Open textbook project wins prestigious international award
When Anita Walz sat in the audience at the 2023 Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) Annual Conference Awards ceremony in Manchester, England, she was surprised to hear that a new award was specifically created to honor her team’s open textbook project "Original Études for the Developing Conductor." A nomination had been submitted for the ALPSP Impact Award 2023 and the team won a newly created “highly commended” designation in the Impact Award category.
“While I accurately predicted the winner for the original Impact Award, the fact that they created a separate award for us was completely unexpected,” said Walz, University Libraries’ assistant director of open education and scholarly communication librarian.
“I wasn’t able to attend the conference, but shocked and honored would sum up my emotions pretty well,” said Jonathan Caldwell, assistant professor of conducting and director of bands at the University of North Carolina Greensboro and co-editor of the textbook. “It was an honor to be recognized and know the committee sees the value and innovation in the book.”
Far more than a trophy for bookshelves, the prestigious ALPSP Impact Award honors initiatives, projects, campaigns, or collaborations within scholarly publishing and academic research that are making a positive difference and resonate deeply through society. The impact can be on any area that can make a significant difference to people such as the community, education, the environment, or advancing diversity and inclusion.
Winning the award attested to the value, impact, and foresight of the team’s work. Award chair David Sommer wrote, “We awarded highly commended to 'Original Études for the Developing Conductor' in recognition of the notable impact this educational resource is having in terms of improving quality, accessibility and diversity.” This international award had multiple levels of scrutiny and the judges reviewed written applications, video presentations, blog posts, a live presentation, and Q&A session.
“I sat unknowingly next to one of the judges from the panel at the awards dinner,” said Walz. “The judge mentioned that our project not only looked good on paper but the judges really liked our team and collegiality.”
Never been done before
The winning textbook is a first of its kind: a freely available, peer-reviewed, Creative Commons licensed collection of supplemental études designed to enhance contemporary conducting educational resources by amplifying the voices of composers from historically excluded groups. Published by the Virginia Tech School of Performing Arts in association with the Open Education Initiative and Virginia Tech Publishing, both housed in Newman Library, this book is also a cross-institutional collaboration between Virginia Tech and the University of North Carolina Greensboro.
Developing a more navigable resource gave the team opportunities for innovation. “When we were in the process of creating the book, there were a couple of times when we would ask each other, ‘Well, how is this usually done?’ and most of the time the answer was, ‘We don’t know because it hasn’t been done before,’” said Kindred Grey, University Libraries' open educational resource and graphic design specialist. “At the end of the project, it was nice to have a tangible book that serves as a guide for other communities if they wish to publish music. This would be the case with or without the award, but having international recognition helps promote our work and let other communities know that it exists if they want to use it or replicate it.”
Blazing a new trail
“Music publishing is ripe for change in its approach to open access, and I think this book illustrates a new path for the publishing of music performance materials designed for educational use,” said Caldwell. “It’s also significant in that the book celebrates the voices of composers who have traditionally been marginalized by classical music, particularly composers of color and women-identifying composers. We really worked to center those voices in the project and hopefully the award brings those people the recognition they rightfully deserve.”
“For me, this book is a testament and a reflection of our ethical values, which is why I’m so passionate about it,” said Caldwell. “There are so many compositional voices that need to be heard but aren’t included in music performance textbooks. Students need to see those composers and hear their voices.”
Derek Shapiro, assistant professor and director of bands in the School of Performing Arts and co-editor of the book, said, “This award is significant because it brings attention to the fact that this kind of publishing model can work in music and can bring new voices with fresh musical ideas to our students. We were hoping for 1,000 downloads and now we have over 7,000.”
“This is also an opportunity to give our students a significant resource at no cost,” said Shapiro. “As college tuition inflates it is important that we search for new and innovative ways to provide our students with new and engaging ways to learn about living composers and various styles of music.”
Hard work pays off
As a librarian, Walz has a leadership role on the content creation team. She collaborates closely with subject matter experts across Virginia Tech and beyond to envision and implement high-quality open education projects.
“I am so grateful to University Libraries Senior Associate Dean Julie Griffin who supported my travel to Manchester,” said Walz. “The finalists’ projects were all so interesting, unique, and impactful. Even without the award, our team was honored to just be shortlisted — and for a freely available, Creative Commons licensed work at a for-profit publisher-centered conference nonetheless. I was so honored to be able to represent our team and the composers who contributed to the work.”
Kindred Grey, whose main role in the project was usability, design, and production, said, “When I heard the news, it felt rewarding to have our months and months of hard work be recognized and applauded. It’s a great feeling to finish a project and be proud of your work, but an even better feeling is when other people recognize the thoughtfulness in your work and deem it high quality enough to use it in their own lives.”
“Quite frankly, without all of the work Anita and Kindred did, this book would have never happened,” said Caldwell. “Together with the composers who contributed études, Anita and Kindred are the people who deserve the credit for all the book’s success.”
The power of open access
Open access is something that the music industry has been hesitant to embrace. “Rethinking the financial model of how composers are compensated for their work is something that needs to happen,” said Caldwell. “This book does that in a truly ethical way. Creating a textbook that centers the student experience rather than the needs of the instructor is an uncommon approach to textbook design but frankly is the right thing to do. By incorporating the feedback we received from students in the design of the book and considering the student experience first, we created something really innovative. I think this book does all these things in a really powerful and unique way and I couldn't be prouder of the final product.”
"This work could not have been done without Derek, Jon, and Anita,” said Grey. “Their individual experiences and expertise made the work incredibly high quality. And their personalities made the work incredibly fun.”
Walz hopes this special international award will amplify awareness and influence even beyond her field. “We hope that other collections of scores will leverage the advances we made in student-centered navigation for educational use. This is a game-changer for students.”