Into the Electronic Reading Room: Stewarding Digital Scholarly Editions

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The “editor-narrator” of an electronic text “must also become an editor-narrator-librarian of the fluid text ‘reading room’ wherein all full texts of all versions of a work are stored…Editors need to create a text lab

[that]…would allow users to search texts, collate versions, assemble variants, craft concordances, and make editions.”

–John Bryant, The Fluid Text: A Theory of Revision and Editing for Book and Screen, 161

This spring, I am delighted to have the opportunity to explore the many roles of the editor-narrator-librarian in this visionary digital “reading room.” Under the guidance of MITH Associate Director Trevor Muñoz, University of Maryland Libraries’ Manager of Digital Stewardship Jennie Anne Levine Knies, Curator of Literary Manuscripts Emerita Beth Alvarez, and University of Texas at Austin iSchool Assistant Professor (and former MITH Program Associate) Tanya Clement, I am researching best practices and emerging trends in the creation of digital scholarly editions of manuscripts and the roles that the scholar and the host institution—the library, archive, or digital humanities center—play in the creation of such editions. This venture serves as my culminating capstone project for my master’s degree in information science at the University of Texas at Austin’s iSchool. Beyond my academic interests in archival theory and digital humanities and my personal passions for publishing and textual creativity, the immediate impetus for my capstone project was the desire of the UMD Libraries to create a digital scholarly edition of Katherine Anne Porter’s correspondence, which is housed in Special Collections. Before they embark on assembling a large-scale edition of the letters, however, the Libraries hope to investigate the evolving genre that is the digital scholarly edition. In particular, they hope to delve into the question of how the “data” that comprise such an edition should be stewarded and integrated into an institution’s digital holdings.

This is where I luck out: I get to help this stellar team pave the way for what I hope will be another small step forward in the evolution of the digital scholarly edition. I have begun the project by conducting a literature review in an attempt to determine the salient features of digital scholarly editions and to provide context for the University of Maryland’s endeavors with Porter’s letters. I am examining how emerging tools for annotation, online exhibition, and digital curation could be considered a new wave in archives’ longstanding tradition of publishing manuscripts and how the archivist and librarian of the future might approach the stewardship of digital edition data.

An inspiring component of my work on the literature review thus far has been the opportunity to interview key players in the creation of digital editions: Andrew Jewell, Associate Professor of Digital Projects at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Libraries, talked with me about constructing the Willa Cather Archive; Dorothy Porter, Associate Director for Digital Library Content & Services at Indiana University, shared her wisdom about developing digital libraries; Amy Earhart, Assistant Professor of English at Texas A&M University, reflected on the creation of the 19th-Century Concord Digital Archive; Doug Reside, Digital Curator of Performing Arts at the New York Public Library (and former MITH Associate Director) discussed the promises of recognition algorithms and the semantic web; and Gretchen Gueguen, Digital Archivist for Digital Curation Services at the University of Virginia (and former MITH Program Associate), emphasized the importance of preserving digital data for future use.

My research so far has underscored that there is a certain fluidity pervading scholarship and publication in the digital realm—a sense, as Tanya Clement phrases it in a journal article discussing her digital scholarly edition In Transition, of interactive “textual performance,” of live phenomena “situated in space and time.” This fluidity embodies the spirit of discovery made possible by digital publications, but this sense of uncertainty and suspense becomes all the more exquisite when contrasted with the solid framework on which successful digital scholarly editions are built: a framework that demands feasible levels of consistent textual encoding based on sustainable standards; an emphasis on data that has both significant thematic strength and great potential for re-use; a reliance on shared, interoperable infrastructure; an investment in peer review and robust user interface design; and a mindfulness throughout the processes of creation, curation, and preservation of an edition’s fundamental purpose for its imagined audience—they are waiting in the digital reading room.

Wendy Hagenmaier is a 2012 Master’s Candidate at the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin. She is blogging about her Capstone Professional Experience Project involving a digital edition of letters from the Katherine Anne Porter Papers (http://hdl.handle.net/1903.1/1532) at the University of Maryland. Jennie Levine Knies, Manager, Digital Stewardship, Beth Alvarez, Curator of Literary Manuscripts Emerita, and Trevor Muñoz, Associate Director of MITH and Assistant Dean for Digital Humanities Research, University of Maryland Libraries, are supervising the project, alongside MITH-alum Tanya Clement, Assistant Professor, UT iSchool.

By | 2017-02-05T21:14:44+00:00 Fri, Mar 2, 2012|Community, Research|

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