Ithaka Sustainable Scholarship 2011

The annual Ithaka Sustaining Scholarship conference gathered 175 academic professionals together in New York in September. As in the past, the first day focused on Ithaka initiatives such as the JSTOR e-books program and the recently released Case Studies in Sustainability, while the second day brought together speakers on a general theme of interest to the community. This year's focus was on the user of scholarly content.

Excellent coverage of the event, including key takeaways, was provided by Jennifer Howard of The Chronicle of Higher Education and Library Journal's David Rapp. Video and presentation files from many of the sessions is available online as well.

Scholarly publishers will find much meat in those presentations. Ellen Dunlop discussed the careful balancing the American Antiquarian Society does between providing access to their unique collections of materials and supporting the work that makes that access possible and keeps those materials alive. Susan Gibbons's report on ethnographic studies of faculty and student users of the University of Rochester Libraries provided empirical evidence for anecdotal impressions of user behaviors—but, more than that, helped shape solutions to underuse of key resources and research tools.

Any reader with even the slightest inclination towards enthusiastic nerdiness should avoid the presentations by Ben Vershbow of NYPL Labs and Chris Lintott of Zooniverse. Getting involved with addictive crowdsourcing projects such as the NYPL's vintage menus collection or Zooniverse's climate history tracking seems likely to decrease productivity on one's less crowd-reliant projects.

One presentation was as interesting for what it demonstrated about the eternal truths of publishing as for the very new kind of book at its center. Katie Edmonds, creative producer for Cognito Comics, talked about an experiment with producing a interactive graphic nonfiction title designed for the iPad. The book, Operation Ajax, is the story of the 1953 CIA-backed coup in Iran (and, coincidentally, just launched on November 16 and is free for a short time). Any publisher thinking about developing content as apps can certainly learn a lot about the need for understanding visual literacy and when to say no to the newest bells and whistles from the Cognito experience.

Edmonds's presentation might well have been titled "Operation *$#!*", however. She revealed what production departments everywhere know—that workflow is the vital infrastructure of any publication program, no matter how new the technology or the multi-media. When a workflow is not in place for new formats, publishing can become a frustrating exercise in improvisation. It was pointed out in the Q&A that publishers have had hundreds of years to work out this process for traditional print books. The speed at which new workflow solutions are being called for may well bring a wider appreciation for the long history of wisdom, sweat, and (possibly) *&@#!* that has been invested in developing usable, one might even say sustainable, publishing workflows.

Brenna McLaughlin
Electronic & Strategic Initiatives Director, AAUP