In November 2006, Tonga was swept by a wave of civil disorder. One of the casualities of this was the Friendly Islands Bookstore, one of the few places in Nuku’alofa (the capital of Tonga) where you could go to purchase academic books.
Enter Michael Evans, a professor of anthropology at the University of British Columbia Okanagan. Mike knew that some of the few remaining copies of his book Persistence of the Gift: Tongan Tradition in Transnational Context were detroyed and that few now existed. As a result he got in touch with his publisher and asked whether it could be made available online. The publisher agreed, and you can now download Persistence of the Gift in its entirety for free from UBC.
As Mike’s book demonstrates, diasporic communities are central to the Pacific — more Tongans live outside Tonga than in it these days. By making his work available on the Internet, Mike can present his research to Tongans overseas in addition to people in Nuku’alofa. Indeed, in a world where even ‘remote’ countries like Tonga have regular access to the Internet and specialist books like Mike’s cost US$80, Mike’s book is now more accessible to people everywhere (Nuku’alofa included!) because he has made it open.
Of course not all of us have to wait for riots before we make our work open. Rather than assume that our publishers will say ‘no’, why don’t we approach them and ask them if we can put our old and out-of-print books up online? As Mike’s example shows, publishers are often more receptive to this idea than we might imagine.