OA Week 2021 - It Matters How We Open Knowledge

October 27, 2021, by Kate Snaith

Open Monographs – An interview with Dr Anna Willi

In our third International Open Access Week post we are talking to Dr Anna Willi about her experience of publishing an open access monograph.

Dr Anna Willi is a Research Fellow in the Department of Classics and Archaeology at the University of Nottingham. Dr Willi’s current research with the ERC-project LatinNow (grant no. 715626) explores the Latinisation of north-western Europe by examining writing materials and inscriptions.

Dr Willi’s latest book Writing Equipment: Manual of Roman everyday writing Vol. II has been published entirely Open Access (OA). Below Dr Willi talks to us about the project and the experience of publishing an Open Access monograph.

Q. How did you get involved in this project?

My Open Access book is one of two volumes of the Manual of Roman Everyday Writing, which is an output of the European Research Council-funded project LatinNow (vol. I on “Scripts and Texts” by A. Mullen and A. Bowman will be out soon).

My research for the project focuses on the Germanic provinces, an area where pre-Roman writing is almost non-existent. To understand what happened when the Latin language arrived, I study the spread of literacy, and material evidence such as finds of writing tablets or styli are crucial to my work.

I was asked by our PI Alex Mullen to write a section about Roman writing equipment for the Manual but it ended up being a bit more than a section and turned into its own volume!

“An important reason for making the Manual completely open access was that it is aimed at a wider audience, from scholars and professional archaeologists to teachers and students…”

Q. Was this book always going to be open access (OA) and why?

Yes, all outputs of the ERC grant should be OA – this is how we paid for the software and the ISBN. However, it is often only author manuscripts rather than the final book that are deposited to meet funder rules: the books themselves are not necessarily born digital and OA.

An important reason for making the Manual completely OA was that it is aimed at a wider audience, from scholars and professional archaeologists to teachers and students. We felt we needed to make the often cryptic and somewhat daunting evidence of Roman handwritten sources and associated objects more accessible. They represent such a unique window into the everyday life of people living all over the Roman Empire and provide an insight into topics that are not easily studied through better known and more accessible evidence such as Latin Literature.

Q. Did you have any reservations or concerns about publishing this work OA, how did you overcome them?

From my personal point of view as an Early Career Researcher, I was aware of the fact that OA publications can be perceived as ‘less scholarly’ publications, particularly when they are also self-published as is the case with the Manual.

I believe we have overcome the main issues associated with online- and self-publication by ensuring that our eBooks were peer-reviewed and had an ISBN – a blog post by our senior scientist Janie Masséglia describes how we went about this in more detail.

Personally, I think that research should be published OA. On the one hand, it is part of our job as researchers to make our work available for others to read, and I believe that this means making it available to everyone that might be interested. But it also fosters the exchange of ideas and opens up opportunities for learning new things and for collaboration.

With an OA publication, such exchange can more easily go beyond a community of specialised scholars, and beyond the limits of academia, which I have found to be enriching for my work.

“The biggest difference to publishing a print book was how immediate the response was.”

Q. From an author’s perspective, did writing this volume feel different to writing a non-OA book or were there any challenges associated with publishing an ebook/OA book?

I think the main difference for me was that I did not really know what the end product would look like. An ebook offers so much potential to break with the traditional look of a book, from flexible layout to interactive elements, but at the time when I was writing the manuscript, we hadn’t decided which software we were going to use. This is perhaps why we ended up with a book-like ebook: I did not really know how to write for such a format. Volume 1 takes more advantage of the format and also has videos within it.

Q. Was there a difference in how this volume was received compared to a traditional publication?

Most definitely. We planned the launch and announced it on Twitter, through a blog post on our website, by uploading the book to online repositories and by sending the link to colleagues as well as organisations and institutions we thought might find it useful.

The biggest difference to publishing a print book was how immediate the response was. Within days of the launch, several colleagues got back to us saying that they had already cited the book in a piece they were writing, or that they had for example integrated it into the e-learning programme at their institution. A blog about the book was published by another scholar on the same day!

We also had feedback not just from scholars but from people involved in re-enactment or those simply interested in Roman History who found the book via social media. The immediate publication had advantages for myself as well, I have already been invited to give a talk this month because of this book. Had I published it in print or behind a paywall, this invitation might have come at a much later point and been less helpful for my career.

“In our ever-accelerating and interconnected world, the advantages of OA publication will become more and more clear to people…”

Q. Do you see OA monographs gaining prominence and momentum in future in your subject area?

I think people still have reservations, and to some extent, I can understand why: for decades, online and digital content was deemed unreliable, of uncertain future and with uncertain quality control. It is hard to shake such conceptions, but there are ways and mechanisms to deal with such problems now –we for example use GitHub to provide a permanent and reliable home for our ebooks–, and I think that a growing number of online journals and review platforms in our subject area are helping to change the perception of digital content.

In our ever-accelerating and interconnected world, the advantages of OA publication will become more and more clear to people, and I hope the pandemic will catalyse the process; it made painfully clear how little content can be accessed online, let alone for free.

There is also an intensive discussion in our field about how to make Classics as a subject more accessible, and OA publications could be a game-changer in the effort to reach more diverse, interested individuals.

I for one would be happy to publish another OA monograph – although I have to stress the fact that I would not immediately know how to do it on my own; the ebook was very much a team effort and I am very grateful to the amazing LatinNow team for their support.

Thank you to Dr Willi for sharing this experience of Open Research. Follow the Library Matters blog throughout International Open Access Week for more great insights into the benefits of open research.

For more information about open research, please visit the Libraries website.

Posted in AcademicsInternational Open Access Week 2021Research Support