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Editor's Gloss: Inscriptions from the Past Inform the Future
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In this issue of JEP — which we consider to be more than the equivalent of a reputable print journal — our authors are helping us to see ourselves as others see us.
Outside the National Archives building in Washington, D.C. there are four statues, with an inscription under each:
- What is past is prologue
- Study the past
- The heritage of the past is the seed that springs forth the harvest of the future
- Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty
I often think of one or another of those inscriptions at times never envisioned by John Russell Pope, the architect who designed the building in 1934. I bite my tongue to avoid saying "what is past is prologue" when a friend confides a romance with someone very like the person who caused much unhappiness last time. "Study the past" comes to mind every time I walk into the public library or the local bookstore (although I am as likely to walk out with a genteel British mystery as with a historical tome). My garden is evidence of the heritage of the past. It is comprised mainly of "volunteer" plants: tomatoes and corn that dropped seeds in previous years; horseradish, irises, lambs' ears, mint, strawberries, raspberries, and day lilies that expand annually. And I think of the need for vigilance every time I enter a voting booth.
But I particularly like the first, and that's why I named this issue for it. All the authors in this issue use the short history of electronic publishing to help us envision — and create — our future. We are fortunate that in these waning days of 1999, when pontificating seems to be a competitive sport, JEP authors remain thoughtful, reflective, and unwilling to make predictions that will embarrass everyone in years to come. They study the past and offer good suggestions that may ensure a rich harvest of the future.
Interestingly, all our authors write from direct experience.
Steven Sowards put his Balkan Lectures online as an experiment in electronic publishing, and discovered that he had done many things right to position himself as an easily available expert when people needed the information. Novas, Niches, and Icebergs: Practical Lessons for Small-Scale Web Publishers is the story of what happened when he became a world-recognized authority — and his recommendations for how others can position themselves even better.
William Y. Arms is editor-in-chief of D-Lib Magazine, and chairman of the Publications Board of the Association for Computing Machinery. He profiles the first and looks at one of the products of the second in Preservation of Scientific Serials: Three Current Examples. The issue of archiving is an important one to him not only in these positions, but in his role as computer czar at Dartmouth College and Carnegie-Mellon University, where he worked closely with the libraries to help them negotiate the mine fields of electronic information.
Scott Bennett is a prolific scholarly writer and a champion of library publishing, so his examination of Authors' Rights describes the issues that he is grappling with. This article magnifies one part of the problem of scholarly publishing (which he believes is getting worse) by looking at the history of authors' rights and the path those rights have followed as technology has changed.
John Labovitz brings us another personal look at the history of publishing on the Internet in Five Years and Counting, a charming tale of the early days of electronic publishing and the development of his e-zine list.
Finally, in Looking Good, Contributing Editor Thom Lieb shares some of the tools he has learned to apply to creating Web sites that work across browsers. It's a problem that few publishers faced in the paper age, but its seeds are in the tendency toward personalization.
Potpourri is your opportunity to be eternally vigilant in answering the question, How are we doing?
In this case, answering that question is your price of a good read. What subjects should we include that we don't now cover? What should we be featuring that we don't currently feature? Whose work should we be soliciting (or reprinting)? Are any of our articles off subject? Are we nagging you too much to do the work that we should be doing?
Visit Potpourri and add your thoughts. We value your opinions. (Note that I did not ask for your "personal" thoughts or solicit your "personal" opinions. Clear writing forces me to admit that there are no other kind of either.)
And to all, a Happy New Year. May year 2000 not be Y2K.
— Judith Axler Turner
Judith Axler Turner may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.