Preserving Radical Voices from the Civil Rights and Vietnam Eras

If you plan to attend the “Left Forum 2015” conference at John Jay College in New York this weekend, please plan to attend the panel “Digitizing Our Radical Past … Affordably,” which will be held Saturday from 5:10-7 p.m.. I will be talking about the underground press digital project that I have been working on for the past four years. Fellow panelists include Thai Jones, curator for American History at Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, and Kathie Sarachild, founding member of the pioneering feminist group the Redstockings.

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 Overview of Panel

This panel is about the work that Reveal Digital has been doing for the past four years to digitize underground, alternative, and literary newspapers and magazines from the fifties through the eighties as a way to preserve our radical and literary past and make it accessible to the current and future generations of activists, scholars, and writers. It’s no secret among academics that young scholars today look first and primarily to the Internet for sources of information and may be totally unaware of the vast treasures that await them in the back shelves of special collections libraries. Digitizing these treasures is a first step toward making them accessible.

But digitizing alone isn’t enough to ensure accessibility, especially if the resulting digital collections are priced beyond the reaches of academic libraries, which are the primary purchasers of these collections. This is the predicament that libraries face under the traditional economic model employed by traditional publishing companies, which offer digital collections at prices so high that only a small number of libraries can purchase them ever and therefore only their clients have access to them ever. In addition, researchers increasingly want the ability to text-mine digitized content, which requires access to the entire full-text corpus of digitized collections, something that is typically unavailable under the traditional publication model due to intellectual property concerns.

Meanwhile, library budgets strain to keep up with rising prices for print and digital collections.

Reveal Digital has entered this arena with a unique new library crowd-funding model that offers a cost-effective way for libraries to fund the digitization of special collections without trading away their digital rights, a common practice under more traditional “publishing” models. Once a project’s crowd-funding goal is achieved, the content is made open access, resulting in free access to all.

The goal of the work described above—that we call Independent Voices—is to digitize three-quarters of a million pages of underground, alternative, and literary newspapers and magazines from the fifties through the eighties by the end of January 2017. To date, we have uploaded some 250,000 pages. Our motivations are two-fold: to preserve the most important writings of our generation, which are now hidden in dark shelves of special collections libraries and beginning to yellow and crumble with age; and to make them available to current and future generations of scholars and activists.

We originally aimed to include a thousand publications in the collection but we already have surpassed that number. Our collection so far includes approximately 120 feminist and lesbian papers, 130 literary magazines, 600 military underground papers, and 180 campus, community, high school, gay, minority, prisoners’ rights, and other underground and alternative papers that have either already been or are in the process of being scanned and digitized. We even have 4 papers published by the FBI to sow dissension in the Movement.

With each paper, we are creating an exact keyword-searchable digital reproduction of every page.

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This work couldn’t be done without the immense help of a growing team of sourcing libraries that loan us original copies of these papers from their collections after we clear permission from the intellectual property rights holders. Libraries that are on board already include Duke, Northwestern, University of Wisconsin, Michigan State University, Georgia State University, University of Texas-Austin (UT-Austin), University of Buffalo, University of Washington, New York University, Bowling Green State University, University of Kansas, University of Arkansas at Little Rock (Sequoyah National Research Center), University of California-San Diego (UCSD), Oberlin College, University of Connecticut, and California Historical Society. It is not uncommon that for some titles no single library owns a complete run. In those cases, we patch together complete runs from our sourcing libraries that have partial collections. This ability to create aggregate collections is another advantage of digitizing.

Independent Voices is the first collection to be funded through Reveal Digital’s library crowd-funding model. Beyond the Independent Voices project, we are working with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) to create a SNCC Digital Archive, with Highlander Folk School to digitize their papers from its founding through the Civil Rights era, and with Liberation News Service, the AP-UPI of the underground press, to create a collection that includes their photos and news packets. Other projects are in the conceptual stage.

In the tradition of Kickstarter, Reveal Digital has created a crowd-funding website at http://revealdigital.com/ . There, we introduce every new project that is under consideration, lay out the individual costs to create the site, reduce the total cost to a per-library cost based on a tiered pricing structure (approximately 20 percent of what libraries would pay a typical digitizing company for a similar collection), and ask for non-binding commitments of support. Once the total of commitments reaches the cost-recovery threshold, we begin the permission-clearance phase.

Libraries that fund any one collection receive early access to that collection, free MARC records, COUNTER compliant usage metrics, and full support for mass text downloading, as well as initial consideration for ideas to make their own collections more widely available through the cost recovery = open access economic model, without giving up ownership of the resulting digital files.

Libraries have a long tradition of working together for the greater good of the broader library community. In that same tradition, no library is expected to support every Reveal Digital project but every library will have access to every project once they become open access. Thus, libraries supporting this unique new approach to funding the digitization of special collections ensure that access to important cultural material is free and available to all.

You can learn more at http://voices.revealdigital.com/voices. Because we aren’t yet open access, you can only view the papers on that site if you have access to one of our supporting libraries. However, you can still review a sample of our work at our demo site, http://demo.revealdigital.com/voices.

 Panel of Presenters

  • Chair: Ken Wachsberger
  • Ken Wachsberger will give an overview of what the underground/alternative press was, focusing not on the countercultural history that begins with the Los Angeles Free Press but rather the broader, more diverse history that goes back to the forties and includes also minority papers, GLBT papers, women’s papers, and more. He will talk about the origins of the Reveal Digital Independent Voices collection and its current status. He will introduce and explain the cost recovery = open access economic model and introduce upcoming projects and Reveal’s crowd-funding website.
  • Thai Jones, Herbert H. Lehman Curator for American History at Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, has worked in a number of ways to expand access to Columbia’s archival materials. He will talk about the political significance of open access, especially in relation to critical and authentic teaching and learning.
  • Kathie Sarachild, a founding member of the Redstockings, one of the most important feminist groups of the sixties and seventies and today a grassroots, activist “think tank,” will talk about the challenges the Redstockings have had in maintaining their Women’s Liberation Archives for Action and raising funds to have it cataloged, microfilmed, and digitized for a wider public, as the group continues to organize, mobilize, and develop and disseminate radical feminist ideas.

 Bios

Ken Wachsberger is an internationally known author, editor, and speaker as well as a renowned expert on the Vietnam era underground and alternative press. Ken is a book contract advisor with the National Writers Union and a frequent lecturer on the topics of contracts and copyright. He is the former editor or managing editor of several peer-reviewed publications from Pierian Press and MCB University Press. During his tenure as Contracts and Copyright Manager with Reveal Digital, Ken has led the drive to identify and obtain permission for over 1,200 underground, alternative, and literary newspapers and magazines from the fifties through the eighties to be part of Reveal’s Independent Voices digital project.

Thai Jones is the Herbert H. Lehman Curator for U.S. History at Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library. He is the author of two books: More Powerful Than Dynamite: Radicals, Plutocrats, Progressives, and New York’s Year of Anarchy (Bloomsbury, 2014), and A Radical Line: From the Labor Movement to the Weather Underground, One Family’s Century of Conscience (Free Press, 2004). Jones is currently working on a new book on the labor movement and the environment in a Nevada boomtown. Tentatively entitled, Boomtown: Dreams, Greed, Destruction, and the Fall of the Old West, it is under contract with Harvard University Press, with an expected publication date of Fall 2016.

Kathie Sarachild is a pioneer of the women’s movement of the sixties and seventies. She took part in the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer as a volunteer with SNCC and joined the female liberation movement in1967, working with New York Radical Women, for whose organizing she developed the slogan “sisterhood is powerful” and the program for “consciousness-raising.” She was one of four women to hang the “Women’s Liberation” banner inside Convention Hall at the 1968 protest of the Miss America Pageant. Sarachild was a founding member of the Redstockings, one of the most important feminist groups of the period. She was an author of the Redstockings’ “Principles” and “Manifesto” in 1969, and an editor and contributor to the 1975 Redstockings anthology Feminist Revolution, which was later reprinted by Random House in a censored edition. Redstockings today is a new kind of grassroots, activist “think tank,” started by Redstockings’ veterans for defending and advancing the women’s liberation agenda. Sarachild is director of the Redstockings Archive for Action, http://www.redstockings.org, which was started in 1989 to make the formative and radical 1960’s experience of the movement more widely available for study by current and future feminist activists.

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