Lately I’ve been spending a great deal of time on making the digital versions, the archives, of the out-of-print NewLights books. I’ve been doing a small amount of scanning, file correcting (color balance and straightening), and assembly of the PDFs that are uploaded to the Issuu site every day, trying to chip away at the large project that is the archive. It feels good to be doing it, to finally be able to put those books back in circulation. But of course nothing is simple, and the process is not as straightforward as I initially thought (hoped) it would be. The conversion of Art Into Life, the first NewLights altered book, has highlighted many of the issues that come with this project.
First of all: why archive in the first place? The answer seems obvious—so that more people can read the books, and so that there is some accessible record of the work that the press has done. But I resisted the idea of producing digital versions for a long time, for two reasons: I had yet to find a technical system that I thought worked really well, and, more importantly, I was worried that the translations of the books into digital form would compromise their “integrity,” by breaking apart the (sometimes) carefully considered relationship between form, content, processes of production, and processes of reception.
I like the way that the Issuu reader works. It’s not perfect, that’s for sure—it can be clunky at times, it’s based on Flash which makes it problematic with Apple devices that don’t support it (How will the whims/wars of tech companies determine the future of our cultural memory? I guess we’ll have to wait & see, but, Apple, Google, et al, please remember that we have to remember.), and the way that the books are indexed on search engines (or not indexed in many cases) is less than ideal. [These problems were all brought to my attention by this blog post by Devan Goldstein.] I also dislike the “effects” to simulate three-dimensionality that are automatically applied to the files. But there are some distinct advantages to the Issuu reader: it’s relatively inexpensive (free if you’re okay with ads), and it’s very shareable—the books can be linked to, posted like YouTube videos on blogs and Facebook, emailed, downloaded and printed out. When I discovered Issuu via the Ugly Duckling Presse website I got really excited because at some point I had made the decision that archiving the books was a good idea.
Why the change? Perhaps because I work in a library now (The Press at Colorado College is part of the (fantastic) library at CC), and my colleagues are a bunch of militant radicals when it comes to access to information. Or maybe the digital world is gradually eroding my reticence/resistance to its heady simulacra. Or maybe I desperately want some more mileage out of the first 12 years of NewLights. But more on all that tomorrow….