Hitchhiking to the Revolution: A Hitchhiker’s Tale from the Seventies

Last month I posted the talk that I gave at the “Women’s History in the Digital World 2015” conference at Bryn Mawr College. Given the narrow scope of the conference, women’s studies, the scope of my talk was limited to the feminist and lesbian underground papers. The week after, I spoke at Left Forum 2015. There, the scope was “the political Left”—including national, international, any topic at all. So, my talk, adapted from two previous talks and reproduced below, was on the broader definition of the underground press, beyond the women’s papers, beyond the thread that begins with the Los Angeles Free Press. All of the definitions need to be known, their stories celebrated and shared widely especially with the current and future generations of activists, our intergenerational peers.

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Emily, Ken, and Ernestine Hemingway hitchhiking in Austin, Texas, 1978. From wedding invitation. Caption: "Emily and Ken are finally getting hitched"

Emily, Ken, and Ernestine Hemingway hitchhiking in Austin, Texas, 1978. From wedding invitation. Caption: “Emily and Ken are finally getting hitched”

In the late sixties and throughout the seventies, I was a hitchhiker. I hitchhiked not only around town but to all ends of the country. Everywhere I went, I met folks who either were on their local underground newspapers or read one on a regular basis.

I met ex-cons working on Penal Digest International, a prisoners’ rights paper in Iowa City. I hitchhiked to a women’s liberation march in DC with five women from Lansing who all read Her-self, a women’s paper out of Ann Arbor. In 1972, I hitchhiked to Madison and stayed with a staffer for their paper, Takeover, who I met through their local crash pad file, and I helped the local Yippies organize a Smoke-In. Later, after they bailed me out of jail following a street demonstration, I drove down to Miami with them to organize against the Democrats and Republicans, who both held their nominating conventions there that summer. While there I contributed a piece to the Daily Planet and worked with the Underground Press Syndicate. Everywhere I went, I met gays and lesbians who tried to convert me to their agenda, which was basically “Live and let live.” They had their favorite papers that emerged after the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969, including Gay Liberator in Detroit, Gay Sunshine in San Francisco, and Fag Rag in Boston.

In my foreword to the first edition of Voices from the Underground I wrote:

The period was a vision as much as a reality. It was a time of experimentation. We made mistakes and learned from them. In the beginning, men attacked sexism while women typed their articles. In the end, women founded the feminist and lesbian press and men learned that it was okay to cry. For all its faults, the sixties was a magical period. A time warp opened up and those who stepped inside glimpsed the new paradigm that brought together the best visions of the visionaries and showed us, on a small scale, how to make them work. On the pages of the underground press, writers tried to reduce the vision to the written word and apply the strategies to a larger scale. Those who were touched remain touched.

It was a fleeting vision for sure. We were offered the fruits of so many liberation movements to harvest that it’s no mystery why there was a return to the land. But not everybody embraced the changes. The period divided and traumatized our country like no period since the civil war.

By the time the war ended, activists of the antiwar movement had turned inward and embraced the Me Decade. Meanwhile, the country swung dramatically to the right. Vietnam was pretty much written out of public discourse. Few high school or college courses studied it honestly.

By 1993, when I published the first edition of Voices from the Underground, my anthology of underground press histories as written by key people on each of the papers, we were living in Reagan’s America. The country had shifted so dramatically to the right, veterans of the antiwar movement, who were now having children and looking for career jobs, were scared to talk about their experiences, even with their kids, even though they had proudly been part of the broadest, most diverse antiwar movement in the history of our country. Those who wrote their stories with me displayed courage.

Voices from the Underground, first edition, volume 1

Voices from the Underground, first edition, volume 1

Today the underground press is becoming better known, though it has not nearly reached the level of recognition that accurate history requires. Scholars like John McMillian (Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America) and James Lewes (Protest and Survive: Underground GI Newspapers during the Vietnam War) are writing dissertations on it and publishing them. James, in fact, is the world expert on the GI underground press as well as a major supporter of Independent Voices, the underground press digital project that I’m talking about here. Young librarians like Suzanne Parenti Sink (from Florida Atlantic University) and Laurie Charnigo (from Jacksonville State University) are compiling major collections for their libraries and speaking about the underground press at conferences.

So what was the underground press?

The underground press was the independent, non-corporate, antiwar alternative to the corporate press of the Civil Rights and Vietnam eras. The traditional history of the underground press focuses on the Los Angeles Free Press, which was founded in 1964, as being the first underground paper of what was known as the counterculture. It might have been.

But in my vision and based on my work, I’ve expanded the term to include the papers of the liberation movements, whose roots go back earlier. Major gay and lesbian papers came out of the fifties: ONE, Mattachine Review, The Ladder. The first lesbian paper of our era, Vice Versa, goes back even further, to 1947. Important black papers also pre-dated the Free Press. The Student Voice, the paper of SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee), began publishing in 1960. Freedomways, founded by W.E.B. Du Bois and others, began the next year. Paul Robeson founded his paper, Freedom, during the Korean War.

All of these papers already are or will be, by the way, in Independent Voices.

But these papers were sporadic. After the Free Press, and thanks to the advanced technology of offset printing, underground papers in tabloid format focusing on the antiwar movement and the emerging counterculture and its related liberation movements flourished. They were found everywhere you looked: on campus and off, in urban, suburban, rural, ghetto, barrio, and other communities in every state of the Union and in countries around the world. They represented the gay, lesbian, feminist, black, Native American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Asian American, prisoners’ rights, military, New Age, socialist, anarchist, psychedelic, high school, senior citizen, rank and file, Southern consciousness, and other alternative voices of the day. They spoke to their own unique audiences. But they were united against the war.

Many of them were members of Underground Press Syndicate, the first nationwide network of underground papers from the sixties and seventies.

The underground press was such a major, all-encompassing part of my life in the early seventies that I still find it hard to believe that not everyone knows about its role in ending the war. But today when I talk about it with young folks who are the age now that we were then, who I call our intergenerational peers, I get blank stares.

It’s no surprise. Students today still are seldom taught the truth about the Vietnam War. History classes too often still gloss over it while ignoring the role of the antiwar movement in bringing it to an end. Journalism classes still traditionally ignore or downplay the place of the underground press in the history of journalism.

Today, political blogs have taken up the tradition that we carried on in the fifties through the eighties but most young bloggers themselves have no idea of their political roots. One of the best sites, in my opinion, is Daily Kos. “Kos” is Markos Moulitsas, who founded it. So I wrote to Markos and asked him to write a foreword to volume 1 of my series as a way to link our generations. I sent him a few sample chapters. He wrote back to me and said, “Ken, I’d love to but—I have to admit—I don’t know anything about the underground press.” I said, “I know that, Markos. I read your last book. You don’t even mention it.”

But I wasn’t criticizing Markos. He’s a college graduate, even has a law degree. But he never learned about the underground press. I told him that’s why I wrote to him. I said I wanted him to write from the perspective of someone who had just discovered his own political predecessor. He agreed and he wrote a remarkable piece.

When the first edition of Voices was coming out, Art Levin, who was the general manager of Michigan State University’s State News during the time I wrote for Joint Issue, the Lansing-area underground paper, wrote:

The period of the late sixties and early seventies was a high water mark for American journalism. For the first time in American history, the vision of Justices Holmes and Brandeis blossomed and bore fruit. A multitude of voices, the essence of democracy, resounded through the land providing a compelling alternative against the stifling banality of the establishment press. What this nation had during the Vietnam War was exactly what the founding fathers understood the press to be all about when they wrote the First Amendment.

Since those days, it’s been a personal mission of mine, I admit, to make sure that that history is not forgotten and to educate others on how they can learn more about it to prevent future Vietnams from happening. So it was a karmic blessing when I was approached by Jeff Moyer one day five years back to lead the effort to digitize underground, alternative, and literary papers from the fifties through the eighties.

Jeff was the former head of the digitizing department at ProQuest. With a partner, he bought out the department and founded IDC, Image Data Conversion. But on his own he also started Reveal Digital because he had an idea for an economic model that would create wondrous keyword-searchable digital collections in a way that was friendly to library budgets and would end up with the collections going into open access, the holy grail for librarians. The first collection he wanted to create was of underground newspapers. He approached me after discovering the first edition of Voices from the Underground at the library of Eastern Michigan University, where I used to teach. He brought me on board as a consultant and not long after that he hired me full time.

What attracted me to the project, besides the opportunity to expand my knowledge of the underground press, was Jeff’s economic model, what he calls “cost recovery = open access.” Basically, we promote upcoming projects to libraries through our crowd-funding website, where we describe each project, explain its significance, lay out the proposed contents as well as the sourcing libraries, and list the line-item expenses. Then we invite libraries to make non-binding commitments to purchase the collection but we don’t yet invoice them. When we have enough commitments to recover the costs, what we call our “sales threshold,” we go into full production, including rights gathering, sourcing from libraries, and scanning and digitizing.

Projects that are looking for funding include

Libraries pay according to a tiered structure but it amounts to about 20% of what they would pay one of the larger digital publishing companies for a comparable project that the company would keep behind a pay wall forever. Those libraries that support us have immediate access to the evolving collection while it is in development. Soon after it is completed, it goes into open access where even those libraries that didn’t support it have access to it. Meanwhile we’ll be working on other projects with the same model. No library pays for every collection but everyone benefits from every collection.

This is a righteous model that deserves library and foundation support. In an earlier life I worked for many years as managing editor of Reference Services Review and Serials Review, two journals that were read widely by reference librarians and serials librarians. I read countless articles and heard countless librarian laments about rising costs and decreasing budgets. But I also remembered the community feeling that librarians shared. The focus was always on increasing and facilitating user access. Usually it was the larger libraries that made the big investments and then the benefits would trickle down to the smaller libraries. With Reveal’s tiered structure, everyone can help.

With Independent Voices, the underground press collection, we’re still looking for funding but we are already actively working on it because we wanted to get one live collection out into the public. Our goal was to get over 1,000 titles. We already have more than that including some 120 women’s papers, 130 literary magazines—what were known as “little” magazines back then, some 20 gay papers, 60 minority papers, over 100 campus, community, high school, and other underground and alternative newspapers, 900 papers published by and for members of the military in all branches of the service, and even 4 papers published by the FBI to sow dissension in the Movement.

Reveal Digital's Independent Voices digital collection

Reveal Digital’s Independent Voices digital collection

So far we’re about 40% of the way to being fully funded. We could include a lot more titles, and we would like to, if we had the funding.

We’re working with a growing team of libraries that are sending us original papers from their collections that we scan and digitize and then return safely to them along with keyword-searchable digital files and metadata of the papers that we scan.

Our goal is to upload a million pages of exact keyword-searchable digital reproductions by the end of January 2017. So far we have uploaded about 250,000 pages. Currently the collection is accessible only to patrons of our supporting libraries. After we reach our sales threshold, we’ll go into open access, which is the vision. However, libraries can make the files that we send them accessible immediately.

So this is where we are now.

In the sixties, we of the antiwar movement discovered philosopher George Santayana, who said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Yippie Abbie Hoffman added, “The only way to support a revolution is to make your own.” So we studied the first wave of feminism from the 1800s, the anarchists at the turn of the last century, the union struggles of the thirties, and much more, while we created and wrote about our present.

We’re still out there, organizing and teaching and keeping our visions alive. But as a generation we’ve peaked. Those of you who are college age and recently beyond, it’s your turn now to lead the struggle that we carried on from generations before us.

Our two generations and our struggles are intimately connected. In my generation, we flooded the colleges for at least two reasons: tuition was low and staying in college gave you a 2-S draft deferment. While we were in the college atmosphere, we learned how to think logically and critically, we met with other thinkers, and we organized to end a vicious war. It was the spawning ground for gender, minority, environmental, and other liberation movements. The underground press absorbed our thoughts and preserved them for you to study and critique.

The right has waged a relentless war against education since then—and make no mistake they want you to be either dumb and mindless—apparently truth is liberal—or so in debt you are a slave to your job, which, thanks to them, pays less and provides fewer benefits. So they have actively and enthusiastically waged war on public schools, attacked teachers’ unions, and cut aid for higher education.

The issues that we raised, the struggles we fought, were analyzed and documented in the pages of the underground and alternative press. Some of it was pretty crazy. One night I dropped acid with a fellow staffer and we went to a revival meeting to hear Leighton Ford, the son-in-law of Billy Graham. I took voracious notes—there was speed in the acid. On the way back, I read aloud some of what I wrote and my friend thought it was funny so I published my notes and called the article “I Dropped Acid and Saw God.” Another article I wrote was about a game a couple of my friends made up where they followed police cars and tried to not get busted. I called the article “Got One on the Pig-O-Scope.” I was attacked for being irresponsible because high schoolers read our paper. I was.

"I Dropped Acid and Saw God," from Joint Issue 3:16 (10/30/72)

“I Dropped Acid and Saw God,” from Joint Issue 3:16 (10/30/72)

But we also attacked the government’s atrocities in Vietnam and other countries and connected them to injustices at home as we worked to create a peace community. Your battle, one of them, is to take back the schools and colleges by ensuring the right to a decent, low-cost education that leads to a good job. Join the movement to eliminate student debt. If we can wipe bank debts clean and give billionaires tax breaks, we can wipe student debts clean also.

Today we’re doing okay on some of the social issues that emerged back then: gay rights, legalized marijuana, health care. Public awareness is starting to turn the corner on the environment and the Middle East. We’re getting trounced, but raising awareness, on women’s rights, immigrant rights, voting rights. Economically we’ve got our work cut out for us with union rights, student tuition, the wealth gap, campaign finance laws, expanding Social Security. There are other issues, and they’re all connected. Learn how. Don’t accept simplistic solutions that pit potential allies against each other. And don’t give in to despair.

We made lots of mistakes back when but we made some brilliant analyses, changed the world, and had fun. We quoted the words of anarchist Emma Goldman, who said, “A revolution without dancing is not a revolution worth having.” Stew Albert, who was one of the legendary founders of the Yippies, said to me one day words that I have never forgotten. He said, “We can’t lose. We’re having too much fun.” It was summer 1972 in Miami Beach, where the Democrats and Republicans were holding their presidential conventions. We were at that moment on our way to the Yippie Puke-In.

Study this period. There has never been a more exciting, outrageous, mythological, liberating, artistic, magical period in our country’s history.

Begin by scouring the pages of the underground press.

Challenge everything you learn, including everything I just said.

Then create your own myths.


Opening the Information Vault: Preserving, Digitizing, and Funding the International Women’s History Periodical Archive

I was honored to have as one of my co-panelists at Bryn Mawr College’s “Women’s History in the Digital World 2015” conference the most important feminist archivist of the sixties and seventies as well as the founder of Women’s History Month and so much more: Laura X.

In her talk, which appears here in this guest blog, edited for publication, Laura talks about the rediscovery of International Women’s Day, which then led to the creation of the central archive of the women’s movement from 1968 to 1974, and the founding of both Women’s History Month in 1969 and the Women’s History Library. Previous to 1969, she was a Head Start teacher in New York and a CORE picket captain and then active in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in 1964 as well as the emerging peace and women’s movements.


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Ken, you are my hero for this digitizing of our early movement materials and your Voices from the Underground Series, including our chapter on It Aint Me Babe, the first U.S. national Women’s Liberation newspaper. I am so happy to be involved with the ingathering of feminist and lesbian periodicals for digitizing.

Ken asked me to tell our historical origin pre-story for the International Women’s History Periodical Archive. (Women’s Liberation Movement publications included the note “This publication is on file at the International Women’s History Periodical Archive” and our address, which caused other publications from 40 countries to place themselves on file in our archive as well.)

I’ll start with the strike that was inspired by Russian women in 1917, the discovery of which inspired me to help organize a demonstration in Berkeley for International Women’s Day on March 8, 1969, and to begin to build the idea of Women’s History Month around March 8. Our Women’s History Library, which maintained the International archive of our movement from 1968 to 1974, took a quantum leap forward from the national publicity as a result of that Berkeley demonstration. There had been no such demonstration for IWD in the U.S. since 1947. By the next year, 1970, there were Women’s Liberation events in 30 cities around the world for March 8.

So, to begin: Back in late 1968, I saw the 1929 Soviet film The End of St. Petersburg by Vsevolod Pudovkin. The women’s demonstration in St. Petersburg on February 23, 1917 for “bread, peace and land” is clearly the spark that ignited the strike for the Putilov factory workers. Their strike toppled the rule of the czars within four days of the women’s protest. What is not known, partly due to the confusion of the use of another calendar system by the Eastern church, is that their February 23 was March 8 on the Western calendar; the Bolshevik women who organized the demonstration over the protests of their male comrades were in fact deliberately celebrating International Women’s Day, which had been declared seven years earlier.

Although by 1969 I had considered myself a socialist for thirteen years, had been immersed in Left politics in New York and Berkeley, and had been to the Soviet Union twice to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary in 1967, I still did not learn until late 1968 that International Women’s Day was based on a U.S. event that took place on March 8, 1908. It had been celebrated big time in the Socialist countries around the world, but by 1969 in the USSR it had deteriorated into something like Mother’s Day in the U.S. where women are given flowers, and the day was ignored here.

In November 1968 I called for U.S. celebrations of IWD in a review of The End of St. Petersburg for the UC Berkeley newspaper The Daily Californian. I had just been told by Noel Ignatin, a socialist active in Chicago, about the Russian women inspiring the 1917 strike by demanding an end to World War I as well as bread and land. He also told me that the Socialist International meeting in Copenhagen in 1910 had declared March 8 to be International Working Women’s Day in a motion made by Clara Zetkin, a German Communist, and seconded by Lenin, the Russian Bolshevik (majority) party leader whose triumphant return from exile was made possible by the so-called February Revolution of 1917, the one begun by women on March 8 on the Western calendar. I believe his source was Isaac Deutscher’s The Unfinished Revolution: Russia, 1917-1967.

But what really ignited me was that once again American history had been stolen from us. I had just recently been angry about discovering that May Day, the enormous international socialist event on May 1, commemorated the Haymarket Square massacre of the workers in Chicago who were struggling for an eight-hour day in 1881. Noel told me that the resolution for International Women’s Day in 1910 was to commemorate a demonstration in New York in 1908 of garment workers who were demanding an end to sweatshops and to child labor, and also the right to vote.

The part about the vote intrigued me because women on the Left as late as 1969 were being hooted down and dismissed as bourgeois whenever we demanded our rights as women—indeed as human beings. And Leftist men were perpetuating the myth that no one in the working class wanted any women’s rights, including the right to vote. I had been collecting mimeographed manifestos and letters to the editors of the Leftist press about many such outrages by men in the antiwar and Civil Rights movements for six months or more in order to try to recapture my sanity after having been battered and nearly killed by my own comrade and lover. (He had been a child prodigy violinist and was by then a revolutionary poet. We met demonstrating in Puerto Rico against the U.S. invasion of Santo Domingo. The grief over the loss of that relationship and my fright over how it ended seemed insurmountable until I discovered the rising up of women in all the movements of the sixties.)

In January/February 1969 I was invited to a little party of sociology professors to show the mimeos and pamphlets to Pauline Bart, who was considering teaching a Women’s Studies course, the first at UC Berkeley. As we were being introduced, everyone’s favorite male radical professor, David Matza, whose courage had been demonstrated on the Third World Strike picket lines on campus, overheard us, and before I could speak he told Pauline not to bother teaching such a course, because there was not enough about women to fill a quarter course. That betrayal knocked me into the orbit of the pure fury of those heady days. In three days I pestered friends everywhere and pulled together a list of 1,000 women in world history: politics, the arts and sciences.

I had had the immense privilege of going to girls’ schools and a women’s college. It was only in my last year in college, at UC Berkeley, that I discovered that not everybody knew that women could do everything! I nailed the list to Professor Matza’s door (in homage to Luther) and went in search of a local women’s liberation group through the father of one of its members.

Bill Mandel had a show on the Soviet Union on Pacifica Radio that I started listening to in 1960 in New York, though it originated from Pacifica’s mother station in Berkeley. He regularly read from the Soviet press on International Women’s Day. His daughter, Phyllis, a long-time activist, took me to the Berkeley Women’s Liberation group, which then organized the first street demonstration about International Women’s Day since 1947 in the U.S. Many of us dressed up as women in history from my list. I was a cross between Alexandra Kollontai, the Bolshevik feminist, and Isadora Duncan, the American woman who lived for a time in Russia and transformed the world of dance away from the confines of the ballet.

Liberation News Service picked up the story from a San Francisco paper about our parade in Berkeley and its sources from my list. The publicity from their article caused people from this and many other countries to begin to send me everything imaginable about women in history, including information about their own family members. People also came to visit from around the country, and to volunteer. Ten thousand copies of the list, by now called the HERSTORY SYNOPSIS, were sold within a few short years. Five thousand people have volunteered here.

We put out the only national women’s liberation newsletter from April to December 1969, SPAZM: the Sophia Perovskaya and Andrei Zhelyabov Memorial Society for Peoples’ Freedom through Women’s Liberation. Sophia and Andrei were lovers. She was the 16-year-old daughter of the governor of St. Petersburg and the two of them assassinated the czar in 1881. I was not comfortable about assassinations as a political tactic, having just lived through several in the sixties:  John Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy.

But I liked the part about the comrade-lovers, and the rebellious adolescent daughter of a powerful man. The name was also in the style of rock groups, but the last part of it fully embodied my philosophy for peoples’ freedom, which I still hold today. By January 1970 we had to put SPAZM into newsprint as it was too unwieldy as a zine. Other people wanted to do a paper, too, so It Aint Me Babe, the first national newspaper of the U.S. Women’s Liberation Movement, was born. (People from off our backs called me to pick my brain for their name, which ended up being a combination of the quote from the Grimke sisters about getting our brothers off our necks and revulsion at the quote attributed to Stokely Carmichael about the position of women in SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) being prone and silent. Their paper came out only a few weeks later, the first national feminist paper to emerge from the East Coast.)

There were many other firsts from the Women’s History Library:

  • the anthology Masculine/Feminine in 1969 with all the great manifestos;
  • The Women’s Songbook;
  • Female Artists Past and Present: Films by and/or about Women Internationally, Past and Present;
  • Bibliography on Rape; and
  • Women and Religion Bibliography.

Most lasting are the microfilms of the records of our movement: nearly one million documents now available through the National Women’s History Project in Santa Rosa, California (707-636-2888; nwhp1980@gmail.com).

Besides handling the distribution of our library’s resources, the people at National Women’s History Project have carried on the ideas we had when we founded our library beyond our wildest dreams, including their idea and work making Congress declare March as Women’s History Month. They also have put up the fabulous website for all of the celebrations in 1998 for the 150th anniversary of the Women’s Rights Movement in the U.S.

My archive features documents, media, and other materials collected over the last fifty years. The collection pertains to the Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement, and a wide array of precursors and overlapping social movements from the second half of the twentieth century, with special emphasis on the women’s movement, including references to my own successful state-by-state campaign to abolish the legal privilege and exemption for marital and date rape. The presence of my materials in the Laura X Social Movements Archives most directly addresses the need to “understand the moral and ethical values of a diverse society and understand that many courses of action are guided by value judgments about the way things ought to be ….”

The important reservoirs of tens of thousands of documents from local, national, and international sources that constitute the Laura X Social Movements Archives have been carefully preserved and maintained for historical research and presentation. The collection is derived from my participation in an extensive array of social movements, including the anti-nuke, peace, Civil Rights, Free Speech, women’s rights, and environmental movements; my life in St. Louis and beyond; the organizations I founded; the materials I produced for my organizing work around the country; materials produced by other organizations that I collected for posterity; and smaller collections donated to me.

The staff and volunteers of the Laura X Institute (see text of informational flyer below) are currently engaged in sorting, cataloging, and assigning “finding aids” to the 580 boxes of materials, in order to keep them vibrant, accessible, and available for researchers, curators, film makers, and other interested parties. Once finished, the Institute’s archive will be a resource for students, professors, historians, film documentarians, museums, exhibitions, high school teachers, activists, and other members of the general public.

Our prior collection, covering up to 1974, was converted to microfilm and the master microfilm donated in 1989 by the Women’s History Research Center (WHRC) to the National Women’s History Project (NWHP). Since 1974 the microfilm copies have been distributed through NWHP and WHRC, now currently through Primary Source Media/Cengage Learning to some 450 libraries in fourteen countries so far.

We recently were displaced after the Missouri legislature removed funding to the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Many programs were cut, including our archives. So it is vital now that we get this project finished. We are experiencing many challenges in maintaining our collection of over 500 boxes. We also have to raise funding to rent our rooms near Harris-Stowe State University and St. Louis University. Museum-quality storage is expensive; HVAC systems, filtration, and proper shelving all come at high costs. Accessibility to our documents also is challenging; right now we can’t afford the price of digitizing all of our work and the equipment needed for it, which is why we are reaching out to other sources of funding. We would like our collection to be fully cataloged first so we can then get the large donation to digitize. Even cataloging our collection is costly and time consuming for only a few individuals.

If our collection were being funded under the Reveal Digital model, they would put it up on their crowd-funding website; once we had the support from libraries, we would go into production. No library pays a lot and yet every library benefits. My archives could be invaluable to courses in women’s history, the environment, the social movements of the sixties and seventies, and many others. The collaboration between libraries and archives is important; as we step into a more digitally focused age, the importance of these documents and publications becomes more apparent for researchers.

We are not trying to recreate history, but learn from it.

* * *

[Following is the text of the flyer from the Laura X World Institute and Archives]



Legacy and Learning of Social Justice Movements


 MEET THE CHALLENGE: Raise funds, find homes, send your favorite interns, and even swing by St. Louis to be inspired.


The legendary Women’s History Library, created by pioneer feminist Laura X with a mostly-volunteer staff, gathered nearly a million documents on the changing lives of women from 1968-1974, including the only comprehensive records of our movement, nationally and internationally. The library divided the archives into three collections for microfilm publishing: HERSTORY (90 reels of 821 serial titles: 20,000 issues of journals, newspapers, and newsletters from 40 countries); WOMEN’S HEALTH/MENTAL HEALTH (14 reels) and WOMEN AND LAW (40 reels covering Education, Politics, Employment, Abortion, Family, Rape, Prison, Prostitution, etc).

This historic treasure, described by the American Library Association as “the most comprehensive record of any social protest movement” is now available on microfilm in nearly 500 libraries in 14 countries. These microfilms can be purchased from the National Women’s History Project (707-636-2888), the great group that convinced Congress to make National Women’s History Month official. (The Week was approved in 1981 and the Month was recognized in 1987.)

Once the first stage of the Women’s History Library’s work was accomplished—the preservation of the first part of the woman’s liberation movement until 1974—Laura X, again with volunteers, founded the National Clearinghouse on Marital and Date Rape in 1978. Documents and papers from numerous women’s movement groups and individuals continued to flow in despite the Library’s announced 1974 end of collecting, while Laura X accumulated more material from her own work on rape.

The University of Illinois took over many of the Clearinghouse resources in 1985, but Laura X continued until 1993, when she succeeded in making marital and date rape a crime in all 50 states.


For proper preservation of perishable materials, an apartment was rented for storage where room temperature, humidity, pesticide use, and other factors could be controlled. Laura finally gave up the non-profit in 2000. She has now spent over 41 years trying to stop the flow of materials to her while searching for funding and institutions to take over the materials!

Temporarily the bulk of the materials since 74’ were housed at the University of Missouri-St. Louis but, the legislature of Missouri cut $4 million dollars worth of project and program funding including ours. We moved to a strategic storefront next to Harris-Stowe State University and St. Louis University to be available to researchers and interns.

The papers, approximately 580 boxes, must be sorted still!


You will seek to find repositories for the remainder, with all the energy and brains you can muster!

Your tax-deductible donations and grants for the work of the Institute and archives as well as those for interns and digitizing may be sent to:

Website: lauraxinstitute.org   Email: laurax@sbcglobal.net

*PS. It should be noted that, as a social activist since her student days in the Sixties, thousands of documents from other social movements are also available.

The Laura X – Laura Rand Orthwein, Jr. World Institute is the teaching arm of Laura’s new nonprofit, Laura’s Social Movements Archives, which feature documents and other materials collected by Laura and so many others, over the last fifty years since the Free Speech Movement.

We have moved into a new location and would love any advice on lighting, archival materials, and digitizing equipment to use.




Redirecting Library Budgets in Support of Open Access

In my last post I reproduced the talk that I gave at the “Women’s History in the Digital World 2015” conference that was held at Bryn Mawr College on May 21-22. Today I am honored to publish the talk given by one of my fellow panelists, Andrée Rathemacher, head of acquisitions at University of Rhode Island. If you are a librarian or anyone interested in how library dollars are spent, especially why so few dollars are being spent on books nowadays, you will find this guest blog to be a major eye opener.

Andrée Rathemacher at Rhode Island Library Association conference, May 28, 2015. (c) 2015 Dhana Whiteing

Andrée Rathemacher at Rhode Island Library Association conference, May 28, 2015. (c) 2015 Dhana Whiteing


As my introduction noted, I’m the head of acquisitions at the University of Rhode Island Libraries. It is the Acquisitions Unit that expends the library’s annual materials budget of about $4 million. I’ve been in this role since 2009; before that, from 2003 to 2009, I was the serials librarian, managing the library’s thousands of print and online journal subscriptions.

Perhaps it is this personal involvement with channeling $4 million a year to various publishers that has turned me into an open access advocate.

Before I tell my story, let me share with you a definition of open access from open access leader Peter Suber, philosophy scholar and current director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication. Suber provides this definition: “Open-access or OA literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.”

Thus, open access removes price barriers (like subscription fees and licensing fees), and open access removes permissions barriers (that is, restrictions on how material can be reused).

We’ll return to this definition later.

What I’m going to share with you today is the story of how I came to support open access and to believe that libraries should show their support of open access with their collection dollars.

 Scene One — Journal Cancellations

I started working as an academic librarian in November 1995. Not too many months after I started my job, the library embarked upon what was one in a long series of serials cancellations: In 1996 we canceled 169 titles that cost $216,000.

Incidentally, I was assigned as liaison to departments in the College of Business Administration, and in this role I was expected to meet with each department chairperson and share with them the list of journal titles in their area that the library did not plan on renewing. During the meeting with the chair of the Accounting Department, a senior accounting professor sitting in on the meeting began yelling at me in a classic case of shooting the messenger. After several minutes of this, I decided that I’d had enough, so I got up to leave. This faculty member followed me down the hall, shouting, “You come back here, young lady. I’m not finished talking to you.” Eyes straight ahead, I continued my walk back to the library and went straight to the office of our collection manager, where I promptly burst into tears and told him I was never going to go back to the College of Business ever again. He started laughing. It was a formative experience.

Such cuts had been commonplace, and they kept coming.

  • There had been cuts in 1976 (683 titles), 1983 (142 titles), 1988 (210 titles), 1991 (906 titles), and 1994 (131 titles).
  • After the tears incident, there followed more cuts in 1998 (237 titles), 1999 (196 titles), and 2003 (274 titles).

Then, after the financial crisis, in 2008 and 2009 (two years in a row), we cut a total of 1,212 titles worth $646,000.

This time, as serials librarian, these were my cuts. I was the one responsible for carrying them out.

Hey, after the fact, I even got two book chapters published on the topic.

Though it did occur to me that someday when I looked back on my professional career and how I made my mark, however small, it was kind of bleak that because of these circumstances the expertise I had developed was “how to cancel stuff.” (Incidentally, my next article, co-authored with a colleague with whom I led a project to dispose of almost a mile of bound periodicals from the library collection in order to make room for a “learning commons,” revealed my expertise in “how to throw stuff out.” Not the most inspiring legacy.)

This experience of journal cancellations was not unique to the University of Rhode Island. As many of you have probably heard, price increases for journals have far outpaced the rate of inflation since the mid-1980s. From 1986 to 2012, the cost of library materials in general has risen 322%. Continuing resources (that is, serials) have increased by 456%! During this time period, the general rate of inflation measured by the CPI only rose 109%.

In concrete terms, this means that in 2015 URI pays (in rounded numbers):

  • $106,000 for journals published by Sage;
  • $118,000 for journals published by Springer, now “Springer Nature” following Springer’s recent acquisition of Macmillan Science and Education).

Add to that

  • $36,000 for a small handful of journals published by Nature;
  • $85,000 for journals published by Taylor and Francis;
  • $283,000 for journals published by Wiley;
  • $77,000 for journals from the American Chemical Society;

And, everyone’s favorite…

  • $703,000 for journals published by Elsevier.

To name a few examples.

Together, expenditures on journal subscriptions make up 66% of our materials budget. If you include journals plus other subscription-based electronic resources, the total climbs to 85%. This leaves just 15% for books and media.

This is typical (actually, a little worse than typical).

According to statistics from the Association of Research Libraries (which represents the largest academic libraries in North America), in 2011-2012 expenditures on ongoing resources of all kinds comprised, on average, 69% of total library materials expenditures.

Where is all this money going? Of course there are legitimate costs to publishing, but, in the case of journals, most of the work (writing articles, editing, peer reviewing) is done by academics on a voluntary basis. Much of the staggering prices of these resources go, quite simply, to publisher profit.

For example:

For those of us not so into business, is this even high? Yes, it is high.

For comparison:

So why is this relevant, other than illustrating how I became an open access advocate?

Why is it relevant to you, women’s history scholars, who don’t deal all that much with journals, especially expensive science journals?

It is relevant because this is where all the money in libraries is locked up. This is money that is not available for books, for primary source databases, for humanities materials, for innovative new services.

 Scene Two — New Forms of Digital Scholarship

Ryan Cordell is an assistant professor of English at Northeastern University and a digital humanist. One of his areas of study is viral texts in nineteenth-century newspapers. I heard him speak about his research at a workshop for librarians in April 2013.

In the nineteenth century, newspapers and periodicals published short works of fiction, poetry, and other prose. At that time, before modern copyright law, it was common for editors to reprint these texts, originally published elsewhere. The texts moved around the country through this network, resulting in a shared print culture.

Cordell’s research seeks to identify these shared texts, to examine which were reprinted and why, and to map how they traveled and changed as they passed from publication to publication. Cordell’s primary source for his research is the Library of Congress’s website Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. The site contains the full text and page images of many American newspapers between 1836 and 1922.

Cordell and his colleague David Smith, a professor of computer and information science, “scraped” the full text of all newspapers published before 1860 in Chronicling America and performed a computational analysis using algorithms they developed to identify matching texts. Thus far, the team has identified thousands of viral texts, including minor pieces by major authors that were far more influential than previously realized. They have also mashed up their data with other open data to reveal connections between viral texts and the expansion of railroads, the establishment of political boundaries, and local population characteristics.

Yet, according to Cordell, there are “glaring holes” in his research. His data includes no content from Massachusetts—and Boston was a major publishing center of the time. There is also very little available to him from New York or Philadelphia, also vital to the period. He lacks this content because it is locked up in commercial databases of archival newspaper content, such as those published by Gale, Readex, and ProQuest. Although his institution subscribes to a number of these databases, the ability to download the text for analysis (which his research requires) is not available.

Hearing Ryan speak that day really deepened my understanding of the need for open access.

Remember that the definition of open access refers to material that is not just free to read, without cost, but free to re-use.

Ryan found that innovative re-use of the content of these databases was either not possible at all, or was possible only by special arrangement, under limited conditions, for a financial cost.

Even though many of the sources in archival, primary-source databases are themselves in the public domain, once the content is digitized, vendors assert intellectual property rights over it and sell it for a profit. Thus, they are not readily willing to openly release the full text.

Due to pressure from libraries, some vendors of primary-source databases are beginning to include text and data-mining rights in their licenses with libraries. (Gale was the first in a license pioneered by Darby Orcutt at North Carolina State University.) But this is still awkward, involving hard drives arriving in the mail and very bad quality OCR, as scholar Paul Fyfe at NC State has discovered. And still, these arrangements, when available, are only available to researchers at institutions that subscribe to a given resource.

So, open access is not only for journals; and it is not only to make sure that material is “free to read.” Open access applies to all types of scholarly materials, and re-use is a very important component.

This is why an open access model like Reveal Digital, as Ken outlined, is so important.

And it is important now, since even a casual perusal of the websites of Adam Matthew, Alexander Street Press, EBSCO, Gale, ProQuest, and Readex shows that they are working with libraries and other cultural heritage institutions to create newly digitized archival collections at a prolific rate. In fact, a 2015 press release from ProQuest boasted that, in 2014, the company digitized approximately 12 million pages of historical documents.

What Can Libraries Do?

Among the core values of librarianship are access to information, facilitating education and lifelong learning, social responsibility, and the public good. Open access aligns with all of these values. In fact, there are an increasing number of opportunities for libraries to support open access initiatives through crowd-funding and other models.

Here are the open access initiatives that we’ve supported so far at the University of Rhode Island:

  • January 2014: SCOAP3, Cost: $364. SCOAP3 is a worldwide initiative coordinated by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, that converted key journals in the field of high-energy physics to open access. SCOAP3 centrally pays the article charges for articles in these journals from a common fund to which libraries contribute.
  • January 2014: Knowledge Unlatched Pilot Collection, Cost: $1,196. This is a collection of 28 newly published, open access e-books in the humanities and social sciences from 13 well-known publishers; 297 libraries from 24 countries shared the cost of publishing these titles. As of April 2015, the titles had been downloaded almost 30,000 times from around the world.
  • March 2014: Reveal Digital, Independent Voices, Cost: $10,250.
  • October 2014: Reveal Digital, SNCC Archive, Cost: $4,000 (pledge).
  • October 2014: Reveal Digital, Liberation News Service Archive, Cost: $735 (pledge).
  • October 2014: Reveal Digital, Highlander Folk School Archive, Cost: $3,250 (pledge).
  • February 2015: Open Library of Humanities, Cost: $1,000 per year for 5 years. Open-access, peer-reviewed journal and book platform for the humanities funded by an international consortium of libraries.

As you can see, these costs are not at all expensive in comparison to overall library materials budgets and the costs of many library subscriptions. I encourage you to speak with your campus librarians and press them to support these and similar open access initiatives. And to remember that all open access is connected: whether for sciences or humanities, journals or books, or archives. Because OA in any of these areas has the potential to free up money in support of OA in another. And the more examples we have of successful OA initiatives, the easier it will be to advance open access publishing models in the future.

But, of course, open access is not just, or even primarily, about saving money. Initially, it might even cost more or require hard decisions about what to support or no longer to support.

Open access is primarily about enhancing access to scholarly content and enabling creative re-use.

So, I advocate for taking some portion of library budgets that currently are used to purchase the products of legacy, closed-access publishers in order to facilitate open access to scholarship and unique primary source material through new publishing models.

In Conclusion

I believe that librarians need to resist the enclosure of the scholarly and cultural commons that is the inevitable outcome of the traditional publication model and actively participate in experiments that seek alternatives.