Starting Points with the Manifold Digital Projects Editor

As Jason indicated in this space earlier, Manifold is not simply an endeavor to create a better publishing platform; it is an answer to the challenge of rethinking and reframing the concept of scholarly publishing. In broad strokes, scholarly publishing is very much still a print-centric enterprise. Despite the vast libraries of electronic publications available, the systems, mindsets, and expectations of the greater university press culture—including those of authors and the academy—are engineered specifically for print.

In terms of production, while many presses have augmented their procedures over the past two decades, those alterations tend to simply mirror print methods instead of refashioning them to account for digital materials and platforms. For other presses, third-party service providers, or packagers, handle the creation of electronic editions in parallel with print or as an afterthought to it. That is to say, even when print isn’t to be the only medium of publication, it still receives primacy over all other editions. When a question of formatting comes up, it’s a question to be resolved for print first. When internal elements are being scrutinized, they are done through a lens that foremost anticipates a static physical object.

We’ve reached a moment, however, when we need to step back from print and see it in the proper context among the myriad means of expression scholars now have at their disposal. And it’s time to grapple with the fact that scholarly publishing involves more than books, more than journals, more than print. It’s not tied to paper; it’s not a function of the software it passes through. Instead, it’s the expression of content in the most meaningful and impactful ways possible. In that context, university presses must become adaptive and able to treat materials that aren’t always easily categorized or codified just as well as they do traditional vehicles like a journal or monograph.

That is no small thing. The print paradigm has been refined and honed for generations. It is deeply ingrained, predicating the workings of every department within a press. Reengineering it is not something that will happen overnight. Nor should it. But nor should we let the print mold stand as a boulder, cordoning off those modes of expression that weren’t possible a few years ago or those just over the horizon.

Exploring those opportunities is the commitment of the Manifold team. We bring together the perspectives of the university press, the scholar, and the technologist to hone in on new ways presses can present scholarship, realistically adapt existing procedures to account for a broad spectrum of publishing output, and technically deliver those varied means of expression to the readership in ways they are expecting as well as in ways they are not.

As the Manifold digital projects editor, I am working closely with the platform developers at Cast Iron Coding, our partners at the GC Digital Scholarship Lab, authors, and press staff across departments here at Minnesota to help craft, test, and document replicable processes that will allow presses to shift from a publishing plan with a very specific terminus to one that celebrates projects as a spectrum of scholarly publication. In the weeks and months ahead, I’ll be returning here to talk more about the implications of that and the challenges we’re working through as we move from platform wireframes into more robust test cases.

Stay tuned. The fun is just starting!

—Terence Smyre, Manifold Digital Projects Editor

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