I’ve just completed a personal project in collaboration with my daughter Clara – Phantom Tomes, a book of imaginary titles cunningly reworked onto Victorian book covers sourced from the British Library‘s wonderful digital collection of public domain images. The book invites its readers to elaborate on the book titles by imagining their own publisher’s “blurb” or writing a review of the imaginary book. Each book cover has a blank page beside it purposefully for this storymaking task. As ever, the project is intended to inspire others to build upon our work and create their own versions of the activity, devising their own titles, covers and use of bookleteer as a simple and convenient way to share their creativity.
The titles are much inspired by the fantastic works of Edward Gorey and by long and venerable tradition of fictional books imagined by some of literature’s greats: Laurence Sterne, Jorge Luis Borges, Ursula LeGuin, Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, Georges Perec & Stanislav Lem among many others.
Most writers have one or two trusted readers-of-drafts, critical friends who are relied on to make suggestions and offer that gentle critique that we didn’t know we needed. And the closer we get to conventional publication, the more likely we are to find ourselves working with an editor who scrutinizes our text for errors, ambiguities, sloppiness and – horror of horrors – breaks with convention. With the publication of my essay on picnic and community, published using Bookleteer last month, I had the chance to reflect on the experience of ‘doing without’ an editor. It was stimulating but also a little scary.
In the summer of 2011, I needed to take a decision about finalising and publishing the work. Choosing Bookleteer presented me with a new option: it meant I could go all the way to publication without any editorial oversight.
Picnic was an unfunded project: no client, no defined audience, no expectations, no responsibilities. That may seem liberating but it also means no feedback, no reassurance, no confirmation. I kept the text to myself (apart from sharing it necessarily with my collaborator, the artist Gemma Orton) at the obvious risk of missing out on potentially valuable guidance, having mistakes spotted, and being seen as arrogant.
The key justification for me was that to submit to editorial control would have been a crass betrayal of one of the essay’s themes. The essay contrasts picnic with formal meals, it contrasts organisation with networking, and disorder with order, as a way of exploring our tendency to idealise community in structured, formal terms. I felt that by submitting to the convention of editing – a fundamentally conservative process – I would have contradicted that theme in a rather feeble way.
I was also aware that Picnic challenges people’s expectations, because it doesn’t fit easily into any recognised genre. An editor might have made valiant, corrosive efforts to turn it into this or that.
I don’t wish to imply that the editorial process is either redundant or pointless, but it may be that many writers come to be over-dependent on editors. Perhaps this is to do with perceived differences between non-fiction and fiction. Few musical composers or visual artists would expect to cede so much influence over what they do. On the whole, editing is a process for confirming convention and reinforcing norms, which may not always be what’s needed. By making the publication process realisable, it was Bookleteer that empowered me to remain consistent to the theme without compromise.
Being 18 in the past and today: using Bookleteer for a museum-based project with young people
by Katrina Siliprandi
Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service
Young people working on ‘Project 18’ carried out and recorded 39 interviews in people’s homes, at Norwich Castle museum and in residential care homes. They amalgamated quotes from these interviews with photographs of selected museum objects to produce both a printed booklet and an e-reader version using Bookleteer.
The project is a partnership between Norwich Castle Museum and the Mancroft Advice Project (MAP), a charity that provides help, education and training for young people through advisors, counsellors, youth workers and a drop-in centre. Project 18 helps young people to learn more about themselves, others and their community through the creation of an accessible small archive of oral history testimony about being 18 in the past and today, inspired by the museum’s collections.
Some people might expect paper copies to be of low importance and relevance to young people who are already comfortably immersed and swimming in the cyber ocean. Conversely, paper copies could be seen as important tools to present to those people who have travelled to positions of influence and governance where a more traditional background might place greater value on well-trodden methods of communication.
We found the reality to be that the young participants placed great store in the tangible form of the printed items. They valued something they could actually hold, see, feel and smell. This multiply dimensioned tangibility was something they could experience wherever and whenever they chose, rather than only when in contact with a screen. Just having something physical to keep, share and treasure was hugely important. In addition young people expressed their gratification about something that was a token, a signifier of their achievement and enhanced status. Of course this enhanced status works both in the way in which others see the young person and in the way in which they see and value themselves.
This effect was re-enforced by the good physical standard of the booklets themselves. The cost of short-run printing was impressive. We were not forced to order a huge bulk run to achieve economy (with concomitant waste), nor did we have to be miserly in distributing the booklets to the young people and their friends, museum and MAP staff, stakeholders and supporters.
At the same time, having the e-booklet available has given an easy flavour of the project and its purpose to outsiders such as funders and government agencies, both national and local. We feel this kind of attention-catching and information giving is much more likely to lead to interaction and positive responses and outcomes than just a paper communication in the general wasteful paper blizzard. In this way, perhaps counter-intuitively, the e-booklet has provided us with a more permanent resource than traditional paper copies for those that we wish to inspire and involve in financially supporting future projects.
Maybe, too, by putting the booklet on the internet we will benefit from some degree of good fortune as people anywhere in the world stumble on the project. One person’s happy discovery could be promulgated world-wide with astonishing rapidity.
Back in September Frederik posted a case study of Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination‘s use of bookleteer. They’ve continued using it as a creative and documentary resource, and in doing so have created a Library of Traces – a series of eBooks which enable both participants in their professional development workshops, and others, to follow the traces of their experiences and share reflections and observations.
To help CCI widen the audience for their work we’ve posted 7 eBooks on our diffusion.org.uk library and will be making others available there as they are created. All are welcome to download and share eBooks from the Library of Traces.
A report by Julie Anderson, British Museum
In January, I returned from Sudan where my co-author Salah Mohamed and I distributed the eBook we produced last autumn. Frederik Lesage has previously written about the development of our eBook, which deals with the archaeological excavations conducted in Dangeil, Sudan, as a case study for eBook usage, in this blog.
Salah and I have been excavating in Dangeil for more than 10 years. Over this period, we have lived in the community and have come to know our neighbours well. Every year many work with us in the excavations. The archaeological site is situated in the centre of the village and an increasing number of tourists, both Sudanese and foreigners, are visiting the ruins. There is also a large primary school situated along the northern edge of the site. Students cross the site daily on their way to and from classes. As a means of engaging further with the local community, school children and site visitors, we decided to create a resource which would help them to better understand the excavations, the ancient temple and its importance, and to place Dangeil in its historical context. We were also driven by a need to explain what we were doing and why, in an accessible fashion. The key was communication and the end result was the eBook.
So, what sort of reaction did the eBook receive? Simply put, its reception, both in Khartoum and in the rural farming village of Dangeil, exceeded expectations. We produced 500 English copies and 500 in Arabic, the local language. We ran out of the latter. In retrospect, we should have produced a greater number of copies in Arabic. Copies were given to the local school and arrangements were made so that every household in the village received a copy.
Following the distribution of the eBook, teenagers began coming to our door in the village to ask questions about the site / archaeology / their own Sudanese history. In the past, usually they had wanted to have photographs taken, but now instead were connecting with their history as made possible through the booklet. It was astonishing. More surprising was the reaction people had upon receiving a copy. In virtually every single case, they engaged with the eBook immediately and began to read it or look through it. This occurred regardless of location or other business being conducted. Many of our workmen looked for images of things they themselves had helped to excavate and of people they knew, though the latter was true for almost everyone seeing the eBook.
Although our eBook takes the form of a more traditional and perhaps somewhat static publication, its impact cannot be underestimated. The Dangeil villagers, and indeed university students and antiquities staff in Khartoum, viewed the publication as written for them, about them, and in their own language. The eBook has served not only as an educational tool, but has empowered the local community and created a sense of pride and proprietary ownership of the ruins and their history.
Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum
James Leach is an anthropologist at the University of Aberdeen who has conducted field-work in Papua New Guinea for approximately 17 years. I recently spoke to him by Skype to talk about a project which also involved two of his friends, Porer and Pinbin from the village of Reite, who had travelled to the UK in August 2009. Part of their visit to London included participating in the British Museum’s Melanesia Project. This project was designed to gain insight into the BM’s ‘largely unstudied’ Melanesian collections. Although I won’t get into to too much of the project’s overall aims and process (see both James’ work and the BM link for more details), part of the project involved inviting people from different areas of Melanesia to provide context about the objects in the collection by explaining how these objects are made, are used, and what their significance is. The exchange also represented an opportunity for the BM to build new relationships with the populations from where these objects originated.
Sample project: Melanesia Project
According to James, both Porer and Pinbin knew a lot about materials and the ways in which some of these objects were made which meant that the exchange could lead to some fascinating insights. Having worked with James in the past, they were also familiar with how to work with anthropologists.
As part of the exchange, James invited Giles Lane to drop by and demonstrate how to use the eBooks to record the event. Giles showed them all how to put the eBooks together and also brought a small portable Polaroid printer that could quickly and easily print digital pictures in a small format that could then be glued onto the eBook pages.
This was certainly a case of using the eBooks to capture information (see here for previous post where I introduce what I mean in by this) – in this case James described using the eBooks asa way to produce a realtime record that involved “capturing the moment of what we were doing and what we were seeing”. Representatives of the BM were also recording the exchange but using the eBooks served as a complimentary archive of what had happened. While the exchange was taking place, James would write down some of what Porer and Pinbin were saying in both English and Tok Pisin next to the images glued down in the eBooks. The addition of the eBooks to the process was partly challenging for James because it involved an additional set of tasks in an already hectic and brief exchange. Nevertheless, James felt that it proved to be a positive addition to the session because it provided a better record of the process of the exchange itself. He felt that although other methods for collecting and presenting information were better suited to the documentation of the knowledge being imparted of the objects by his two friends, the way in which the eBooks were used provided a simple, quick and accessible way of sharing what had taken place during the meeting.
Later on, the eBooks were re-scanned and subsequently reprinted into the professionally printed and bound version of the eBooks. James then distributed copies of the new books in Reite as well as at the local University in Papua New Guinea, and other regional institutions who were interested in what they had been doing. The eBooks were useful for giving people a feel for what had taken place, particularly for people who were unfamiliar with anthropology as a discipline.
Challenges, recommendations and suggestions
James used a wonderful way of describing his work as an anthropologist as being comprised of “moments”. He felt that the eBooks were used at the right moment in the process of conducting this type of research. Although he was unsure as to how this type of practice could fit in other parts of his work, he could see how this process would be helpful in situations requiring the documentation of how people “respond to images or information for themselves”.
He also suggested that as objects in themselves, the professionally bound versions of the eBooks were useful as a way to disseminate general information about the exchange:
“[…] As something to give people, they’re an extremely nice thing. People are very keen. I also took some to an anthropology conference before I went [to Papua New Guinea] and would show them to people and they’d immediately say “Oh, is that for me?” People kind of like them. They’re nice little objects.”
However, since many people of Papua New Guinea don’t have access to Internet, resources like Bookleteer or the Diffusion website proved to be significantly less of an advantage for distributing this information (they obviously can’t download a copy of the eBook).
I want to come back to the way James used the idea of “moments” to describe his work and apply it to the way in which the eBook was designed and used. We could say that each project I have described to date was composed of a series of moments and that nested within these projects was the eBook component which in itself was composed of its own series of moments. In reference to my previous post on the distinction between capturing and publishing, the trajectory of how eBooks were designed and used in some of these projects was composed of both capturing and publishing moments. For example, the way in which the eBook was used on the Melanesia Project included both a capturing moment as part of the exchange with the British Museum and a publishing moment in which Giles and James printed-out scanned copies of the original eBooks and made them available online or passed hardcopies out to people who were interested in learning more about the project (or, in some cases, who just wanted to get their hands on a free neat little object).
These series of moments were significant because they each involved different challenges and successes. In James’ case, it seemed both the capturing and publishing moments proved valuable – in the case of the former as a way to capture “the moment of what we were doing and what we were seeing” during the exchange, in the case of the latter as a way to distribute printed copies of the eBooks. But both capturing and publishing in this particular case also faced challenges that suggested there were some additional key moments that made-up an eBook’s trajectory as part of a project. Here are two moments that I want to add to describe an eBook’s trajectory:
Appropriation: James had only a cursory knowledge of how the eBooks worked before the exchange took place. In other cases, (for example see Ruth Sapsed’s work with Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination) we saw how people had attended “Pitch-up and Publish” events as a way to test the eBooks and decide whether or not they could fit into the way these people executed their projects. For the Melanesia Project, James took the risk of adding the eBooks as an extra element to the project in part because he trusted Giles’ work and his abilities to adapt the eBooks to these particular circumstances. In this case, therefore, moments of appropriation and capturing took place at the same time. I will therefore use appropriation to describe how people decide the way in which eBooks relate to their pre-existing practices for capturing and publishing information.
Design and printing: It may seem that “design and printing” and “publishing” should be categorised as part of the same moment. The reason for making the distinction is that I want to highlight how the physical process of composing the eBook’s pages and physically making the eBook, whether it be printing it out or cutting and folding its pages into a notebook, are distinct from the publishing category I defined earlier. Both capturing and publishing necessarily involve designing and printing an eBook. But the way in which they are designed and printed and the way in which such a design will be evaluated as part of the project will likely be very different.
Of course, in making-up these four distinct analytical categories, I may be over-emphasising distinctions between moments that are in fact all bundled-up and confused in time and space. But the reason for making these distinctions is so that I can begin to develop a typology of how eBooks are part of all of these very different kinds of projects.
Next time, I’ll examine the Diffusion website in greater detail.
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
In our interview, Niharika told me that she first used the eBooks on part of the Perception Peterborough project. She and Alice used the eBooks to document a cab ride around Peterborough using illustrations as a way to explore the different kinds of communities and systems that were embedded in the city. For Niharika, this early way of using the eBooks functioned more as a support for personal reflection. Although she would show the results to others, the eBooks she created felt more personal:
“It is shareable, but that is not the intent in which I created it. It was more like a personal log.”
Although she continues to be interested in this kind of approach, she has also used the eBooks as part of a more extensive project which I want to examine in greater detail:
Sample project: Articulating Futures
This week’s eBook case study involves the work of researcher and community education worker Gillian Cowell. Gillian first encountered the eBooks online while doing research for her masters degree. She was interested in finding online tools help her to “capture data in a more interesting way for local people.” She was also hoping to turn the results of her research into something more unique than a regular research report. Although she had initially been attracted to the StoryCubes on the Proboscis website, she eventually received a version of the eBook after ordering a few things from Proboscis.
Sample project: Greenhill Digital Storytelling Guide
Last week, I posted the first case study as part of my research on how Proboscis’ design for eBooks is being used. For me, CCI was a great example of how the eBooks are appropriated and used as part of a cultural organisation’s activities. Although Trail of Imagination and Curiosity was only one example of the kind of projects CCI is engaged in, these kinds of workshops represented a key aspect of the work that CCI did and it seemed that the eBooks were becoming a key tool in the CCI toolbox for collecting and disseminating information.
The next case I want to present is considerably different in that the eBooks were not designed and used by members of an organisation, but by an independent curator and author: Michelle Kasprzak.