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Interlitq: technology for 2007

It’s November 2017 and Interlitq: The International Literary Quarterly is 10 years old. Now, we’re not only redesigning the site but reworking the technical architecture from the ground up. One key question: do we migrate all the content from the last 10 years into the new design and architecture, or do we just start fresh with new issues going forward? The latter is the easy choice but there’s so much value in the first decade of Interlitq that it all deserves to be in the new design and technical architecture. We know that’s the right thing to do, so we’re doing it even though it’s not the easiest approach.

Before we go further, a few words about how we got to this point. I first heard about Interlitq in mid-2017 while having lunch with Peter Robertson in a restaurant in downtown Buenos Aires. I had known Peter, a Scotsman, for about a year. We both lived as expats in Argentina and found a connection through our mutual interest in literature. He mentioned that he was starting a literary review, but I didn’t really get involved until issue 2.

The site was developed and designed by an Argentine that Peter knew. The site was not done in any type of content management system (CMS) but as custom PHP code. That worked fine for a few issues but scalability has become a major problem for Interlitq. The graphic design looked good for 2007. (Really, it did.)

 

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Interlitq: A Review in Progress

An activity I’ve undertaken this year is to modernize the design and digital strategy of Interlitq, The International Literary Quarterly. We’re approaching the 10th anniversary of Interlitq with the first issue appearing online in November 2007. A lot has changed on the web in the past decade, but the design and technical architecture of the site is showing its age. As I work on this project, I’ll be posting here updates that describe the redesign process. This is not simply a visual redesign but also a technical redesign of the underlying architecture.

Before embarking on the visual redesign, there are several technical steps to be taken:

  • Establish a working repository of text files. (All existing content are contained in individual PHP files.)
  • Convert files from existing php to a more manageable text file structure, e.g., Markdown.
  • Determine information architecture based on content types, desired functionality, and forward compatibility.
  • Examine other online literary journals for ideas about redesign, and identify key elements that are desired in the redesign.
  • Determine platform for the new site, most likely WordPress though that also requires determining if the platform should be multisite WordPress where each journal issue is a separate WP site. Some online journals have taken this approach.
  • Setup a test server.
  • Prototype design. Revise as needed.
  • Import content into test server.
  • Start implementation of new design in a restricted sandbox.
  • Fully test new design.
  • Import most recent content from current site into new system.
  • Migrate design and content from test server to product server.

A lot of steps with many details missing from the above list. Fortunately, I love working on this type of project.

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Drafting a course description

I’m working on a syllabus for a course for next spring’s 4-week short term….not sure of the title yet…I’m toying with the words digital publishing startup. Here’s the first draft of a course description:

Through focusing on a specific type of publishing endeavor, literary outlets, we will investigate the mechanisms that power the web and the production of literature in the 21st Century. The last twenty-five years have seen a seismic transition in publishing from print to digital. We’ll explore what really comprises the web: standardized software and network protocols running on interconnected machines. A close reading of a case study in digital publishing will provide you with the structure for understanding these technologies. A hands-on approach in a series of 10 lab sessions will provide you with the experience to tackle a variety of business and technical scenarios for fiction and non-fiction publishing. For the course project students will assume the roles of a business, editorial, and production team in a digital startup that is creating a new venture publishing e-books in translation of foreign works as well as an online magazine. And in true startup fashion, we’ll do all this in 4 weeks.

Students are not expected to have prior in-depth experience with technology other than at the consumer level.

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Renewing my sense of purpose

For years now, about 15 years, my thoughts have circled back to the same theme: storytelling in the mid-21st century.

I wrote a post about that on our book design blog back in 2011. In those days, my former wife and I ran a boutique design studio focused on designing not only books but also apps and websites. She handled the design while I focused on coding the software and building the business. When we started that business in 2005, I made the strategic decision to focus on a niche rather than a broad market of design. Being a general purpose design and development shop would have been too difficult with all the competition. We found our niche and for several years, through effective SEO, was the top search result for “book design” on Google. I’m proud of SoroDesign but after an eight year run it came time to move on to other ventures. A major part of that was moving back to the U.S. from Argentina. We settled in Virginia, which always has been one of my favorite states. (I had lived in Norfolk from 1995 to 2000.) Now I’m in Lexington, Virginia and have returned to my former profession of librarianship and spend my days as a librarian at Washington and Lee University. More on that in a moment. And my former partner at SoroDesign continues her career as an extraordinary book designer in her role as Senior Designer at the University of Virginia Press. She’s found a professional home in the field of scholarly publishing, which she enjoys very much.

As for me, I’ve always been a non-traditional librarian even though I love books and still strongly believe in the importance of the printed word and that libraries should still build print collections (in addition to all we do digitally). Career-wise, my focus as a librarian always has been digital. I found a solid path within academic librarianship that led to a good, (honestly, a great) career. Throughout the 1990s, I developed a growing interest in what was then called digital libraries. But there was always something in me that lacked interest in the librarian aspect of digital libraries. I was much more interested in how people used digital materials, particularly in how that content was used as a form of expression. In other words, I always was intrigued by the question, “How do you write in digital media?”

I’ve written this same essay over and over again throughout the years. I’ve talked already elsewhere about how reading Manovich’s The Language of New Media changed my perspective. Around 2004, I seriously thought about entering a PhD program in what would now be called digital humanities but that term hadn’t yet gained momentum. I was highly influenced by the writings of Janet Murray and Katherine Hayles. Yet, a romantic relationship and a newly emerged impulsive tendency prompted me to abandon my career at age 39 and move to Buenos Aires where I adopted a lifestyle of enjoying life and working to live rather than living to work. We formed SoroDesign that year (2005) and I started this blog that same year, though I’ve been very sporadic in my postings over more than a decade.

For several years, I blogged extensively at Buenos Aires, City of Faded Elegance. That’s where I really learned about blogging, SEO, building a loyal and engaged audience, and the importance of solid content. I loved writing about my long walks around the city, about my experiences at protest marches that happened almost daily in Buenos Aires, as well as posting about the cultural heritage of Buenos Aires, including a series of blogs posts I wrote titled 30 Days with Borges. The blog was even recognized internationally for excellent content. At its height, in 2008, that blog had over 80,000 unique readers a month. At that time, there really wasn’t much online in English about Buenos Aires. From that blog, I produced a profitable ebook and transitioned into developing apps about Buenos Aires. The apps turned out to be horribly unprofitable but the development experience was good. I launched a travel business with a good friend, which ruined the friendship as the business floundered. The Buenos Aires blog is still online but now as a historical artifact. And somewhere during my path in South America, I wrote some short stories and a novel (still unpublished), and spent an amazing but stressful two years living in an isolated village on the windswept coast of Argentina.

With a newborn baby in 2011, I found a good role working remotely for a New York city startup in developing a gamified travel app. And then, just as impulsively as I made the decision to move to Argentina in 2005, I made the decision to return to the U.S in 2013.

I never really had the intention of resuming my career as an academic librarian. I came back to work in this new space called digital humanities (DH), which I realized corresponded extremely well to my interest in how digital materials are used. I thought that DH was the space in which I should exist. I’ve learned that it’s not. I’ll pick up on that in another post.

Over the last few years I’ve been approached by executive search firms more than a dozen times for positions as a library director. I half-heartedly tested the waters for few openings but, finally, told the recruiters that I was off the job market. I actually said that my career goal is not to be a library director. I actually love my current job. Even though my job title is Associate University Librarian, that’s not very reflective of what I’m doing. Or, is it, if one considers where libraries are heading? That in itself is another post but at this moment I want to continue reflecting on what drives me both professionally and personally, and what I sense will sustain me will through my retirement.

Everything I want to do professionally is tied to that question, “How do you write in digital media?” My passion is exploring storytelling in the mid-century. I don’t plan to really ever retire. Yes, I will retire from my job in the library at some point in my sixties but I can see myself continue to work through my seventies and even eighties in digital publishing. I’m genuinely excited to see the state of digital storytelling when I’m 85. That will be the year 2050. If I’m alive, I’ll still be blogging in 2050.

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A sabbatical to study literary networks

I’ll soon start on my first sabbatical at Washington and Lee. As library faculty on a 12-month contract, we take our sabbaticals during the summer months (June – August). I’ll be taking a week out of this period at the beginning of August to attend ILiADS but the rest of my summer will be focused on my research into literary networks. The following is the proposal I submitted when requesting research leave. I thought I would share it so that others know what I’m working on and also as a public way of committing me to my plans. I’m expecting to post updates about my research to this blog. I’ll also be updating the companion website for my research though I’m not sure yet which directions that site will take. I thought about blogging from that site but decided that I should keep my blogging efforts consolidated here as much as possible. If you have questions or comments about my research, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @jeffbarry

During leave I will pursue my research into literary networks at a deeper level. This research is directly tied to advancing the digital humanities initiatives at W&L as well as exploring connections with social science disciplines that utilize social network analysis. My research agenda on the networks within literary publishing examines the evolution of “little magazines” during the 20th century. The patterns uncovered through this study can potentially impact the current generation of literary outlets that bring new voices to the public.

A description of the background of this initiative, which stemmed from the acquisition of the letters that Ezra Pound wrote to a W&L student in the 1950s on the development of the Shenandoah literary magazine, is on my literary networks website. The specific focus during the leave period is to model a social network analysis methodology that is suitable for the analysis of literary journals. The framework for this initiative is the evolving nature of literary journals, especially the type known as “little magazines” that function as the places where most poetry and short stories are first published.

My starting point in this project is Shenandoah, published since 1950 by W&L. Individual editors are important to the quality of a literary journal through setting the tone, direction, and selection of material for publishing. An editor does not exist in isolation but depends upon a network of writers and, often, “consulting editors” to advise and recommend authors as well as to market and promote the publication to potential readers. These connections, rather than the individual editor, form the essential pattern that determines the extent of a publication’s reach. Through examining the networks within literary publishing, we learn about the evolution of literary journals to help understand the historical and sociological attributes that permit cultural initiatives to flourish.

Shenandoah presents several characteristics that make it an interesting case study for the evolution of literary journals in the mid-century. For the first decade of publication, Shenandoah was edited and produced by undergraduate students. But the roster was not typical of a student literary magazine. Seldom were students published in the pages of Shenandoah during the early years. Authors published in Shenandoah during the 1950s included William Carlos Williams, Flannery O’Connor, Wyndham Lewis, and many other notable literary figures. An initial question is how did a young magazine with a staff of young men barely beyond their teens produce such a high-quality publication in a matter of few years. Equally interesting is how did the same magazine, just a few years later, falter so significantly that it almost ceased publication. The faculty stepped in to rescue the publication, which at the same time almost destroyed it. Shenandoah went through several years where a new editor rotated in for almost every issue. This practice is usually a sign of an underlying structural problem. The publication finally stabilized in 1962 when James Boatwright took over and remained editor until his death in 1988. This study will focus on the first twenty years of Shenandoah, which can be defined by three phrases: 1950-57, 58-61, 62-70. An editor or a set of editors defines each of these periods. The pattern of Shenandoah demonstrates the impact of a network of authors on a literary magazine.

My research during the leave period will result in two companion articles tentatively titled “The Formation of Shenandoah: A Network Analysis of a Literary Magazine” and “The Social Network of a Literary Editor in the 1950s”.

The second article will focus on important data that is not in the list of authors and editors of Shenandoah, and on material that was not initially in the archive. The second article also will highlight the importance of searching for holes in the archive as part of the research process. The W&L Archives and Special Collections is fortunate to have the correspondence of Thomas H. Carter (C’54) who was instrumental in the early success of Shenandoah. Carter was advised in his editorial role through an “anonymous encourager”: Ezra Pound. The two men exchanged over one hundred letters, which the W&L library acquired in 2015 from the Patrick Henry Community College. Only one scholar, in 1980, has ever examined that correspondence. These letters were digitized during Spring Term 2015 by the Introduction to Digital Humanities class that I co-taught with Digital Humanities Librarian Mackenzie Brooks. I am currently in the process of editing those letters. Lesley Wheeler’s Modern American Poetry class in Fall 2016 provided annotations to those letters. Pound repeatedly stressed that his advice to Carter be kept strictly anonymous. Carter also exchanged letters with a broad range of authors. Those letters also are in Archives and Special Collections.

Through the Carter letters, I intend to employ computational techniques that demonstrate and weigh the influence of various actors (i.e., literary figures) on what was actually published in Shenandoah. The Carter/Pound correspondence adds another dimension to the network analysis of the authors published in Shenandoah: which authors did Pound recommend that were never published in Shenandoah? Why were those authors not published? Carter and Pound intended to create their own journal. Based on their correspondence, which authors would they have included in that new publication? Pound viewed his relationship with Carter as part of a mid-century international literary network that include the journals Nine and The European in London, Meanjin in Australia, Merlin in Paris, Delta in Montreal, and The Hudson Review in New York City. Pound (in his idiosyncratic style) advised that the aim of a literary magazine is to foster “a means of communication between INDIVIDUALS, that is all yu can do” and stressed the importance of editors and writers of different publications connecting with each other: “why don’t you buzzards EVER communicate with each other”.

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2015: end of year review

Just saw this post sitting in my drafts folder. For some reason I never hit published…probably needed to add more…but now it’s 2017. I should write a 2016 review. Anything, going to go ahead and put this out to there. Maybe I will write about 2016 before it’s 2018.

Made it through another year and celebrated my 50th birthday in December. I should do a decade review since the last ten years have been exciting, but that’s for another post. A quick recap of some highlights from 2015:

  • Co-taught a one-credit course on Scholarly Text Encoding with our then Metadata Librarian Mackenzie Brooks.
  • Missed the third class in January due to a kidney stone that had me in the emergency room at 2 am. (drink.more.water.)
  • Obtained (along with our Head of Special Collections) a wonderful collection of material for the library that belonged to Tom Carter, a 1954 alum of Washington and Lee and former editor of Shenandoah. Among the items is a rare portrait of Ezra Pound by Wyndham Lewis.
  • Launched the literary networks website.
  • Conducted 4 interviews about Tom Carter as part of the literary networks project.
  • Attended the Moving People Connections symposium at the University of Virginia where I learned a lot more about advances in prosopography
  • Co-taught (also with Mackenzie) the four-credit course Introduction to Digital Humanities, which culminated in the students digitizing the complete set of letters between Tom Carter and Ezra Pound.
  • Attended a computational computing in the humanities symposium at the University of Chicago.
  • Spent a day at the University of Chicago Special Collections researching the archives of Poetry magazine
  • Article on Tom Carter and Ezra Pound accepted for publication in The International Literary Quarterly.
  • Our Mellon grant became official.
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