Get to Know Us: An Interview with Agata Morka

OBP Newsletter May 8, 2020

My name is Agata, I am an art historian and a culture manager by training: my focus, back in my Academia days, was modern and contemporary architecture and I have written a dissertation about contemporary French train stations, which I have defended at the University of Washington, in a very rainy city of Seattle. I have also completed a Masters degree in culture management in an even more rainy city of Lille, in northern France.

I am an avid reader and I love doing things with my hands: from knitting to window displays for a coffee shop at the corner of my street. I like summer storms, cheese and I feel best when there is an ocean, or a sea, or a lake somewhere close to where I live. I have moved a lot in my life, so I guess you can call me a bit of a nomad. For the past five years now though, my home has been Berlin, where I am privileged enough to live in a far too charming apartment on top floor of an Altbau. It is a good spot to look at the stars.

Could you give us a glimpse of how you first became involved with open access? What interests you the most about it?

After graduating in the States, I came back to Poland (where I am originally from), a bit tired of being a researcher, yet eager to still remain within the academic life, but perhaps in a different role than a professor. I was looking for something that would catch my attention and I saw a job ad from an academic publisher that was looking for a person to launch an open access books programme from scratch for them.
I have felt quite passionate about open access for quite a while back then: coming from an Eastern European university with an under-financed library I could only dream about accessing some of the publications I needed for my Master’s thesis. Later, when already in the States, taking advantage of interlibrary loans and library systems that seemed  almost unbearably functional compared to what I knew from back home, the question of access to knowledge has become even closer to my heart. So the opportunity to work on a programme for academic books that would be made open for anyone with the internet access really started a fire inside of me. I applied for the job. By the time I was leaving de Gruyter after 4 years of working there, we had one of  the biggest OA portfolio of all commercial publishers.
What interests me most about open access, to put it in very bombastic, yet at the same time very simple terms is the question of finding ways of making research equally available, no matter what the economic or geographical circumstances of the potential researcher/reader might be. It is important to me.

What drew you to work at COPIM and at OPERAS-P?

I think that now that OA has been around for quite some time, it is high time to make it blossom for books and think about alternative business models that would challenge the usual BPC-based models. We have already seen that this can be done, with funding schemes introduced by the Open Book Publishers or the Open Library of Humanities (for journals). People engaged in the COPIM and OPERAS-P projects are among the avant-grade of the movement towards different ways of thinking about making OA possible for books, especially in humanities, which is where my interests lie. COPIM and OPERAS-P are both very complex and difficult projects that require one to think wildly, to push the boundaries and imagine what could be. And you get to do it with colleagues who you admire. Who would say no to that?

Could you briefly describe what your role involves?

My role: the European Coordinator of Open Access Books Publishing evolves around reviewing what the current situation in the publishing, funding and library ecosystems is in Europe when it comes to OA books, identify where the challenges are and what we could do better, how we can work together to create alternative environment that would help OA books in humanities gain the momentum they deserve.

What do you think will be the most challenging aspects of your side of the project?

The hardest aspect will be to come up with alternative business models for OA books, and I am talking about models that actually work, that could be sustainable and potentially change the status quo of the gold OA dominance. I suppose that really tangibly changing the game will be the most difficult and, for this very difficulty, also the most exciting and hopefully rewarding part of the project.

Open Book Publishers

We believe that knowledge should be available to everyone: our books are free to read and download online, and we are working to create a world in which all research is freely available to all readers