While the humanities and social sciences have traditionally seen the non-academic public as a source of material for analysis (e.g. anthropologists' field notes, linguists' interviews, and ethnomusicologists' recordings), one consequence of moving away from publishing scholarship exclusively in academic journals is the relative ease with which scholars can share their work with the communities that made it possible. This engagement with the public serves to break down the perception of an "ivory tower" set apart from the non-academic public, and helps to make the case that the humanities play a role in the broader public discourse, rather than existing simply for their own sake.
Just as the emergence of citizen journalism has challenged the hegemony of corporate media organizations, allowing one's "subjects" to actively participate in the research process can result in better information and deeper insight. One Bamboo workshop participant narrated such an experience: "[He] had one of those moments: he was working with urban Appalachians, had been documenting one guy's house, didn't have a wide-angle lens, tried to capture interiors... urban Appalachians live in bourgeois houses but in a nonbourgeois way. this guy offered to take pictures of his house for the scholar. the scholar wrote a piece about the structures of this guy's videotape and of the house, which informed each other. the idea of the subject of study speaking back goes back to a broader idea where the study itself is reflexive, there is a general ethos about the significance of being reflexive in your methodology." (Ex 5, 1b-B) The positive effects of returning one's research back to the community have been vividly illustrated in Native American communities, where linguists whose goal is to apply data from Native American languages to theoretical problems have done fieldwork that has captured both cultural material and important information about the language that can be preserved or applied to language revitalization efforts.
Sharing information back to the community of origin, or to the general public, is not without its challenges. A scholar may find himself caught between two conflicting sets of requirements, one from the institution, and one from the community: "I try to avoid my institutional IRB because I don't like the way they work. I have release forms but I use them in the way that makes best sense to my community and my work. If we want to share data, we need to respect one another's ethical codes for sharing information, artifacts etc." (Ex 5, 1b-E) To ensure that material is presented in a meaningful way for non-academic audiences, one may have to invest the time and money in multiple web interfaces. Some projects have sought a middle ground, presenting the material in a single interface, but allowing the public to develop a folksonomy that organizes the data using terms and relationships that are relevant for them. Depending on the extent to which the source community has access to the internet, it may be necessary to additionally package the materials in a way that does not require access to the web (e.g. stand-alone DVDs, audio CDs, or printed copies of texts and images.) Nonetheless, a growing number of scholars feel an obligation to make the extra effort: "Principle of fairness: someone shares something of themselves with you, you owe something back. If one is dealing with people rather than objects, there's a set of obligations different from when dealing with artifacts." (Ex 5, 1c-A)