What is Electronic Publishing?

Now that it is firmly established in the consumer sector, electronic publishing is beginning to demonstrate capabilities that challenge the boundaries between print and digital, still image and video, passive and interactive. Modern digital workflows support all manner of possible publication, from traditional print to digital, web, video, and even interactive content. Building in the full spectrum of potential publishing avenues — print, web, video, mobiles and tablets, and interactives — from the beginning is not only a way to streamline production overall, but also to increase the reach of the materials produced by leveraging the content over a wide range of media. Modern media companies have been at the vanguard of this conversion. Magazine writers, for example, will produce a piece so that it will work in the magazine, on the web, and in video — and the finished product may appear in any or all of those outlets. Educational institutions and their publishing arms generally do not have sufficient staff, infrastructure, and systems in place to manage the workflows for simultaneous publication across multiple media, nor do they typically see the potential in ways that commercial publishers do. One major component of electronic publishing for learning-focused organizations is scholarly publishing. The appearance of rapid e-publishing tools, such as the Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI) project and Mag+, coupled with the gradual reduction in museums' traditional print publishing activities, is poised to significantly change how museums communicate scholarly information to their users, visitors, scholars, and the general public.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the museums you know best?

  • It's been great to see the handful of leading institutions involved in OSCI make such promising headway; and as the development of tools such as the OSCI Toolkit helps to lower the internal resource commitment necessary to undertake such publications, it should become more feasible for smaller institutions to join those leaders on this path. In the long run, we can hope to see an electronic publication environment with thresholds to entry sufficiently modest that any museum able to produce a scholarly catalogue in print (i.e., with the requisite capacity to create high-quality content and the at-least-project-scale funds to hire out most actual production) can do so electronically, with a solid plan for durable access over time. This is not to imply that electronic catalogues would necessarily displace all museum publications in print, for which I believe some such projects are and will remain ideally suited. - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Oct 10, 2012
  • - nhoneysett nhoneysett Oct 14, 2012 I think OSCI has been great at raising awareness of the potential of scholarly catalogues and electronic publishing in museums in general. I think that museums who have been producing high quality print publications will continue to do so, but they will also be the ones who produce engaging digital publications. The quality level that OSCI museums have produced requires significant resourcing and technological skill. The OSCI toolkit is a great resource, but its still a technology barrier to most museums. Clearly museums are getting into digital publishing, but with many technologically related things, people are being creative in how they create this stuff. For example, the Getty has just released a Collections Highlight Handbook using the Toura mobile tour app - http://www.androidzoom.com/android_applications/education/highlights-of-the-getty-museum_cpmkk.html. The big challenge that these museums face right now is not how to do digital publishing but how to do print and digital economically. - ed.rodley ed.rodley Oct 15, 2012 Word!
  • Addressing Nik's challenge, the Dallas Museum of Art has found a way to have it both ways (digital and print). Instead of creating an ePub, the DMA created an app using Adobe Publishing Suite that is basically a printed book with a few interactive features. It can be loaded onto an iPad free or printed on demand at Blurb for around $60.https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/george-grosz-in-dallas/id532012180?mt=8 - alex alex Oct 15, 2012

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Not exactly a missing theme, but a key factor to note: it's good to remember that electronic publishing encompasses a wide range of delivery formats and architectures, and that the choices we make in those regards can seriously affect social/demographic inclusivity in access to knowledge. When the "publication" is a discrete, downloadable file (PDF, ePub, etc.), it offers comparable access and usability to people regardless of whether they have reliable broadband network access (but do have a compatible display device); but in other cases, the "publication" is only accessible to people who have fast, real-time throughput from a distant server. There are instances in which the benefits of live network access to a publication are sufficiently valuable to drive the primary delivery architecture in that direction (e.g., to give readers immediate, transparent access to rapidly changing content from frequent back-end updates, when that content soon would become outdated in a fixed-form file). That noted, there are many readers--or prospective ones--who could enjoy and learn from museums' electronic publications, but who have very slow, spotty, or otherwise poor connectivity. To serve as wide a public as we can, it will be good practice to offer alternative downloadable editions whenever possible. For many other readers--the large number of people whose internet access is solely on their phones--it could also be good at least to assess the development costs and design tradeoffs of making these publications usable in some way on small-screen devices. Both of these constrained delivery contexts (offline and/or small-screen) go to the importance of assessing and mitigating the risk that moving from print to electronic publishing can inadvertently foreclose on some people's access to knowledge (text and images that formerly would have appeared in print and been accessible to them on a library shelf), even as that same move radically and wonderfully broadens access for people who do have fat pipes and big screens. - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Oct 10, 2012
  • - nhoneysett nhoneysett Oct 14, 2012 I think the watershed moment for museums and electronic publishing will be when they realise the difference between digital publications and digital publishing. Most still regard digital publishing as producing a number digital publications, there is still room for this but the notion of creating a "product" such as a collection catalogue needs redefining, why not blog your next catalogue one object at a time? Museums are already using blog platforms to tell their story, but it appears they don't consider it as a professional-enough platform, but it would serve as a very low entry to digital scholarly publishing. - ed.rodley ed.rodley Oct 15, 2012 Agreed. They're not the same thing. - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Oct 15, 2012 : Also agreed. It will be interesting to see how this scale-of-entry factor plays out in regard to (1) authorial needs, desires, and motivations, when undertaking certain kinds of content production, to create fixed-form resources that appear in formats believed to be stable end-points for scholarly citation (e.g., Serious Books), and (2) the often parallel urge of many authors to be the sole or collaborative creators of monolithic works seen as having a certain heft or gravitas (i.e., Serious Books), with institutional/career incentive structures that often privilege intellectual work expressed in those weighty known forms. Acknowledging those factors, there could be a widening range of catalogue(-like) creations distributed across an at-least triangular conceptual space of digital publishing staked out by corners at (1) the traditional catalogue (heavy and relatively unchanging, in fixed-form or transparently versioned digital formats, as well as in print in some cases); (2) incremental blog-like forms (often seen as lightweight and ephemeral, but offering ease of entry); and (3) perhaps those online collections databases that offer not only tombstone-ish data elements but also rich interpretive content and media resources (while often not edited in the ways a conventional publication would be, these electronically published resources could have a depth and scale of information comparable to that a fixed-form scholarly catalogue, while posing challenges to big narrative curve, authorial credit, scope of represented objects, and stable citation by reason of being a living catalogue of an entire collection--and generally just one collection, sans objects from others, aside from hoped-for network effects noted below). There are more than those three conceptual "corners," of course, but they may offer some key points of reference in this evolving publishing space.
  • Another perspective here.

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • Beyond seriously enhancing museums' ability to share their own knowledge with their extant and latent publics, this also will open up that knowledge to network effects in more easily discovered combination with related publications from other museums. I'd say this is a key piece of our institutional futures and a core way of serving our future communities. - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Oct 10, 2012
  • - nhoneysett nhoneysett Oct 14, 2012 Agreed
  • - ed.rodley ed.rodley Oct 15, 2012 Yup!

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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