The American Folklore Society (AFS) and the Indiana University
Bloomington Libraries are creating a prototype of a new scholarly
resource called Open Folklore. The vision for this open-access online
portal for folklore studies is to make 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useful resources, both published and unpublished, available for the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. In its full form, we intend for Open Folklore to be 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. In its initial phase, the
partners will construct a prototype to gather feedback from the folklore
community to shape its future growth and development.
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
- 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
Open Folklore is intended to build on the new
developments in digital circulation of folklore materials to respond to
these troubling access and preservation problems. While the final shape
of this project is still in development, our general plans are as
- We plan to work with rights holders to make books and journals that
have already been digitized fully and openly available online. For
example, during the preliminary phase of the Open Folklore project, the
Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Review, published from 1977-2000 by the
AFS Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Section, and the Folklore Historian,
published by the AFS History and Folklore Section, have already been
made available for full and open use in the HathiTrust Digital Library.
- We plan to support the publication of new and existing journals in
folklore with an open access publishing platform. For example, Museum
Anthropology Review and New Directions in Folklore, two folklore studies
titles already published in partnership with the IU Bloomington
Libraries, will be included in Open Folklore.
- We plan to digitize educational material and gray literature in
folklore, and to provide digital preservation for other "born digital”
resources and publications. For example, the IU Bloomington Libraries
have already digitized and made freely available all of the white papers
and other public policy documents created by the Fund for Folk Culture.
- We plan to select and digitally archive websites of public and
academic folklore programs (with their permission). This effort will
guarantee access to historic Internet documents of scholarly and
disciplinary relevance for the future. We have tested this idea using
the AFS web site (www.afsnet.org).
- We plan to provide an online tool that will offer full-text
searching of all of the above classes of material while filtering out
Over the coming year, AFS and the IU Bloomington Libraries will be
consulting with academic and public programs across the field to plan
these and other activities so that we can provide the most useful
resources in the most accessible manner.For more information on the Open Folklore initiative, please contact
Timothy Lloyd from AFS (lloyd.100 at osu dot
edu), or Moira Smith (molsmith at indiana dot
edu) from the IU Bloomington Libraries.