On 15 July 2014 the online Museum of Underwater Archaeology (MUA) launched the electronic version of the proceedings from the 2014 Asia-Pacific Conference on Underwater Cultural Heritage held in Honolulu, Hawaii in May. One of the great things about this conference is its organizers’ dedication to making the papers freely available online. A small team of editors made sure that presenters followed the established format and then handed the PDF’s off to the MUA web team for online publication using Omeka software developed at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.
After examining the online proceedings one might argue there are better ways to digitally present the papers but that’s a minor point when compared to the larger aim of the free distribution of knowledge. The cost to create the online proceedings was minimal. The labor, server space, and bandwidth were all donated. With this being the case my question is this: why don’t all conferences do this?
How many conference sessions have we all been to when competing papers of excellent quality had fifty or less viewers in the audience? Papers from the 2011 Asia-Pacific conference proceedings held in Manila, Philippines have had thousands of downloads in the last three years. Isn’t that sort of sharing and spreading of knowledge what academia is supposed to be about?
Some have argued that not all conference papers are of equal quality and therefore should be withheld from distribution. To this I would argue that yes I’ve seen some poor papers over the years but the online proceedings captures a moment in time and represents the state of the field (whatever the discipline) warts and all. I believe it is better to let a few poor papers get through in order to also preserve the rest that might otherwise be lost to obscurity. If the authors of bad papers are willing to stand up and present them then they have accepted the responsibility for their paper’s quality for better or worse.
I was not able to attend the 2014 Asia Pacific conference this past May but I can attend it now, or next year, or the year after that when I discover through my online search that an obscure paper presented there is exactly what I needed to see. We need to encourage our various professional societies to abandon the model of charging money for printed proceedings at the expense of freely available online versions. In some cases the printed versions lose money or at best generate little income. We need to ask ourselves do we conduct our research and present papers to make money or to increase the body of knowledge in our respective fields.
Save and share the knowledge.
You can view the first installment of the Asia-Pacific conference proceedings here: http://www.themua.org/collections/collections/show/13