London Day 10: Oxford

Bodleian Library, Oxford
Bodleian Library, Oxford

Today was an early day, as we had to get up on time to catch the 6:40am bus from London to Oxford for a tour of the Bodleian Library and a visit to the Oxford University Press. I’m glad I got the nap on the bus and the extra cup of coffee I needed to be awake for this tour. Our library tour guide, Bill Clennell, took us around the Old Bodleian as well as the Radcliffe Camera, telling us about the history of the library, including its founding, early classification schemes, and current role as a working university library, supporting researchers and physical as well as digital collections. This was quite unlike the National Art Library in that a number of the Bodleian’s historical collections have been digitized and made available online, and the library continues to work to digitize even more.

After a college tour and lunch, it was time for a visit to Oxford University Press, where we learned about a number of their digital initiatives, including University Press Scholarship Online (which offers users 292 options for social sharing of digital content!) and the Oxford English Dictionary, now being updated and published entirely as an online resource, with new words being added every quarter, including this quarter’s addition of the word “twerk.” Digital technology also contributes to the dictionary in another way, as the increased digitization of older texts makes word origins and usage much easier to discover.

The first two editions of the OED were print editions. During the brief tour of the Press’s small museum–in which I also got to have a try at a printing press–I asked if what’s online now could be called the third edition, and was told the answer is both yes and no. The “third edition” will technically be completed when the work of updating the content of the second is finished, probably some time around 2030. At that time, there has been talk of offering a very limited print run, for those people and institutions that have enough money and shelf space to spend on a very large multi-volume set that will be obsolete as soon as they receive it. But from another point of view, the OED as it exists now is a constantly-updated evolving online resource to which the word “edition” might not be able to be properly applied.

Sobering thought from the same tour: At some point, our descendants may tour an OUP museum of the future and wonder aloud how we ever used something so old-fashioned as the Internet. Technology, much like language, never stops evolving and changing. And being used in unexpected ways.

Following the planned activities, a group of us toured Blackwell’s Bookshop, then stopped for a drink at the Eagle and Child, famous for being the pub where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien used to spend a good deal of time. I was still full from our earlier meal, so I departed before dinner time and caught the next bus back to London.

Things to re-watch and re-read (in my copious amounts of free time or after getting this degree): Harry Potter (both books and movies), as well as Connie Willis’ Oxford Time Travel series, now that I’ve seen some of the featured places. Also, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is a fantasy based on the London Underground, for the same reason.

London Day 10: Oxford

London Day 5: Digital Monographs

A display of Harry Potter books at Bloomsbury Publishing
A display of Harry Potter and other books published by Bloomsbury.

Today was devoted to exploring how digital technology is transforming the world of book publishing, and potentially the book itself. Much of what we see currently in eBooks is an electronic version of the print text, but Anthony Watkinson gave some examples of “Book 3.0,” or texts that are starting include features enabled by the web, such as embedded multimedia content. Online platforms may even change how strictly text-based monographs are written, as interest in discovering and accessing content by chapter may not only require providing rich metadata at the chapter level, but also authors and publishers to make sure each chapter of a scholarly book can be read as a standalone unit.

Next, Ruth Jones from the distributor Ingram discussed how digital technologies are transforming book distribution, for example, allowing dynamic, location-based print-on-demand services, new subscription models, and the ability to create “new” monographs from combining multiple sources. (Copyright clearance, as ever, remains a concern here.)

After this, we headed to Bloomsbury Publishing, best known for publishing the Harry Potter series, to talk to some of their staff about their various digital initiatives, including Drama Online and the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. This last intrigued me, as I’ve been reading a lot about the use of social media in academia as a potential substitute for (at least some part of) traditional publishing. This is not that. Rather, it’s an attempt to use social media, as well as online freemium content and in-person learning events and conferences, to build and energize a community around a still-traditionally published reference resource. This is much like the model behind that we learned about earlier, with additional resources devoted to building an online community for users. Bloomsbury also uses a sort of gamification, a rewards points system to further encourage purchases and the creation of user-generated content. Users gain a certain number of points for various activities, for example, making a comment on a blog. Points can eventually be traded in for free books or discounts on services.

I’m not sure whether any of this could translate into the world of scholarly publishing, particularly given several recent discussions about how academic motivations for creating content are so strongly tied to, and tend to be limited to, those activities that support career advancement, but there are ideas here worth pondering.

The day ended early, so I spent the rest of it exploring more of the British Museum. I got through the Egyptian sculpture gallery, as well as a bit of Assyrian and Greek sculpture, before closing time. Alas, at this pace, I do not think I will make it through all I want to see before we leave.

London Day 5: Digital Monographs