Open Folklore Makes Big Strides Heading into its Second Year, Still Lacks Governance Model

It’s been a while since I’ve written about the Open Folklore project. It’s been on my radar, but I haven’t had much time to process the steady stream of announcements, additions, and accolades.

Launched last year, Open Folklore is a collaborative project to provide open access to resources for the study and enjoyment of folklore. Partners include the American Folklore Society, Indiana University Bloomington Libraries, Indiana University Digital Library Program, and Utah State University Libraries (strategic partner).

The project has already made significant contributions to the accessibility of folklore resources. Here’s just a few of the recent activities:

You can read more about the changes and new features on the Open Folklore News page and on Jason Baird Jackson’s blog.

These are major developments that are the result of what must be significant behind-the-scenes work by the project team. Kudos to all. But I am still waiting for the project team address the governance issues that will be critical to the long-term stability of this initiative. Without a real governance model, Open Folklore is a project, not a permanent resource. In light of the Authors Guild’s decision to sue Hathi Trust and five universities, it seems very prudent for the Open Folklore team to outline its mandate, vision, organizational structure, and financial foundation. Why not take a cue from some other open initiatives (e.g., Wikipedia, WordPress) and establish a non-profit foundation to carry out this work?

A non-profit foundation doesn’t just help improve governance, it helps ensure transparency and accountability. Hathi Trust’s partner institutions and consortia held a Constitutional Convention earlier this month and passed a ballot proposal that calls for the establishment of an effective governance structure, but doesn’t call for the establishment of a charitable-status non-profit foundation. Until then, the new Board of Directors is only responsible to its institutional and consortia members, not the public at large. One might argue that it’s the same thing since the majority of Hathi Trust’s members are publicly funded institutions, but universities are notorious for hiding their financial information. Since this work is being carried out for the public good, why can’t we be more forthcoming about the very real resources being committed?

As much as I find the actions of the Authors Guild deplorable, these initiatives must find a way to demonstrate that they are working with the system and not just pushing the envelope. Even if the Hathi Trust is partnering with rights holders as Jason Baird Jackson points out, there are clearly flaws in the system large enough to dismantle the whole thing. It would be a shame to see some early mistakes derail these laudable efforts to combat the otherwise unmitigated march to expand copyright protection.

You can subscribe to the Open Folklore news feed if you want to keep up on the announcements. For more on the Authors Guild suit, check out Kevin Smith’s open letter to J.R. Salamanca, the author of a book listed as orphaned by the Hathi Trust.

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