The Highly Collaborative Nature of Making, Producing, and Preserving Digital Publications

Jasmine Mulliken, SUP’s Production and Preservation Manager for Digital Projects, recently presented at the Association of University Press’s Annual Meeting which was held online June 5-16.

screenshot of the video recording showing title slide and speaker
Screenshot from the session recording, which can viewed here.

I had the great privilege earlier this month of presenting at AUPresses 2023 alongside some of my favorite and most esteemed peers and collaborators in a panel we designed to highlight the exquisitely collaborative process of developing and publishing digital projects. A collaborative effort in itself, the panel’s proposal was months in the making. Entitled “Digital Web-Based Monograph Publishing: Case Studies of Successful Collaborations,” and Including two authors, two institutional digital publications development centers, and two university presses, the panel sought to illuminate for the various publishers in attendance an emerging model of collaborative digital publishing through two specific examples of recent and in-progress university press publications, Shadow Plays: Virtual Realities in an Analog World and Jim Crow in the Asylum: Psychiatry and Civil Rights in the American South.

I began the session by briefly describing the Mellon Foundation-supported landscape for digital publishing initiatives and its development over the past decade. The various grants to publishers and their partners, as well as to institutions and organizations who are supporting authors, have had the effect of activating a network of expertise that is strengthening the entire digital publication workflow, from an author’s inception through development, acquisition, and production, to preservation and permanence of digital publications in the scholarly record. The panelists then broke down this trajectory piece by piece into a kind of narrative from the perspective of the many players involved in all these processes. Two use cases provided the framework for this narrative.

To begin the story, Kylie M. Smith, Associate Professor at Emory, shared her experience as the author of Jim Crow in the Asylum, a hybrid digital work and enhanced open access monograph forthcoming in 2024.  Built in the Manifold platform, the enhanced edition of the book will feature interactive maps, data visualizations, and recordings of oral history interviews to deepen the author’s core argument and engage wider public audiences. As author of the project, Smith discussed the ethical concerns behind her format choices. She also spoke to the ways in which developing an open digital monograph have both challenged and enlivened the conventional research and writing process, as well as her engagement with readers.

Mae Velloso-Lyons, Senior Associate Director of Publishing at Emory University’s Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry, continued the presentation by describing Emory’s program to support innovation in open digital monographs. This program, which began in 2017, facilitates the development and publication of “enhanced” editions of new open monographs by supporting their production in-house at Emory through a partnership with the Center for Digital Scholarship. Enhanced editions are developed in close consultation with both the author and the press, and offer an opportunity to include content which otherwise wouldn’t be feasible, such as supplementary texts and images, video and audio, and interactive elements. By focusing on the example of Smith’s project, Mae discussed how both developmental and technical support come into play in the gestation of a book which will be simultaneously released in multiple formats.

Following the publication trajectory for the project, Lucas Church, Senior Editor at the University of North Carolina Press, described how developing an enhanced digital edition like Smith’s requires a spirit of experimentation and flexibility among colleagues. His presentation considered the ways in which established publishing practices can adapt to new ways of creating and distributing scholarly books while maintaining academic rigor.

We then switched to the second use case, Shadow Plays, authored by Massimo Riva, developed by Brown University Digital Publications, and published in 2022 by Stanford University Press. The open-access monograph uses the Scalar platform and explores popular forms of entertainment used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to transport viewers to a new world, foreshadowing present-day virtual, augmented, and extended reality experiences (VR, AR, and XR). It features eight interactive simulations of analog technologies such as the mondo nuovo or cosmorama, the magic lantern, the moving panorama, and the stereoscope.

Allison Levy, Director of Brown University Digital Publications, kicked off this use-case presentation by providing an overview of Brown’s novel, university-based approach to digital content development from project selection to handoff to a university press. She structured her remarks around key moments in the development of Shadow Plays and shared comments by author Massimo Riva on the choice to go digital and the importance of collaboration. 

Crystal Brusch, Designer for Brown University Digital Publications, then took the reins and presented examples of the collaborative process of visual design and concept development for Shadow Plays, from the research and brainstorming stage through final production.

I then jumped back in as Production and Preservation Manager for Digital Projects at SUP to share my perspective on taking Shadow Plays through the publication and preservation process. In many ways a finalizing stage for the project, it proved to also be an iterative one, involving collaborations not only with the author and development team, but also with copyeditors, catalogers, designers, accessibility specialists, and web archivists.

The Q&A that followed the presentations was engaging and brought up further discussions about peer review, resources at development centers, metadata and distribution, and the perceived value of digital humanities work by tenure and promotion committees.

The conference platform indicated 280 people had marked themselves as attending this particular session, which was scheduled for the first day of the conference. The full recorded session, embedded above, will be added in 2024 to AUPresses 2023’s Vimeo channel, and the slides may also be viewed below.

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