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Open Folklore


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 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online portal for folklore studies is to make a greater number and variety of useful resources, both published and unpublished, available for the field of folklore studies and the communities with which folklore scholars partner.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 (

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.

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 follows:

  • 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 (
  • We plan to provide an online tool that will offer full-text searching of all of the above classes of material while filtering out unreliable sources.

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 Jessica Turner from AFS (afsexec at indiana dot edu), or Moira Smith (molsmith at indiana dot edu) from the IU Bloomington Libraries.

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