What We Learned from The Bible: A Catechism for Digital PublishingSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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Once a year the University of Michigan's Special Collections Library presents an exhibit of rare and beautiful biblical documents that draws visitors from around the region. Now the University of Michigan Press (UMP) is helping to make these materials available to anyone who has access to a computer and a CD-ROM drive. This is the story of how The Evolution of the English Bible: From Papyri to King James was made, what we learned while we were making it, what we would never do again, and what we wish we'd done differently.
In 1995 the UMP's nascent digital-publishing program was eager to take the plunge and find a project to publish electronically. (Since beginning that project, UMP has initiated many other digital projects. See our online catalog of digital publications by going to our front page and clicking on Digital Projects.) Realizing that there were few projects coming our way that were ready for publication, we decided we would create one. What we needed was a unique set of material that was already organized editorially and that would lend itself to publication in digital form. For financial reasons, the project had to appeal to a potentially wide audience and entail as few permissions issues (and expenses) as possible. Finally, we hoped to find a project that would fit well with the other publishing activities of the UMP and allow us to make use of the intellectual resources of the University of Michigan.
The ideal candidate was at hand in an exhibit presented annually by the university's Special Collections Library that traced the history of the English Bible from ancient papyrus documents, through early Bibles in various languages, to important milestones in the evolution of the Bible in English — all drawing on the university's extensive collections in these areas.
The CD-ROM presents several hundred high-quality digital images (complete with a zoom option to view details) that trace the roots
"We arrived at a refreshingly low-tech solution: the Greek and English were published side-by-side in a printed supplement."
Don't Do It Alone
One important lesson is that this kind of project — particularly given its tight budgetary constraints — simply could not have been produced without close collaboration on many fronts. The first key element was the relationship between UMP and the Special Collections Library. The library made available to us the source material for the CD and allowed it to be photographed. Because virtually all of the materials included on the CD are owned by the university, permissions issues were minimal. They adapted the text used for the exhibit and provided additional information. The Special Collections Library also assigned a staff person to guard and handle properly the valuable materials being photographed for the CD. In addition, we benefited from the advice and technical expertise of the university's Digital Library Production Service and its Humanities Text Initiative. While they were not able to predict all of the problems we would encounter, they were crucial in helping us find solutions.
Essential to the production of the CD was the willingness of several talented individuals to participate in the project: Franc Nunoo-Quarcoo, who did the graphic design of the interface and packaging; Bill Williams [formerly http://www.videsign.com], who designed the interaction and compiled the program in Macromedia Director; and Mary Holder, who contributed Lingo programming for the timeline and managed the conversion from Macintosh to Windows. Because of their interest in the project and its educational goals, these individuals agreed to charge us less than their usual rates. Their work in designing the CD's interface and programming its interactive features led to an elegant and sophisticated product at a fraction of what it would have cost to produce the CD-ROM commercially.
The Importance of Prototypes
Perhaps the most painful lesson involved processing the images for the CD. Our first idea was to have photos of the papyri and Bibles taken by a highly regarded art photographer who was accustomed to working with delicate original material. The photos — several hundred of them — were taken, slides were scanned, a PhotoCD made, and the 72 dpi (screen resolution) version of each image cropped and color-corrected in PhotoShop. We were ready to go. The only problem was that on screen the text of many of the documents was illegible. That was unacceptable, since an important feature of the program was to be the ability to see how the biblical text had changed over time. The problem was that the photographer, accustomed to dealing with art objects rather than texts, focused on reproducing the look and color of the material, rather than ensuring that the words were readable. The solution was to go back and have the photos taken again, this time using a high-end digital camera. The images presented on the CD are now shown at screen resolution of 72 dpi, with a zoom option that accesses high-resolution versions of the images for those who want a closer look. The delays, wasted effort, and high cost of this two-part process could have been avoided if we had recognized the value of always beginning with a prototype. Ideally, we would have photographed, processed, and then looked at just a few images; we then would have realized the problem much earlier and arrived at our solution sooner.
Consider Low-Tech Solutions
Another challenging issue was deciding how to treat the Greek transcriptions and English translations of several papyrological documents that we wanted to include as part of the CD. Our original idea was to present on screen three versions of each page: the image of the papyrus document itself, a Greek transcription of the page, and a matching English translation. Users could toggle among the three versions, comparing the papyrus to the transcription, the Greek to the English, and so on. Happily, in this case we did develop a prototype of several pages, finding in the process that Director did not allow us to present a split screen easily or handle large image files quickly enough to allow for efficient toggling. More important, it became clear to us that the Greek transcriptions and English translations held no inherent value as images (as did the original papyrus documents) but rather were important as textual tools for those interested in studying the content of the documents. With these thoughts in mind, we arrived at a refreshingly low-tech solution: the Greek and English were published side-by-side in a printed supplement, allowing the user to view the papyrus image on screen and consult the booklet for the transcription and translation of each page. Having the Greek and English on paper also allows the reader to mark his or her place or make notes in the margins.
Our Wish List
Technological, financial, and time constraints kept us from doing things exactly as we would have liked. Here is our wish list for what we would have added to the publication if these constraints had not been in place.
Selection of Material
The structure of the CD-ROM follows closely the organizational framework that has been used for the Special Collections Library exhibit over the years. Presenting those materials on CD, rather than in display cases, has some distinct advantages. We were able to show complete papyrus documents rather than just a few mounts (the largest papyrus manuscript on the CD has sixty pages), and the CD includes several pages from each Bible rather than just the one page opening that can be shown at the exhibit. In addition, the interface allows users to zoom in to see close-ups of the material, often more clearly than they can be seen in person. But, in one sense, electronic technology could have been utilized more fully. The material presented on the CD is still fairly limited, with an average of only five images shown for each Bible. The entire program amounts to 142 MB, whereas a CD will hold up to 650 MB, meaning that we could have included many more images and presented a greater range of material. We also would have liked to provide links from one Bible to the next for selected biblical verses, allowing the user to see easily how a specific text evolved over time. Finally, we considered including images of some of the historical figures mentioned in the text. The decision not to pursue these avenues was due purely to concerns about time and cost. Again, as in all publishing ventures, trade-offs needed to be made between enriching the product and completing it.
Links to Other Resources
A wealth of other Bible-related resources have been published on the Web. Ideally, the CD-ROM would have included an interface that links to relevant Web sites. For example, the Humanities Text Initiative of the University of Michigan provides complete versions of four Bibles, accessible to the general public, all encoded in Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) and supported by sophisticated search engines. A link to that kind of resource would have allowed users access to the complete text of some of the Bibles presented on the CD. One of the challenges of providing such an interface would have been to select Web sites that are stable and not likely to disappear in the coming years.
We also would have liked to encode the material included on the CD in SGML. SGML-encoding would have added two important dimensions: First, from the user's perspective, it would have allowed the inclusion of a powerful search engine and textual analysis functions, such as the ability to compare two texts. Second, from the publisher's perspective, having the material organized using SGML would have made it portable to other publication formats, including the Web, without unwieldy conversion. In developing the program, we were faced with a choice between using a standard authoring program that does not accommodate SGML-encoded files, or taking on the more time-consuming and expensive process of programming an SGML-compatible resource from the ground up. As SGML becomes more widely used, more authoring programs will be able to incorporate SGML-encoded material, making that trade-off unnecessary.
This CD-ROM was a one-of-a-kind project in several respects. First, UMP has published only a few books on biblical studies, meaning that the CD is not part of a list of publications for which we already have an extensive marketing effort in place. (Now that
"The pace of change means that producing something that is state-of-the-art technologically is near to impossible."
The Evolution of the English Bible on CD-ROM was two years in the making. During that time, the field of electronic publishing underwent numerous technological changes, not least of which was the explosion of the Web. In fact, changing technology was one factor contributing to the length of time it took to complete the project. For example, the option of using a high-end digital camera became available to us only several months into the project after traditional photos already had been taken. Along the way we needed to make decisions about the trade-off between shifting to new technology and completing the project sooner. The lengthy time frame, which is not atypical for an electronic project of this sort, raises the general question of how to avoid being overtaken by technological change during the development phase — in other words, how one produces an electronic publication that is not technologically obsolete as soon as it is published. While we don't have an answer to this question, we do have some thoughts about the ways in which the electronic medium makes it both easy and hard to produce a cutting edge product.
In one sense, the electronic form makes it possible for the author or publisher to update materials much more easily than in a traditional book. If the University of Michigan next year were to acquire a more complete version of one of the papyrus documents included in the CD, or if a new interpretation of a document discussed in the text emerged, we could easily replace the existing images with new ones or edit the text for the relatively low price of re-mastering the CD.
In another sense the pace of change means that producing something that is state-of-the-art technologically is near to impossible. For example, changing the structure of the program in line with some of the ideas on our wish list (such as accommodating SGML coding or including a search engine) would be a much more expensive endeavor than replacing images or text. Because the content is wedded to a particular authoring program, such changes would require the CD to be rebuilt almost from the ground up.
The constraints on updating a project are not only technological but also institutional. Our publishing model is not yet flexible enough to allow for continual revision, even of electronic projects. Ongoing revision would require new scholarly information, intervention by the publisher and the programmer, and a delivery mechanism that makes possible frequent updating. Such a system moves farther from the book model than most publishers are able to venture — especially in the highly cost-conscious environment in which we operate.
Some of our colleagues have asked why we did not decide to publish The Evolution of the English Bible on the Web. We rely on the Web for some of our other electronic projects, especially those reference and archival works where new material will be added frequently. For this project, however, Web delivery was not a good option. The high-resolution images that are an essential feature of the project are slow and awkward to download. Perhaps most important was a marketing consideration: The project is designed primarily for individuals rather than libraries (of course, we welcome library purchases), and folks prefer to buy an item rather than access a service. For these reasons, we probably would decide — even today — to publish on CD-ROM. A few years from now, of course, new forms of delivery, such as digital video disc (DVD) technology and faster Web connections, will give us new options.
Because technology changes so quickly, we realized early that the real value of the CD must rest with its content, not its form. Rather than trying to develop a project with bells and whistles that were sophsticated at the moment but would soon become outdated, we chose to present text and images within a fairly simple framework, allowing the unique material in the collection to speak for itself. While technology undoubtedly will continue to change, the materials presented on the CD are timeless. It is our hope that they will continue to fascinate users for many years to come.
Michelle Miller-Adams is the manager of digital publishing at the University Michigan Press, where she is mastering the art of making electronic publications on a shoestring. Before joining the Press in 1994, she lived in New York City where she was vice president for programs at the Twentieth Century Fund, a public policy research foundation, and vice president in the research department of Salomon Brothers. She holds a Ph.D. in political science and Masters of International Affairs, both from Columbia University. In addition to her professional responsibilities, Michelle coordinates the Press's monthly digital publishing lunch discussion and weekly Friday afternoon tea. She is an e-mail junkie and will be happy to hear from you at email@example.com.
Eve M. Trager, firstname.lastname@example.org, is the Digital Publishing Specialist at the University of Michigan Press. In addition to basic nurturing and nudging of the Press's electronic projects, she is often the resource person for a variety of unrelated tasks ranging from ordering printer cartridges to style-enforcer for the Press database.