Paper: Bringing Books Online

A history of book digitization and e-publishing initiatives in academia and museums, some thoughts on post-publication evaluation, and a look at current efforts

April 20, 2017 | Museums and the Web | Cleveland

I was to give a talk at MW entitled, “The Next Generation of Online Publishing: Building on What We’ve Learned Together”, but pneumonia kept me from it. The associated paper I wrote for it, however, remains.


In 2009, the Getty Foundation launched the Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI) to convene and fund a cohort of eight participating museums exploring the possibility of publishing scholarly catalogs online. Six years later it was an undeniable success—all eight museums had produced online catalogues, and all eight were planning to publish more. The question for the museums, and for many others in the field watching the initiative’s progress, was no longer whether museums should publish scholarly catalogues online, but how best to do so. As reported by OSCI participants directly, and as seen in a number of subsequent user studies, there were three particular challenges many of the first catalogues faced: discoverability, longevity, and objectness. In other words, how the books are found, how they are maintained, and how readers understand their boundaries and status as formal publications. These challenges give us a roadmap to building the next generation of online publications, particularly by focusing on metadata best practices, multiple-format and static-site publishing, plain-text source material, transparent version control, and thoughtful UI. This paper delves into the lessons the community of museum digital publishers has learned so far, and begins to chart a course for the future.

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