Recently in New Orleans, I was working at AAUP‘s annual meeting of university presses. At the opening banquet, Times-Picayune editor Jim Amoss brought a large audience of publishing folk through a blow-by-blow of New Orleans’ storm last fall. What I found particularly resonant in his recount, beyond his staff’s stamina in the face of “the big one”, was the Big Bang phenomena that occured in tandem with the flooding, instantly expanding the relationship between their print and internet editions.
Their print infrastructure wrecked, The Times-Picayune immediately turned to the internet to broadcast the crisis that was flooding in around them. Even the more troglodytic staffers familiarized themselves with blogging and online publishing. By the time some of their print had arrived from offsite and reporters were using it as currency to get through military checkpoints, their staff had adapted to web publishing technologies and now, Amoss told me, they all use it on a daily basis.
Martin Luther King Branch
If the Times-Picayune, a daily publication of considerable city-paper bulk, can adapt within a week to the web, what is taking university presses so long? Surely, we shouldn’t wait for a crisis of Noah’s Ark proportions to push academe to leap into the
future present. What I think Amoss’s talk subtly arrived at was a reassessment of *crisis* for the constituency of scholarly publishing that sat before him.
“Part of the problem is that much of this new technology wasn’t developed within the publishing houses,” a director mentioned to me in response to my wonderings. “So there’s a general feeling of this technology pushing in on the presses from the outside.”
East New Orleans Regional Branch
But “general feeling” belies what were substantially disparate opinions among attendees. Frustration emanated from the more tech-adventurous on the failure of traditional and un-tech’d folks to “get with the program,” whereas those unschooled on wikis and Web 2.0 tried to wrap their brains around the publishing “crisis” as they saw it: outdating their business models, scrambling their workflow charts and threatening to render their print operations obsolete.
That said, cutting through this noise were some promising talks on developments. A handful of presses have established e-publishing initiatives, many of which were conceived of with their university libraries. By piggybacking on the techno-knowledge and skill of librarians who are already digitizing their collections and acquiring digital titles (librarians whose acquisitions budgets far surpass those of many university presses,) presses have brought forth inventive virtual nodes of scholarship. Interestingly, these joint digital endeavors often explore disciplines that now have difficulty making their way to print.
Some projects to look at:
MITH (Maryland); NINES (scholar driven open-access project); Martha Nell Smith’s Dickinson Electronic Archives Project; Rotunda (Virginia); DART (Columbia); Anthrosource (California: Their member portal has communities of interest establishing in various fields, which may evolve into new journals.)
East New Orleans Regional Branch
While the marriage of the university library and press serves to reify their shared mandate to disseminate scholarship, compatibility issues arise in the accessibility and custody of projects. Libraries would like content to be open, and university presses prefer to focus on revenue generating subscribership.
One Digital Publishing session shed light on more theoretical concerns of presses. As MLA reviews the tenure system, partly in response to the decline of monograph publication opportunities, some argued that the nature of the monograph (sustained argument and narrative) doesn’t lend itself well to online reading. But, as the monograph will stay, how do presses publish them economically?
Nora Navra Branch
On the peer review front, another concern critiqued the web’s predominantly fact-based interaction: “The web seems to be pushing us back from an emphasis on ideas and synthesis/analysis to focus on facts.”
Access to facts opens up opportunities for creative presentation of information, but scholarly presses are struggling with how interpretive work can be built on that digitally. A UVA respondant noted, “Librarians say people are looking for info on the web, but then moving to print for the interpretation; at Rotunda, the experience is that you have to put up the mass of information allowing the user to find the raw information, but what to do next is lacking online.”
Promising comments came from Peter Brantley (California Digital Library) on the journal side: peer review isn’t everything and avenues already exist to evaluate content and comment on work (linkages, citation analysis, etc.) To my relief, he suggested folks look at the Institute for the Future of the Book, who are exploring new forms of narrative and participatory material, and Nature’s experiments in peer review.
Sure, at this point, there lacks a concrete theoretical underpinning of how the Internet should provide information, and which kinds. But most of us view this flux as its strength. For university presses, crises arise when what scholar Martha Nell Smith dubs the “priestly voice” of scholarship and authoritative texts, is challenged. Fortifying against the evolution and burgeoning pluralism won’t work. Unstifled, collaborative exploration amongst a range of key players will reveal the possiblities of the terrain, and ease the press out of rising waters.
Robert E. Smith Regional Branch
All images from New Orleans Public Library
on sunday one of my colleagues, kim white, posted a short essay on if:book, Losing America, which eloquently stated her horror at realizing how far america has slipped from its oft-stated ideals of equality and justice. as kim said “I thought America (even under the current administration) had something to do with being civilized, humane and fair. I don’t anymore.”
kim ended her piece with a parenthetical statement:
(The above has nothing and everything to do with the future of the book.)
the four of us met around a table in the institute’s new williamsburg digs yesterday and discussed why we thought kim’s statement did or didn’t belong on if:book. the result — a resounding YES.
if you’ve been reading if:book for awhile you’ve probably encountered the phrase, “we use the word book to refer to the vehicle humans use to move big ideas around society.” of course many, if not most books are about entertainment or personal improvement, but still the most important social role of books (and their close dead-tree cousins, newspapers, magazines etc.) has been to enable a conversation across space and time about the crucial issues facing society.
we realize that for the institute to make a difference we need to be asking more the right questions.although our blog covers a wide-range of technical developments relating to the evolution of communication as it goes digital, we’ve tried hard not to be simple cheerleaders for gee-whiz technology. the acid-test is not whether something is “cool” but whether and in what ways it might change the human condition.
which is why kim’s post seems so pertinent. for us it was a wake-up call reinforcing our notion that what we do exists in a social, not a technological context. what good will it be if we come up with nifty new technology for communication if the context for the communication is increasingly divorced from a caring and just social contract. Kim’s post made us realize that we have been underemphasizing the social context of our work.
as we discuss the implications of all this, we’ll try as much as possible to make these discussions “public” and to invite everyone to think it through with us.
New Orleans DoubleQuotes by Charles Cameron plays with juxtaposition, cleverly pairing bits of text in ways that illuminate Katrina and all that flows from it:
Think of these paired quotes as twin thoughts dropped into the mind-pond — not so much for their own sakes as for the sake of the ripples and resonances between them. I invite you to read these DoubleQuotes one pair at a time, slowly, slowly, so that the multiples ironies and quiet nuances that have come together in the weaving of this tragedy have room to breathe.
(thanks, Bryan Alexander of Infocult)
You can find just about anything on craigslist. Bikes, mattresses, futons, stereos, landscapers, moving vans, graphic designers, jobs. You can even find missing persons, or a safe haven thousands of miles from what was once your home. How a public classifieds section transformed itself overnight into a dynamic networked survival book – a central node in the effort to locate the missing and provide shelter to the uprooted – captures the significance of what has happened over the past two weeks in Katrina’s wake. The web has been pushed to its full potential, capturing both the enormity of the disaster (in a way that the professional media, working alone, would have been unable to), and the details – the individual lives, the specific intersections of streets – that got swept up in the flood. This give-and-take between global and “hyperlocal” is what Web 2.0 is all about. Danah Boyd recently described this as “glocalization” – “a dance between the individual and the collective”:
In business, glocalization usually refers to a sort of internationalization where a global product is adapted to fit the local norms of a particular region. Yet, in the social sciences, the term is often used to describe an active process where there’s an ongoing negotiation between the local and the global (not simply a directed settling point). In other words, there is a global influence that is altered by local culture and re-inserted into the global in a constant cycle. Think of it as a complex tango with information constantly flowing between the global and the local, altered at each junction.
The diverse, simultaneous efforts on the web to bear witness and bring relief to the ravaged Gulf Coast – a Knight Ridder newspaper running hyperlocal blogs out of a hurricane bunker (nola.com); a frantic text message sent from a phone in a rapidly flooding attic to relatives in Idaho who, in turn, post precise coordinates for rescue on a missing persons forum (anecdote from Craig Newmark of craigslist); an apartment rental registry turned into a disaster relief housing index; images from consumer digital cameras leading the network news; scipionus.com, the interactive map wiki where users can post specific, geographically situated information about missing persons and flood levels – that is the dance. The case of the scrappy craigslist, or rather its users, rising to the occasion is particularly moving.
Interactive maps help those of us not in the region to grasp the terrain of devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. These maps are suggestive of a new paradigm for the digital page – an interactive canvas, or territory, through which the reader can zoom through orders of magnitude.
Most talked about is the “visual wiki” at scipionus.com – a re-tooling of Google maps that invites users to post tabs with information pertaining to specific locales (as fine-grained as streetcorners). Tabs are editable and are supposed to be used only for concrete reports, though many have posted pleas for news of specific missing persons or of the condition of certain blocks. Some samples:
“Saw news video 9/2/05 of corner street sign at 10th St. & Pontchartrain Blvd. Water level was about 6 in. below. green street signs.”
“the Ashley’s are in Prattville AL”
“4400 Calumet — dry on Weds?”
“as of 5:00 pm.. the streets from wilson canal to transcontinental are COMPLETELY DRY! source from somebody who stayed and called to tell us the info.”
“Dylan Nash anyone?? call 919-7307018”
The maps include post-Katrina satellite imagery, which reveals, upon zooming in, horrifying grids of inundated streets, stadiums filled up like soup tureens, city parks transformed into swamps. Wired recently ran a piece about sciponius.
Before & After:
I was also impressed by the interactive maps on washingtonpost.com.
Click on spinning wheels at various points along the coastline and windows pop up with scrolling panoramic shots. Quite stunning. You can click the screen and drag the scroll in either direction, stop it, speed it up, and even pull it up and down to reveal glimpses of the sky or ground. Photojournalism is given new room to play on online newspapers.
(No Need to Click Here – I’m just claiming my feed at Feedster feedster:d50fedfc363272797584521a06a79da5)