new mission statement

the institute is a bit over a year old now. our understanding of what we’re doing has deepened considerably during the year, so we thought it was time for a serious re-statement of our goals. here’s a draft for a new mission statement. we’re confident that your input can make it better, so please send your ideas and criticisms.
The Institute for the Future of the Book is a project of the Annenberg Center for Communication at USC. Starting with the assumption that the locus of intellectual discourse is shifting from printed page to networked screen, the primary goal of the Institute is to explore, understand and hopefully influence this evolution.
We use the word “book” metaphorically. For the past several hundred years, humans have used print to move big ideas across time and space for the purpose of carrying on conversations about important subjects. Radio, movies, TV emerged in the last century and now with the advent of computers we are combining media to forge new forms of expression. For now, we use “book” to convey the past, the present transformation, and a number of possible futures.
One major consequence of the shift to digital is the addition of graphical, audio, and video elements to the written word. More profound, however, are the consequences of the relocation of the book within the network. We are transforming books from bounded objects to documents that evolve over time, bringing about fundamental changes in our concepts of reading and writing, as well as the role of author and reader.
The Institute values theory and practice equally. Part of our work involves doing what we can with the tools at hand (short term). Examples include last year’s Gates Memory Project or the new author’s thinking-out-loud blogging effort. Part of our work involves trying to build new tools and effecting industry wide change (medium term): see the Sophie Project and NextText. And a significant part of our work involves blue-sky thinking about what might be possible someday, somehow (long term). Our blog, if:book covers the full-range of our interests.
As part of the Mellon Foundation’s project to develop an open-source digital infrastructure for higher education, the Institute is building Sophie, a set of high-end tools for writing and reading rich media electronic documents. Our goal is to enable anyone to assemble complex, elegant, and robust documents without the necessity of mastering overly complicated applications or the help of programmers.
Academic institutes arose in the age of print, which informed the structure and rhythm of their work. The Institute for the Future of the Book was born in the digital era, and we seek to conduct our work in ways appropriate to the emerging modes of communication and rhythms of the networked world. Freed from the traditional print publishing cycles and hierarchies of authority, the Institute seeks to conduct its activities as much as possible in the open and in real time.
Although we are excited about the potential of digital technologies to amplify human potential in wondrous ways, we believe it is crucial to consciously consider the social impact of the long-term changes to society afforded by new technologies.
Although the institute is based in the U.S. we take the seriously the potential of the internet and digital media to transcend borders. We think it’s important to pay attention to developments all over the world, recognizing that the future of the book will likely be determined as much by Beijing, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Mumbai and Accra as by New York and Los Angeles.

3 thoughts on “new mission statement

  1. Robin

    Congratulations on a year of good work & useful goals.

    I’d love to hear more about the Sophie project. I’ve read the proposal PDF on your Sophie page — how’s it all progressing?

  2. K.G. Schneider

    First, scratch the word “hopefully.” Your mission isn’t to “hopefully” do anything; you exist to meet your goals.
    Second, are you *transforming* a genre or *creating* a genre? The goal of the novel was not to replace the epic poem.
    The section on “humanism” is interesting. You might review the Library Bill of Rights and even skim its dozens of interpretations to see if you want to add anything about anti-censorship advocacy and equity of access.
    Good work–I know how hard these are!

  3. kim white

    are you *transforming* a genre or *creating* a genre? The goal of the novel was not to replace the epic poem.

    I think bob was talking about the book itself rather than the literary genre it supports. But it’s likely that new genres are going to arise (indeed they already are) to suit the vehicle that carries them. The epic poem was mostly memorized and performed in those long-ago days before the novel which, co-incidentally, arouse about the same time as the printing press. So did the new genre (the novel) grow out of the new book form or did the new mass-produced book make the novel possible? It seems clear that we are witnessing a similar phenomenon now. New genres coming up that could not have existed before electronic media platforms.

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