By Sylvia K. Miller
Many thanks to our AAUP colleagues who sent positive comments and thoughtful questions in response to our announcement of the enhanced e-book version of Freedom’s Teacher: The Life of Septima Clark by Katherine Mellen Charron. In this blog post, I’d like to review briefly some of the aspects of the enhanced e-book production process that were new to us.
Author’s voice, multiplied. At our invitation, the author provided extended captions for 19 of the enhancements, or 20% of the total. The author’s voice now appears in the book in three layers: (1) in the audio, in the role of interviewer; (2) in the finished biographical narrative; (3) in the extended captions, which might be said to mediate between the first two. She is slightly embarrassed when she hears her own voice in the audio; nevertheless, she is interested in the ways in which the enhanced e-book reveals the historian’s research process to readers, especially students of history. One enhancement is a map, based on her notes from reviewing the 1910 census, on which she has marked the race of Clark’s neighbors in Charleston. The map connects the raw census data with the finished narrative, in which the author states that Clark’s was a mixed-race neighborhood. We toyed with a possible headline, “Historian at Work,” which we did not include but which might describe all of the enhancements.
Digitization. Ideally the author’s materials would become a digital archive at a collaborating institution during production of the book. However, in this demonstration project, the author had not yet decided where to donate her research materials, including 13 taped interviews. Making do with the situation, we borrowed her stack of cassette tapes and digitized them in the media lab at UNC’s undergraduate library. This took about 20 hours of staff time, spread over a couple of weeks, that we were able to justify under the umbrella of the Publishing the Long Civil Rights Movement project.
Publisher-archive partnership. Septima Clark’s papers are housed at the Avery Center for African American Research and Culture at the College of Charleston. Recognizing the potential of the enhanced e-book to bring the Center’s collections to the attention of a wider audience, the archivists granted permission for use of the materials that the author had identified and, with the support of the college’s Lowcountry Digital Library, digitized them. The Center’s archivists were enthusiastic partners and even rediscovered in their holdings an interview with Clark that the author had not previously heard. The collaboration is formally acknowledged on the title page of the enhanced e-book, and links to the Center’s website are included in the captions.
Technology. The technology that we used was fairly simple; new standards from Barnes & Noble and Amazon allowed us to avoid having to use or write special software. Starting with an Epub file, we inserted outbound links in the form of DOIs and URLs. We inserted new content in an appendix and created internal navigation via HTML links inserted by hand; the audio content was in MP3 form. (See the contact information below if you would like more detail.)
Audio excerpts. Cutting the excerpts from the long interviews took only a few hours. However, choosing and marking the excerpts to be cut took another several hours. We did it the old-fashioned way, by reviewing transcripts together with the author, who bracketed chosen passages with a pencil. Once all the MP3 audio files were included in the Epub file, some work had to be done to even out the sound volume. The very best interview with Clark is, ironically, the one with the most ambient noise; perhaps more experienced sound engineers could have removed some of it.
Ellipsis. In a couple of cases, the transcripts of interview excerpts included ellipsis points where the author had asked that we skip a digression in the conversation. However, at first the digitally spliced-together audio did not indicate an ellipsis; this is a minor point, but it seemed to cross a line of scholarly integrity. Playing around with “Garage Band,” a program that comes automatically loaded into a Mac laptop, we devised a swift clock-ticking sound to indicate the ellipsis. We hope that people will know instinctively what it is when they hear it.
Permissions database. Once you have more than a dozen or so items needing permission, it’s useful to switch from a spreadsheet to a database. We set up a FileMaker database so that we could easily filter the growing list of items for data such as format, source, permission cleared/not cleared, location in the book (we were trying to balance enhancements across the book), and conveniently write captions and credit lines while referring to the descriptive and rights information on the same screen. We were able to export reports for the author in Word (she did not want a spreadsheet) and, later on, export a captions manuscript for editing.
Navigation and usability testing. I hardly need to point out that traditional navigational tools in print books such as tables of contents, running heads, numbered notes, and indexes have not needed usability testing in principle for a century or more. However, our decision to group the enhancements in an appendix, list them in the front matter, and link to both of these added front and backmatter elements from the text was a new use of old tools, and we wanted to make sure that what we had done was clear. Testing a prototype, the author’s graduate students gave us more than a dozen suggestions for changes, mostly links that would ease navigation among the new parts of the book.
Outbound links. I have written about what I call a portal book, an e-book transformed by outbound links into an interface to a body of digital information. However, only 18, or 19%, of the enhancements in Freedom’s Teacher are accompanied by links to an online collection in which the item can be viewed in the context of other like items. Although most of the remaining 77 enhancements carry links to the archive’s website, the archival items themselves are not yet viewable online. We gave the full URLs as well as other identifying information about the online archives, so that if the links cease functioning, the reader can perform a Google search and find the archives anyway. This is explained in a “Publisher’s Note” in the front matter. The DOIs in the bibliography are the only outbound links guaranteed to be permanent, although of course there are very few because publishers are just beginning to register their books with CrossRef. We hope that the inclusion of outbound links inspires archives to make more collections available online and book publishers to join CrossRef. Maybe even archives will begin to use DOIs for archival items! (This idea has been discussed but not enacted anywhere yet, as far as I am aware.)
Digital divide. Despite her enthusiasm about the enhanced e-book project, the author does not own an iPad. UNC Press owns one shared iPad, on which we loaded our corrected file for the author. We lent this to her for a week. She found, as we had in house, that checking the enhanced e-book demands time and patience, in order to check 60 audio examples (totaling 3 hours and 18 minutes of audio) for accuracy, along with the transcripts. With the original print page numbers omitted in the digital book, it was a puzzle deciding how the author would notate corrections; after asking her to refer to the digital page locations—and to refrain from changing the type-size display, or the book would reflow and the page locations would all change, too—we realized it would have been better to have asked her to use the last eight words of the previous paragraph as a marker, because a phrase is easy to search.
Schedule and timing. We produced this retrospective enhanced e-book in an intensive two months. Of course it would be helpful to have more time; the best scenario, we believe, would be to plan the enhanced version along with the traditional version, from the start.
Video demonstration. In order to explain the features of the enhanced e-book to readers who have not yet purchased it for a Nook , iPhone, or iPad, it was important to demonstrate it in a short YouTube video. We asked our colleague Seth Kotch of the Southern Oral History Program to narrate and use oral-history equipment for digital video. He rigged up a stand for the iPad with two chairs and managed to film it without an opaque glare on the glass. He followed our storyboard but altered the words in minor ways that felt more natural. Subsequently the audio and video were subjected to a number of adjustments as we worked for a smooth flow of pictures and sound. As only the second video that we have ever produced, it may have an amateur flavor which we hope is appealing.
Guidelines for authors. Based on our experience with this project, we have drafted some guidelines for authors about selecting and preparing multimedia files for an enhanced e-book and incorporating callouts in the manuscript. We are delighted that one of the UNC Press acquisitions editors requested this document for an author who is currently writing her book.
Freedom’s Teacher is not UNC Press’s first enhanced e-book. Our first was also one of Amazon’s first, Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues, originally a hardcover trade book that included discs tucked into envelopes in the back cover. The Publishing the Long Civil Rights Movement project team made a video demonstration for it that was key to our success in bringing the author of Freedom’s Teacher and the archivists at the Avery Research Center on board to create the Freedom’s Teacher enhanced e-book.
We hope that the foregoing notes are of general interest, and we welcome specifically technological questions on the AAUP production listserv; sent directly to Tom Elrod, Digital Production Specialist, UNC Press (firstname.lastname@example.org); or sent to me, Sylvia K. Miller, Director, Publishing the Long Civil Rights Movement (email@example.com).