The American Folklore Society (AFS) and the Indiana University Bloomington Libraries have created a new scholarly resource called Open Folklore. This open-access online portal for folklore studies makes a greater number and variety of useful resources, both published and unpublished, available for the field of folklore studies and the communities with which folklore scholars partner. Open Folklore is a multi-faceted project that combines digitization and digital preservation of data, publications, educational materials, and scholarship in folklore; promotes open access to these materials; and provides an online search tool to enhance discoverability of relevant, reliable resources for folklore studies.
Exciting recent developments in digital preservation and publication have positioned folklore studies to be a leader in scholarly communication in the digital era. These are:
- Several core journals in the field (Journal of American Folklore, Journal of Folklore Research, Folklore, Western Folklore, and others) have been digitized in their entirety and are now available to subscribers online from JSTOR, Project Muse, and other services.
- Folklore boasts numerous online open-access journals (available without a subscription): Oral Tradition, Folklore Forum, Cultural Analysis, New Directions in Folklore, Asian Ethnology, and the Indian Folklore Research Journal, among others.
- Google Books, as part of its larger agreement with IU Bloomington, has digitized the renowned Folklore Collection established by Stith Thompson and maintained since his time by the IU Bloomington Libraries. This unique collection comprises more than 57,000 books and journals. These holdings are also being incorporated into the HathiTrust Digital Library, an open and non-commercial digital library of scholarship in which Indiana University is a leading partner (www.hathitrust.org).
At the same time, several persistent access and discoverability problems in the field remain:
- Many digitized books and journals are available only to subscribers (usually those affiliated with larger colleges and universities).
- Many more digitized books are not accessible at all because of copyright restrictions.
- Other materials useful for folklore scholarship and education—white papers, policy materials, conference presentations and discussions, works-in-progress, syllabi and teaching materials, and other forms of “gray literature”—have never formally been published, and so cannot be found easily through conventional channels.
- Educational materials created by academic and public folklore programs—such as exhibition catalogs, interpretive materials from performance events, publications of American Folklore Society interest groups and sections, and newsletters—are similarly not easily found through conventional channels.
- In a 2009 American Folklore Society survey of communications practices in folklore studies, significant numbers of respondents indicated that these categories of “fugitive” materials—along with ethnographic source materials in archives, and theses and dissertations—were important to their research and educational efforts but were difficult for them to access.
- Much of this gray literature and educational material is published on the Internet, but the Internet is notoriously ephemeral and lacks dependable preservation, making it difficult to reliably locate material after the passage of time.
- Generic Internet search engines like Google are not precise, especially in a popular field like folklore. This means that identifying reliable scholarly content in a sea of popular, and sometimes unreliable, online content poses a greater challenge for those interested in folklore topics than it does in other areas of scholarship.
Since 2011, Open Folklore has responded to these access and preservation problems by:
- Working with rights holders to make books and journals, including those that have already been digitized, fully and openly available online
- Supporting the publication of journals in folklore on open-access platforms
- Digitizing older grey literature and providing digital preservation for “born digital” gray literature
- Selecting and (with their permission) digitally archiving websites of public and academic folklore programs
- Developing an online tool that allows you to search all of the above classes of material and that filters out unreliable sources
- Promoting open access to folklore studies scholarship in all formats
For more information on the Open Folklore initiative, please contact Jessica Turner from AFS (afsexec at indiana dot edu), or Moira Smith (molsmith at indiana dot edu) from the IU Bloomington Libraries.
While the Open Folklore project is still in the early development phase, relevant folklore studies resources can already be found in the IUScholarWorks Repository, IUScholarWorks Journals, and the Hathi Trust Digital Library.