Many thanks to our publishing 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 editorial and production process that were new to us. (This overview is cross-posted on the Association of American University Presses Digital Digest blog.)
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.
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. Continue reading ‘Producing the “Freedom’s Teacher” Enhanced E-Book’