Access to archaeological journals, or, how to spend £350 quite quickly.

I read a news article the other day which pondered why Harry Potter didn’t just use Google.

The book was published in 1997, so presumably written a few years before that. The article asks why, when faced with a search for some information, Harry had to struggle through the library to find a book. Now, I’ve never read the Potter books so i have no idea how arduous a task this was but I get the impression death and disaster were imminent. The author of the article suggests that younger Potter readers, brought up in the information age, would google what Harry needed rather than have to go through the library trauma in the first place. The point is that Hogwarts wouldn’t have had internet access in that day and age and that Google didn’t really take off until the year after the book came out.

What does this have to do with archaeology journals? Well, I miss my equivalent of Hogwarts library. Yes, I have a very good ‘local’ library (National library of Scotland) and am also a member of the National Museums Research Library and can borrow books and journals from both. I also have excellent broadband at home so the world of archaeological research should be mine for the taking.

But it isn’t. Without the backup of institutional subscriptions many journals are out of my reach. I’m not the first person to realise this but work at the day job has recently made me more aware than ever of what I could be missing out on.

Spending the last few weeks reviewing bibliographies, checking for misplaced commas and references for thousands of entries, I have had my eyes opened to the many and varied sources used for discussing archaeology in Scotland today. There are the usual suspects one might expect (Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Antiquity etc) as well as more specialised reading and some rare gems – mostly local history society transactions and self published monographs.

Most of them are subscription only, not as many are open access. Although this situation might be changing for some (find a very good list here) it is unrealistic to expect that verything will become free to view, nor should it – journals cost money to produce and will always need people to work on them. Obviously, there is a difference here between leviathans of publishing such as Elsevier making millions and smaller more independant publications who are still peer reviewed and of excellent quality but who barely make a profit. Arguably, if it wasn’t for the whole impact factor issue more journals could afford to be open and reach more people, I could go on.

My point is, that in order to subscribe to all the journals I want to for the next year say, I will need to spend at least £350 (but that includes my New Scientists! :p). As I said, I don’t mind and actually is really isn’t that much when you consider everything. However, this is only for a few core publications (Internet Archaeology, Proc Soc Antiq Scot, JRS, Britannia and some others). I’d like the opportunity to read more, but when individual articles can be up to $20 it does sort of put you off. I’m lucky, given that my interests are databases, publication of archives and Romans – if I was into science it’d be much much more costly (see this post for example.)

I guess if i didn’t want to broaden my mind, keep up to date with archaeological goings on and think about future jobs and maybe post docs I could just not subscribe at all, but where would the fun be in that?

  1. Alun said:

    In Wales in the National Library provides access to JSTOR Arts & Science I, II and III. It makes my situation much better than when I lived in England and all national collections were in Loxbridge, but it’s not perfect. At a time when archaeology could really use public support it’s a shame that the public are effectively locked out of research they’ve paid for.

    • emmajaneoriordan said:

      Hooray for Wales! I know I’m actually in a pretty good situation at the moment, but others aren’t and it annoys me. My better half is a science sort of archaeologist and subscription to some of the big journals would cost £1000’s per year, each!

      The public access thing is a big issue, and I think will only grow as more and more archaeology is becomes community led – how do these projects publish results that will be peer reviewed and academically accepted but can also be read by the volunteers and others who helped in the first place?

  2. Hugh said:

    Hi Emma, I find it rather frustrating as well. Working for a heritage organisation in England (who’s opinions I’m not representing but my own) that is not a university frequently leaves me and my colleages on the outside looking in. It is very frustrating getting access to the journals you need only to be blocked by paywalls. While you’re modest list is only an example I would wager that if you had these you would still be left wanting more. Due to the inquisitive nature of most people reading journals is more a down the rabbit hole experience where one article leads to a reference and so forth, so I suspect the total cost for you to have all that you would like could easily reach 4 figures and 5 figures for our more scientific colleagues.

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