaining half. We anticipate going back to them for continued funding, but we’ve been told it would probably be at a reduced amount. So in the meantime, we also sent out a proposal to an organization devoted to fundraising specifically for open access journals. It’s called Lyrasis, and they’re engaging in a fundraising campaign to raise funds further into the future.

Justin: I understand that when the journal relaunched on eScholarship, there was a lot of activity on X (the social media platform formerly known as Twitter) including interest from a lot of other libraries to contribute to this project.

David: Yeah, we were very fortunate. I mean, one of the things that really helped us from working with Lyrasis is that they’re trying to help institutions and organizations understand the individual journal’s needs and their challenges. They actually provide them specifics – literal dollar amounts – about what’s being provided through other hosts and what’s needed on an annual basis. They ask for contributions on a yearly level or on a three-year level or on a five-year level. That’s very helpful for us. And because we’re then working on an open access platform like eScholarship, we were able to give people access to the content immediately, which enabled us to have better connectivity with social media like X, Threads, Facebook, Instagram, etc. We were doing a lot of work getting out our content and then we immediately pivoted to thanking those organizations that had given to us already. So I think we’re up to like 28 libraries and organizations that have helped us. It’s great! It’s promising. There’s obviously still a need, but we’re very thankful for Lyrasis and of course the University of California for helping us to start out.

Volume 46, Issue 2
© Gil Scott, Within His Storms (2017) Acrylic on canvas

Justin: So another thing that Pamela touched on was the actual nuts and bolts of moving this journal over, and I thought I should back up for a moment and just give a little bit of context regarding who we are here at CDL and what we are offering as a library-based publisher. eScholarship Publishing is the library-based open access publishing program for the University of California system. We support all 10 campuses and our affiliated research centers. We are currently publishing 92 actively publishing open access journals, so it’s a big program, but it’s also run by a pretty lean staff. Charlotte and I have been working really closely with Pamela and David on this transition for I think over a year now. We also work really closely with our campus partners at each of the campuses. We have scholarly communications officers that help us with these projects. We have a wide variety of journals, but particularly journals that aren’t necessarily a good fit for commercial publishers or, increasingly these days, we’re seeing a lot of interest from journals that are in traditional, subscription-based publishing models and looking (like AICRJ) to flip to open access.

Pamela, another thing that you mentioned earlier is the migration of all the back content. I know that was a huge effort, as you said: almost 50 years of back content. I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about the effort that’s gone into getting this content ready for open access in eScholarship.

Pamela: Frankly, our editorial publications team could never have done this on our own. We were fortunate to have a former part-time IT staff person and programmer oversee the process for us, so he could guide student workers. At UCLA, we can get some pretty impressive student workers who can handle complex tasks. And so he took over oversight duties that none of our staff had the capability to perform. So if anyone is considering open access, I would highly recommend hiring a professional to help the technical transition end of things.

Charlotte: I can just say, Tom has been really great and this is particularly helpful because eScholarship also has been in a time of transition on the backend. We’ve been moving to Janeway, which is a new submission management system and it’s been an effort to get the editorial teams on board with that as well.

Justin: Yeah, we’re happy to have partners that are willing to learn Janeway alongside us. Charlotte and I are also new to the platform. It’s produced by Birkbeck, University of London, and the Open Library of Humanities (OLH). Eventually we’re going to be moving all of our journals to the Janeway platform to support their manuscript management and peer review processes, but AICRJ is an early adopter of the platform here at UC.

Charlotte: So as you can tell, we’re still in the midst of some transition, but already I feel like the community reaction and access to the scholarship has been tremendous. I think previously with the subscription model, there were some 360 print and online subscriptions. Some of those were institutional, so definitely more than that number were reached by those subscriptions, but David, do you want to talk a little bit about the reaction that you’ve seen from social media and just the downloads?

David: Sure. I mean, I was a little bit surprised. When I think about academic work, I think of work that tends to be very esoteric or, you might wanna say, not very engaging with the general popular society. But by using things like Twitter and Facebook and Instagram to get out that there were essays in our journal about alien contact, about resource extraction, about climate change – those sorts of topics are hot button topics and when we could say, “Hey, there’s an issue that we just published about this,” I think that really drove up engagement, which drives it back to that very first thing I said about actually having an impact on popular culture and not just in the academic world. Now, I don’t really know a lot about historic numbers for what is normal for an academic journal in terms of its reading, but I was seeing upwards of 4,000 - 5,000 engagements with the actual journal on eScholarship and over 1,500 downloads of one essay within a 30 day period. For me, that seems pretty important. I get to say as an editor to possible authors: look at the impact you might have, not just in the academic world, but in the world.

Charlotte: Those are tremendous numbers; it’s amazing! I’ll also say that I’ve seen on social media the chatter between authors and readers, that there is happiness that these items are open access. Authors have been saying, “...and it’s open access,” and readers have been saying, “Thank you for making this open access!” – and librarians have been telling me that they’re now in their library guides, noting that it’s an open access resource.

David: I would just add in really quickly, Charlotte, that there’s a couple factors here that we can’t rule out of the equation. As an educator, to be able to assign an open access essay to my class makes it such a go-to option so that students don’t have to pay for another text that’s required for my classes. Secondarily, we’re trying to engage junior authors, women authors, indigenous authors, BIPOC authors – these people generally come from families that want to be proud of their child who’s just published something or their sibling who’s just published something – but then they couldn’t access it because it was behind some sort of paywall. Now they can actually share it and see their name in the journal and maybe have their aunt or brother read their academic work for free that day. That’s a pretty big deal for a lot of people.

Charlotte: Fantastic! What are some of the things that we’re looking forward to now that we’ve made this change?

David: That’s a really great question. I think that having our journal open access lends itself more to broadening what we consider our community. I think we used to think of the journal part of a center (the American Indian Studies Center here at UCLA) so our events were for them, on campus. Now our events can be global. We literally just had an issue come out about the life and the work of a famous Kanaka Maoli activist in Hawaii (Dr. Haunani-Kay Trask). We actually had Hawaiian songs, Hawaiian poetry, people from the community celebrating the issue’s publication date the day it went live. That’s a pretty awesome thing as a journal to say that your community is no longer the 14 academics across your region or state, but it’s actually from the community that’s being written about. I think we’re gonna have more of those events. I would love to have events for donors so that they know that we actually really appreciate the money that they’re giving to us to help us stay afloat. And I guess the last thing I would say here is that, even though I think the platform itself could be more engaging aesthetically, which I think is happening, eScholarship has been very open to hearing our ideas on this matter. I think at this point it’s just simply about getting the word out and continually beating the drum and making sure that people understand that open access matters not just to our authors, but to what we want to do in the world.

Charlotte: That’s really great to hear. I remember that event around the Hawaii issue and it was so huge and so beautiful, a real community event. The ways that art has really been brought into the journal has been really nice too. In particular, the covers are no longer sort of this neutral academic text-based design, right?

David: Thank you for asking that because it gives me an opportunity to recognize the importance of art in what we try to do as a journal. Our wording, American Indian Culture and Research, particularly in an indigenous context, means that we don’t rule out or segment some things as not important, particularly like art. So right when we determined that this was going to be a means for people to access the content of our journal immediately and online, and therefore aesthetically and visually engaging, we made a decision to redo our cover and we contracted the work of three indigenous artists. And so now every single issue will actually have a cover that has been artistically designed by an indigenous person. Pamela was very instrumental in helping me work out who those artists might be, and I think that’s just one other way to recognize that we’re not just for scholars. We do publish peer reviewed scholarship. We’re probably the benchmark journal in indigenous studies. But that being said, we also want to make sure our reach is beyond just simply the academic world or just the indigenous world, and art will help us do that.

Charlotte: This has been a fantastic conversation. Thank you everyone. We’re so excited to see more issues of American Indian Culture and Research Journal.

Recording of this transcribed IFLA talk:

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