Scholars in the Digital Age

Susan Hockey, Chair
Arts Technologies for Learning Centre
University of Alberta
5-21D Humanities Centre
Edmonton, AB T6G 2E6

David R. Chesnutt
Division of Libraries and Information Services
University of South Carolina
Model Editions Partnership
Computer Services, Rm 312
Columbia, SC 29205

Charles B. Lowry
University Libraries
University of Maryland
4121 McKeldin Library
College Park, MD 20723-7011

Christine Martire
Vice President for Publishing

Publication is the life-blood of scholarship. Academic careers are made or broken on the basis of publication. The traditional model in the American universities goes something like this. Scholarly articles are helpful, but the analytical monograph is the key that leads first to promotion and tenure from assistant professor to associate professor. And then a second or third book leads to the rank of full professor. This tradition of academic advancement through publications has served American universities for most of this century, and has in fact hardened in the last two decades as universities found an over-supply of newly-minted Ph.D.s in humanities fields like history and literature.

Now, suddenly, the World Wide Web has introduced new forms of publication--electronic journals, on-line book reviews, editions or archives of primary source materials, and even a few monographs--to the degree that the Web acts like a wild card which has been inadvertently shuffled into the deck. Neither our colleagues in the humanities nor our university administrators quite know what to make of all these new forms of publication. In spite of the fact that many such projects are funded by entities like the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Department of Education, or similar government sources -- and in spite of the fact that funding is based on rigorous peer review -- electronic publications are seldom equated with print publications.

University presses and other scholarly publishers have heretofore played a key role in the publication of almost every kind of scholarly work in printed form. But the role they will play in the digital age seems very unclear today. Scholarly publishers (university and commercial presses) probably account for most of the books and journals on the shelves of our research libraries. And scholarly publishing is big business--amounting to billions of dollars each year. Given the complexity and the scope of the industry, rapid change toward electronic publication seems unlikely.

The Johns Hopkins University Press, a fairly large university press, has begun to face the challenges of the changing nature of publications. It publishes about 250 books and almost 60 journals. And, in Project Muse, Hopkins has one of the most successful electronic journals projects in the United States. Project Muse eschews the "quick and dirty" PDF solution and provides subscribers with full-text versions of 43 journals which the press regularly publishes. Although Project Muse obviously draws support from the general staffs which support marketing, subscriptions, accounting, an other functions within the press, only three staff members handle the conversion of the print editions into electronic editions. Two points are worth noting. First, the press has a well-organized and expert staff dedicated to print publications. Second, the press's major venture into electronic publishing is essentially not much more than a replication of the print versions of the journals.

Colin Day--the director of the University of Michigan Press-remarked several years ago that electronic books and journals were going to look much like their printed predecessors. He compared them to the early automobiles which resembled wagons and carriages. In view of what we see on the Web today, Day's prediction seems to be coming true. It may in fact take many years, perhaps several decades, to evolve a new system of academic publication which provides the recognition scholars need for advancement and provides them with an environment which allows them to organize and deliver the fruits of their scholarship in new and creative ways. Although a few scholars are, and will continue to be, contributors to this evolutionary process, most scholars will have to wait for publishers to develop new social and business models which can support creative publications which librarians will welcome into the digital libraries of tomorrow.

As to the evolutionary process itself, a number of seedlings are beginning to dot the landscape--giving hope that the evolution will not take quite so long. Three signs are worth pointing to: the current crop of scholarly projects; the development of new graduate programs; and the emerging infrastructure in libraries. Those of you engaged in building content for the Web today are, in fact, pioneers. And as C.M. Sperberg-McQueen is fond of saying, "The pioneers are often the ones you find by the side of the road with arrows in their backs." Be that as it may, you are the risk-takers and you are developing the intellectual models which will influence your colleagues' perceptions of the possible. They will look at your work; they will assimilate your ideas; and they will turn to you for help and guidance. Given the strained resources which many of you work with, this will be a drain on your resources and a burden of some magnitude. But of course, you are not alone. Graduate studies in humanities computing are beginning to gain recognition at universities like Oxford, Kings College, Alberta and others. In addition technology is becoming an increasingly important element in traditional courses where research is being expanded to include Internet resources.

Libraries will be another major source of faculty development. One of the more interesting developments today is the emergence of a partnership between humanities computing and library and information science. The common ground joining the two communities is SGML. Librarians are strong supporters of standards and many have adopted the Encoding Archival Description DTD which was developed to provide SGML encoding for finding aids and other access tools in the library and archival communities. While large e-text projects at the Library of Congress and libraries like Michigan and Virginia were early adopters of the Text Encoding Initiative DTD, even more encouraging is the fact that small libraries like those at Vermont and William and Mary are moving toward the same standard--though in those cases, they are using an extension of the TEI DTD developed for historical documents by the Model Editions Partnership. Regardless of the DTDs, the important point is that as libraries build Web resources based on the SGML standard, they will contribute to the development of an SGML infrastructure on their campuses. This in turn will provide faculty members with knowledgeable people who can help them better understand the digital environment for scholarly publishing.