Four months ago I spoke at the National Museum Publishing Seminar in Chicago about Digitizing Your Publishing Practice. (Okay, now that I’ve really piqued your interest … ) Even though the Met was furiously working at the time on a large-scale project to digitize a huge amount of printed material, I chose to focus instead on how digital technologies and workflows have affected a print operation like mine, and what I thought that digital media departments had to gain from a print mindset and vice versa.
Last week, the Met launched Met Publications, an effort to put online every book published by the Met since 1964, the beginning of our modern publishing program. Hits have so far numbered in the tens of thousands, and I hope you’ll check it out if you haven’t already. Without taking you on a tour of the site, I’d like to address this accomplishment in terms of my talk in Chicago; namely, how this project came to fruition.
In retrospect, the greatest change in the project from the time I was first brought on the team, nearly a year ago, was in its simplest aspect–last year, we were charged with bringing the 50 most requested and important backlist titles online and searchable in some capacity, with a future goal of increasing that to about 700, all the books going back to 1964. (Hey, what’s a factor of 13 between friends and colleagues?) And after some back-at-our-desks hyperventilating, we got down to work and made it happen, because we all could see that the mission of the team and the institution, bringing as wide a range of art and scholarship to as wide a range of audience, dictated the shift to the larger number right off the bat.
So we maintained our ambitions for each title. The team quickly added man[intern]power and, in the Digital Media department, got to work tagging these books to prepare links to our collection. That’s another aspect that I’m really proud of, the ways that each title in Met Publications is heavily connected to existing digital content in the Met’s website, collections database, and more. In the best tradition of digital-trumping-books, each title on Met Publications is now a node on a network, a portal to the Met’s entire set of digital offerings.
Especially important to the success of the project as a project is how each of the central team members had a particular skill set and personal stake in Met Publications. Speaking for myself, as the person in our print department who’s responsible for the collection and archiving of the digital files for our finished books, I wanted a permanent archive of our pre-desktop-era publications. My teammates surely rolled their eyes as I brought up that need at meeting after meeting, but that was no different than the blank looks I’m sure I gave back when they discussed aspects like publicity, the ins and outs of system architecture, and so on. Each of us on the team knew ourselves, what we wanted, and what we were good at, and brought it to the group. In addition, the central team was a mix of print and digital staff, and while we all work together at the Met, our departmental missions and mandates impacted the project as well. We left our silos, at least for a little while.
Finally, most of all, in a world where brand identity is crucial, Met Publications represents the Met’s brand: academic, not just a pretty face with wow factor. Our brand is also signified by content, and lots of it. And our respect for scholarship meant that we took rights issues very seriously, studying each publication for just how transferable to digital it was.
It’s very early, in the post-launch timeframe, and we’ve already had our first curators asking for changes (a new cover image, a mistake with a link, a book to add). We consider that to be a good sign–perfection would have been nice but not realistic, and people are reading the site and checking out their areas of interest. The effort to launch Met Publications has also encouraged us to look at the entire way that content flows through the institution, both within management systems and in how it reaches the public. I’m confident the same willpower that got the project online will help us improve the flexibility and dynamism of the content we create.
If only I could stop sitting around, waiting for the inevitable reprint. Some print habits die hard.