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Open Access Week Interview with Judith Fathallah

Judith Fathallah, a member of Work Package 2 and Work Package 4, is interviewed about her experience working remotely while building major pieces of infrastructure at the COPIM project over the last three years.

Published onOct 24, 2022
Open Access Week Interview with Judith Fathallah
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The COPIM team talks with Judith Fathallah, a member of Work Package 2 and Work Package 4, about her experience working remotely while building major pieces of infrastructure over the last three years.

Pictured: Judith Fathallah

Where are you based? How did you become involved with the COPIM Project?

I’m based on the South coast of Wales, just outside Cardiff. During the pandemic, I was looking to move and be closer to older family members, like a lot of people were. Digital literacies is one of my primary research interests, and the future of books and reading is incredibly important to me. I’ve experienced firsthand some of the inequities that come with lack of access to resources, so when I saw the COPIM role advertised, I did some research and learned more about the issues surrounding OA books. The first thing I realised was that the issues ran a lot deeper than I knew, as I am still learning to this day, but I felt really optimistic about some of the ideas on the project and got keen to get involved. This was still during lockdown or semi-lockdown (its hard to remember precisely when everything happened between 2020 and 2021) so most academics were remote working at the time.

What are the three most important things that have enabled you to work remotely on COPIM?

Firstly I would say the people involved and their willingness to adapt to change and be positive about the possibilities of remote and flexible working. Part of the reason COPIM appealed to me is its social values and commitments and flexible remote working is part of that. Secondly, of course, a good internet connection and laptop. Which has its own issues with regard to climate justice (see: tech waste) but probably still better than driving and transport. Thirdly, the increasing electronic availability of academic resources. This is absolutely critical to me. I work for two universities and the libraries are well stocked, but on occasion I'll still message an academic directly and ask them to send me a digital author’s copy of their work, which most are only too happy to (further evidence that in principle, academics want OA).

What are the advantages and disadvantages of this way of working?

Well, firstly and fundamentally, I can’t drive and I’ll never be able to drive, because I have visual processing disorder called object blindness. This causes lags and errors in the way my brain interprets the position of objects in relation to each other and in relation to me, especially if they are moving. It also means I tend to process the elements of a visual scene sequentially, not as a whole, and will miss some altogether. So I will never pass a driving test, nor should I. This severely limits the places I *can* work, unless I want to be constantly moving all over the country, which is difficult for personal, economic and enviornmental reasons. So that’s the main advantage: it gives me hugely more opportunities. It saves time, obviously, and makes for a better work life balance, as well as the enviornment benefits of taking cars off the road. It allows me to work hours that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to, which can be important when you’re working with an international team. The main disadvantage I guess is not seeing your colleagues in person, which can come with social and team-building effects: though I do, on occasion, go up to Coventry, its a massive journey on the trains which really ought to be more direct and take less time than it does. But that’s an infrastructure problem. Its well known that UK rail services need improvement. Transport for Wales has pledged a large investment in improving services from 2023 but I don’t know how that will affect trains from Cardiff that go into England. I suppose another disadvantage is the increased cost of heating and lighting individual homes rather than communal spaces. I’m lucky in that my flat is really well insulated due its position and the fact its a newish build, but I’m not sure how this stacks up environmentally on a larger scale.

Has remote working resulted in anything unexpected, or that wouldn’t have happened without it?

Without it, I quite probably wouldn’t have the career I have now. In an odd way, I think we’ve actually learned more and gotten closer to some of our colleagues than we otherwise would have, due to talking to each other at different times, seeing each other in our own environment, with glimpses of people’s pets, children’s hobbies and so on. People say tech is dehumanising, which it can be, but it can be humanising as well.

Has it prevented you from doing anything important? How did you work around that?

Accessing physical libraries. Like I said, I normally search the internet for digital OA copies and if I can’t get one I email the author and ask. The worst they can do is say no, and most are delighted to send you one. The obvious solution here is for libraries to invest in digital collections. Now there’s a question of what will be lost if physical libraries decline in use. A lot of people are invested in the physicality of the book (I’m not, particularly: see above re object blindness, I see text not mediums). But libraries are more than that – they are places for social gatherings, meetings, classes, and increasingly, this winter, warm spaces. This comes back to the environmental question of maintaining many small individual spaces (homes) rather than larger communal ones. 

Header Photo by Jamie Chapman on Unsplash
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