This week’s DCW comes right smack dab in the middle of THATCamp CHNM where there have already been a number of productive workshops about using Git and GitHub to create collaborative humanities projects, hacking WordPress, alternative (disruptive) pedagogy, and much more (I’ll make a hard promise now to offer up a full report next week).
In this issue, we explore several recent conferences on academic libraries and digital preservation, the MLA’s recent announcement about its journals’ “open-access-friendly author agreements,” and discussions (or lack thereof) around e-lit in the classroom. Enjoy!
Report from the Library Front: Digging into Data, ACRL’s Environmental Scan, and More
The Joint Conference on Digital Libraries took place this week and included a panel on the Digging into Data Challenge, an international grant competition for innovative research using big data. The panel coincided with the CLIR’s release of a report on the first two years of work on the Digging into Data Challenge.
Also making the rounds recently was the ‘2012 top trends in academic libraries,’ the ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee‘s bi-annual environmental scan. There were no shockers but the report has a rich bibliography and succinctly outlines evolving and emerging issues that will impact more than just libraries in coming years. The section on digital preservation in particular grabbed my attention:
As digital collections mature, concerns grow about the general lack of long-term planning for their preservation. No strategic leadership for establishing architecture, policy, or standards for creating, accessing, and preserving digital content is likely to emerge in the near term.
Concerned? Then attend the Library of Congress’s Digital Preservation 2012 conference July 24-26 in Washington DC – registration details coming soon, but there will be no registration fee (thanks, Uncle Sam!). Even better, the final day of the conference will be a CurateCamp, an unconference similar to the well-known THATCamp.
Humanities Librarians were generally encouraged last week by the Modern Language Association’s announcement that, moving forward, it will be granting substantial copyright control to authors published in its publications (PMLA, Profession, the ADE Bulletin, and the ADFL Bulletin). The move has been touted in Library Journal, Inside Higher Ed, and it has been endorsed by Peter Suber of the Harvard Open Access Project as well as a panoply of blogs and twitter feeds. This is significant news, particularly insofar as the MLA is the colossal, multiform professional society of most humanities fields, and PMLA its flagship publication. The Humanities, as we all know, have been slow to embrace OA in any official capacity, and this feels pretty official. Many are optimistic that this will be the beginning of a great thaw, that by setting a high-profile green OA example the MLA will give courage to others. Maybe it will. I hope it will.
As a long-time PMLA subscriber-by-default and reader-of-rare-occasion, I’m a little less sanguine than some. Put more directly, I think a move like this by the MLA is largely symbolic and does not entail a great deal of risk. Most people with occasion to desire PMLA access (scholars in the humanities) already belong to the organization and are therefore tied into paying for a subscription to the journal, like it or not. The other subscribers are libraries. Some libraries might drop PMLA now, seeming to fulfill the prophecy of a recent UK Publishers Association report (that 65% of arts and humanities journals would be dropped by libraries if the UK adopted an open-access mandate). PMLA isn’t a cheap publication. Still, I won’t be making that recommendation at my library. From a library standpoint, there continues to be significant value in the publication as an aggregated whole (current issues and backfile alike). Crucially, the MLA isn’t (isn’t capable of) forcing an open-access mandate. Without an STM-style mandate, the Publishers Association doomsday scenario doesn’t mean much vis-a-vis library subscriptions. Authors may deposit their articles in repositories, and they may publish them on their websites, but many won’t. We libraries are in the business of providing uniform access insofar as we can.
I would like to see a mandate, and I admit that my purchasing practices as a librarian would change if there were one. But, given that the MLA move isn’t that, isn’t promising that, it’s worth asking what it is. I think we can take Rosemary Feal at her word, going OA is simply a logical move. A no-brainer. PMLA’s authors want more ownership, and giving it to them won’t hurt the MLA’s bottom line. Will this serve as a beacon to other publishers and societies? That probably depends on the revenue models of those publishers and societies. If the publication is folded into a membership structure that has benefits (or is perceived to have benefits) that extend beyond access to the publication alone, then I think the MLA “model” will make sense. For many societies with publications, membership is valuable in its own right. But are we witnessing the tipping point? I’m not banking on it.
Electronic Literature and the Digital Humanities
Every summer I teach an online class called “Literature and the World Wide Web.” I have my students read hypertext narratives and digital poems, and I ask them to consider how a change in media (digital vs. print) might result in changes in genre: Can we call a work of fiction in hypertext a “narrative” in the same way that we call a novel or a short story a narrative? Is a digital poem the same thing as a poem published in a book or a magazine?
I really love teaching this class. I love forcing my students to reconsider their ingrained assumptions about literature, and I love exposing them to fun and innovative works like Shelly Jackson’s hypertext pseud-memoir my body — a Wunderkammer, Pauline Masure’s digital adaptation of the Dadaists’s cut-up technique in Blue Hyacinth, and Jim Andrew’s poetry video game Arteroids.
As a summer course, the class attracts students from all over campus: English majors, students in the College of Business looking to fulfill a humanities requirement, full-time teachers working part-time on a master’s degree in Education, and even the occasional Computer Science major drawn in by the prospect of a literature class about digital technology. Every single one of them, regardless of how many works of literature they’ve read or how much time they’ve spent exploring the far-flung corners of the Internet (I’m looking at you, reddit, and 4chan), has at least one mind-blowing experience per semester. At some point or another, they all find something that makes them radically rethink their assumptions about literature, media, and technology, which is something that I, as someone who dabbles in the digital humanities, find very rewarding.
I also find it perplexing that the scholarly conversations about the digital humanities very rarely touch on the study of electronic literature. My colleagues in the digital humanities have taught me so much about information visualization, data mining, and scholarly editing. But scriptons and textons? Not so much. For whatever reason, there seems to be a disconnect between the rapidly growing community of scholars who use digital technology to understand works of printed literature and the still rather small group of aficionados of electronic literature. I don’t detect any animosity between these two camps (as there sometimes is between “big tent” and “little tent” digital humanities scholars, or between coders and non-coders), but rather a vague sense of disinterest. On one hand, this is perfectly understandable: if parsing the nuances of ergodic literature doesn’t keep you up-to-date on TEI standards or the latest GIS applications, why bother? On the other hand, though, the study of electronic literature can help us to challenge ingrained assumptions about form and media; it can suggest creative and innovative uses for digital technology; and, perhaps most importantly, it’s a lot of fun.
If you haven’t had a chance to explore the world of electronic literature, do yourself a favor and head over to the Electronic Literature Organization’s collection of hypertext narratives and digital poems.