Your guide to Open Access publishing and Open Science

How Assyriology became Open Science? – Interview with Gábor Zólyomi on Open Access and his recent book

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Your profile is really impressive. You uploaded more than 50 articles, which have been visited more than 13 thousands times. It has to be an important source of information for those interested in Assyriology. Why have you decided to make these works freely available?

Papers in Assyriology are, as a rule, published in very specialized journals and it is difficult to get access to them. I believe that it is much easier and much faster to have on-line access and to read books and papers on the computer screen. I very often use articles published by my colleagues on, when for example I need a reference, it is much easier to find it and there is no need to go to the library.

Your work concerns mostly Sumerian grammar, which seems to me a narrow field of studies. Do you think that public access to your work is necessary? Maybe all researchers working in your field, already subscribe to the journals you have published your work in?

Even if so, they have access only in a library. Although some of the journals we publish in are extremely expensive. My department subscribes to only 2 of the most important journals in Assyriology, and when I need access to the others I have to go to the library of the Hungarian Academy of Science and even there I do not have access to all papers I need. I know colleagues in the former Soviet Union countries that do not have the access to any literature at all. Thus publishing on, or in Open Access in general, means that much more people will read you paper.

How popular is Open Access in the field of Assyriology? Do you often use Open Access publications in your research?

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, for example, which publishes a lot of important works, publishes everything in the Open Access model. They have issued the most important dictionary of the field, The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, which you can download for free, while you can also buy a hardcopy.Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago digitalized and made available for free the works published in previous decades, and now their works from almost 80 years are Open Access. Moreover, they claimed that now they are selling more printed books, when everything is available for free. But there are also publishing houses that do not offer Open Access books and usually their books are very expensive. Since Assyriology is a narrow field, they print small number of copies, and they have to be expensive. Our department is not able to buy every book that we would like to buy, so Open Access is very important for us and it helps us to follow recent publications.

It is said that Open Access is less popular among researchers in the field of humanities. Do you think this is true, and what might be the reason for it?

To be honest I do not know how Open Access works in other fields. My impression is that in Hungary printed publications are much more valued by the Hungarian Doctoral Council. All scholars are evaluated by this organization and it is better for one’s careers to publish traditional, printed publications, than Open Access, which usually are on-line only.

I was taking part in a huge project at the Oriental Institue of the University of Oxford at the end of the 90s, called Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. We published more than 400 Sumerian texts on-line. We translated these texts, edited them – four people were working on it for almost 5 years. This project has become extremely popular, almost everyone who writes on Sumerian literature cites this project, because previously many of these texts were very hard to get an access to.

And this work adds almost nothing to my evaluation score, just because it is a website, not a printed book. If you want to get a promotion or scholarship you have to publish printed books.

Ancient texts usage is not limited by copyrights, thus all of them may be published for free. Do all texts important for your field are available on-line at this moment?

When we started work on the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature it was one of the first projects like that, but it was followed by a few similar, large-scale initiatives like Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, which contains more than 400 000 texts available on-line. There is also the ORACC project, which stands for Open Richly Annotated Cuneiform Corpus. It has many sub-branches, like Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Royal Inscriptions, which I am involved in. Thus you can find almost all cuneiform texts somewhere on the Internet.

Did digitalization and openness changed a lot in Assyriology?

Yes! It used to be very hard to get access to ancient texts in the past. Most of them were published in small journals, which were not available for non-specialists. Reading and commenting on these texts was a privilege of senior researchers, who have collected them for years. Some of these texts were never to be published. It was very difficult to enter the field of Assyriology and it was isolated from the rest of humanities. This state of affairs has changed; today everyone has access to these resources on the Internet, and you can find many books written by literature theorists or historians of religion, etc. which cite digitalized Sumerian texts. So Assyriology has opened up, and has become a part of modern humanities, thanks to digitalization.

It is now very easy to find original texts on the Internet, together with translations, comments etc. I use digital texts both for research and for teaching.

You have published your recent book ‘Copular Clauses and Focus Marking in Sumerian’ with De Gruyter Open this month. This book is Open Access in contrast to the previous book you co-authored. I could only find an on-line table of contents for your previous book. Have you noticed any other differences between authoring an Open Access book and a traditional one?

No, not really. The whole editorial process was basically the same.

So, finally, why did you choose to publish your book in an Open Access model?

I have always wanted to write a book that would be read by both Assyriologists and linguists. And usually we publish books in series dedicated only to Assyriology and libraries and research centers from the field of linguistics do not buy these books. Thus Open Access book is my chance to reach this audience and to be read by people from the broad scope of humanities.

What did your cooperation with the publisher look like? Could you describe the editorial process at De Gruyter Open from an author’s perspective?

I received professional, helpful editing, by editors who gave me important suggestions, wonderful language editing, which has improved my text. So I think it was almost ideal. I can not complain.

What piece of advice would you give to authors who are new to book publishing?

I think it is good idea to find a publishing house which publishes books in the Open Access model and which conduct a reliable peer review process. I would probably recommend them to De Gruyter Open.

What do you think is the future of Open Access in Assyriology?

I think Open Access is the future of Assyriology.

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