As with every previous case study I’ve posted up to now, this week’s case is an example of a very distinctive context for the design and use for the eBooks. Today’s post is the first of two cases that involve the British Museum which means we’re dealing with a far larger institution than in previous cases. Nevertheless, as I hope you will see, this case has quite a few similarities with other approaches we’ve explored to date.
I had the chance to pay a visit to Julie Anderson, Assistant Keeper for Ancient Sudan and Egyptian Nubia at the BM on the 14 September to talk about her work with the eBooks. Julie is the project leader for what is known as the Berber-Abidiya archaeological project in Sudan. She and her collaborator Dr Salah eldin Mohamed Ahmed in Sudan have been working with Proboscis to develop a version of the eBook as part of this project. This was my chance to find out a bit more about the project.
Sample project: Excavations in the Temple Precinct of Dangeil
One of the sites where Julie and her team have been excavating since 2000 is in Dangeil, about 350km north of Khartoum. The motivation for creating an eBook first came when teachers from local schools started bringing their students to visit the site. Most of these teachers had very little information about the site itself or about the Kingdom of Kush who were attributed with having built a temple on this site more than 2000 years ago. It was at this point that the team realised they needed to make some kind of resource available to people from the region so that they could learn more about the project and why it was so significant.
Julie was later introduced to the eBooks through someone else from the BM who had been using them as part of an ethnographic project (more on that next week). She then got in touch with Giles from Proboscis who demonstrated some of the material and proposed a number of options for using the eBooks. After considering their options, she and Salah decided to use the eBook and began the process of writing the material.
The book would cover some of general history of the period and specifically develop the history of the site. The information contained in the eBook was designed to be fairly flexible: although it was written at a level that would not have been easily understood by primary students, it was accessible to teachers and older students as well as the general public who would be interested in the site. You can download an English version of the eBook here. The final version is nearly 40 pages long in the A5 format which meant that the foldable version of the eBook was ill-suited to this project (it tends to get quite difficult to fold that many pages together, especially when you want to make a lot of them). For this reason and for greater durability, they chose to work with the pre-bound version of the eBook.
When I met with Julie, the project was entering its final phase of development. She was hoping to have 500 copies of the eBook made in English and 500 copies made in Arabic. These would hopefully be distributed widely: in the National Museum in Khartoum – to antiquities staff, but also with local government officials, as well as anyone visiting the site including school groups, as well as the local community.
Distributing to the local community was particularly important for Julie. The site itself is located right in the middle of the village. Having been there for over 10 years now, the team has been working closely with many of the villagers and she felt this was one of the many ways in which she could ensure a good interaction with the community.
Julie sees this eBook as potentially the beginning of a series of of eBooks about the project and hopes to produce more versions that would cover other sites in the region. She hopes to get some feedback from the villagers about this version and incorporate any suggestions into future iterations of the publications.
Challenges, recommendations and suggestions
Julie found the eBooks and the Bookleteer website extremely easy to use. She felt that it was easy to modify the eBooks in case there was anything wrong with the text and to quickly see the new results. For her, this was an advantage compared to dealing with other forms of desktop publishing where you can’t immediately change something and produce it again.
As with the case of Niharika Hariharan last week, the ability to publish in other languages was also a considerable advantage. Although there were a few early formatting issues to resolve for publishing in Arabic, Julie felt that this option made it a particularly attractive resource for institutions like the BM who operated in many different countries:
“I can see actually from the use of this as a bigger institution, looking at this is that it’s very effective for communicating with our local audiences worldwide in their own languages.”
I would say that this project represents a clear example of the publishing category I initially proposed in a previous post. I will be pushing this reflection a bit further in future posts. But first, stay tuned next week for the second of my two part look at how the eBooks have been used at the BM.