Prior to my taking the editorial helm at the Journal of Electronic Publishing, JEP staff had some friendly chatter with the organizers of Books in Browsers about possible publication of the conference proceedings, hoping for a happy marriage of interests, needs and capabilities. As happens, life and other priorities got in the way and that conversation never came to conclusion or fruition. When I agreed, several months ago, to become the new editor, I was in one of those privileged moments of possibility when I could sit back and survey potential directions and scheme about trajectories for the months and years to come. As I pondered the future, I looked over the remaining traces of the BiB conversation. My first reaction? “Oooh, I hear Bib is Cool and Smart. Let’s do that!” I then renewed the conversation and used my new broom energy and the conference organizers’ good will to reach an agreement about publishing the 2013 proceedings as a special issue of JEP. Just how special, you will hear anon.

Pursuant to our intent to publish, I found myself at Books in Browsers in October of 2013, perched in the pews (yes, pews, quite literally) with my notepad, stack of business cards and a file of spare authors’ agreements to be signed.  Very quickly, my suspicions were confirmed. Books in Browsers is Cool! Bathed in the golden San Francisco light of the former church that now houses the Internet Archive, surrounded by both the low hum of the Archive’s servers and the wonderful Bluegrass music that filled all gaps in the proceedings, I was treated to some of the most progressive and adventurous thinking about publishing that I had heard in my years as both publishing practitioner and scholarly observer.  Listening to the presentations and, over rather tasty lunches served in the warm sunshine on the Archive’s steps (see BiB is cool, above), in conversations that flew fast and furious (as well as in the conference shuttle from the hotel that I enjoyed calling, to myself, the book mobile), I also quickly determined Books in Browsers is Smart!

Although I’ve engaged in many smart conversations with wise and experienced publishing professionals over the years, this was a special kind of smart. I confess to a long-ago past as literary scholar, coming of age and earning my doctorate in the midst of the ascent of high critical theory. In that life and time, if one was not self-conscious about one’s theoretical underpinnings one was not a serious professional. As I moved on and immersed myself first in librarianship and then in publishing, I often found myself craving critical perspectives and introspection about the theoretical underpinnings of these practices. “Where,” I would ask myself, “is the theory?”

After a good twenty years of asking this, imagine how delighted I was to find myself in a whole big building of people thinking precisely about these things. Here, at last, was the theory. Wedded to practice. As you view the video publications and read the essays in this special issue of The Journal of electronic Publishing, you too will benefit from the extraordinary articulation of publishing theory that is the backbone of the Books in Browsers conference. What I find most compelling is that the theory is so tightly wedded to practice.  Speaker after speaker shares with us the whys and hows of publishing and some extraordinary publication outcomes.

The presentations are incredibly diverse, but there are also common threads, preoccupations and concerns that arose over the course of the conference.  Peter Brantley, one of the driving organizational forces behind BiB, summarizes many of these succinctly and with grace in his blog post, “Story as code: Books in Browsers IV”. I direct interested readers to that post, but let me also call out a few themes that appear in my scribbled marginalia on the conference program:

Invocation of craft was all the rage in both presentations and discussion.  While digital media have for a long time seemed divorced from the kind of attention to craft practiced by the tangible hand arts, an increasing number of designers and other practitioners are turning their attention to the creation of the pleasing and useful digital object. This often manifested itself in concern with the (long time print preoccupation) use of typography, but there were many other issues of visual design invoked by the speakers.

Throughout the conference both presenters and audience evidenced a passion for storytelling, in forms both old and new. Charles Dickens, venerable and master storyteller, was invoked so often that I began a hash mark tally at the bottom of my notes page for each time his name was uttered.  Other speakers addressed the dissolution and productive crossing of the boundary between physical and digital modes of storytelling, advocating for the integration of paper and pixels. The narratives of online fan-fiction also raised a number of questions. While attention to narrative may hardly seem surprising in a crowd of publishers, I was struck by the unusual degree of thoughtful self-consciousness with which the conference participants examined and expressed both the constraints underpinning the construction and distribution of those narratives and the possibilities and implications of overcoming those constraints.

And so The Journal of Electronic Publishing presents to you our own little experiment in storytelling. The BiB t-shirts (also cool) warn “one does not simply put a book in a browser.” It turns out that one does not simply put conference proceedings online either (The note from our managing editor included in this issue will detail some of the decisions that were called for and made in the course of producing this issue, editorial and production decisions and decisions by the authors/presenters themselves). Here let me gesture toward a few: should we let a video suffice as a “proceedings publication”? If so, where would the videos live? Was transcription required/called for and if so, how would transcriptions be produced? Should authors have the option or requirement of producing a formally written version of their oral presentations? The issue of JEP that we publish today demonstrates the results of this process. We hope that you will contribute to our experiment by giving us feedback upon the results.