Tomorrow’s reading, “Scarcity or Abundance,” makes me think back to my former life, before I returned to school to complete my PhD. After years of working in galleries and museums – working way too much for very little money – I accepted a role at UBC as the Senate Secretariat. One of my first duties was editing and shepherding through print publication the University’s academic calendar. With zero experience I did it. I was given an Oxford dictionary and UBC’s (outdated) style guide; tips from colleagues in Communications rolled in…everyday; I learned about blue-lines, editor’s marks, and en- and em-dashes; I learned how to make an index, and as well, mark index entries; I argued with faculty about grammar, punctuation, and worse, how I couldn’t include imagined words but had to stick to my Oxford no matter what terms they used in their discipline. Through trial and error I made into one voice hundreds of Senate-approved proposals that together shaped the University’s academic policies.
I was as proud as a new mother when my first print calendar was sent off to press. A few weeks later I was a new mother and when I returned to work ten months later, poof, my maternity replacement informed me that after much discussion and following intense study of best practices in universities across Canada, the print Academic Calendar had gone online. But in that first year the online version was little more than a PDF of the print copy. The process of proper digitization needed to be completed, and that became my new task.
The lion’s share of the work had been done by the time I got back to my desk: ‘chapters’ were replaced with a hyperlinked table of contents; related pages and words were also hyperlinked, with astonishing frequency; and the index was gone and in its place was Google search functionality. But issues arose almost immediately. Just because we could, we did, and every month following Senate and the inputting of new proposals a new online Academic Calendar was released. Making available the most up-to-date information for students and faculty was intended to be beneficial, but it backfired: students were confused which policies applied to them, or what courses they could use towards their degree, since the calendar often changed mid-year (and sometimes multiple times). I was working long and hard each to ensure accuracy within a tight time frame, and no one knew which version of the academic calendar ought to be archived – the first one, the last one…eeek, all of them? Talk about abundance.
So, like all good bureaucrats we developed new policies. We moved to publish online versions of the academic calendar at key periods, two to three times an academic year with only the final version (best version?) archived on the web. We differentiated between corrective releases and new releases, and when more than a year after the fact we learned that the registration folks gave us incorrect fees, we published an errata page that did not erase the mistake (because, after a long conference call, we agreed that rewriting history was a bad idea), but rather noted the error in the archived version and joined it with the correct information. The way we did our business also changed: in a meeting I noted, as the Senate committee deliberated the length of a particular course description, that we were no longer policing a mammoth print calendar but were only bound by the maximum character allowance of the database in which we entered course information. Hallelujah, they said, and went back to arguing over punctuation.
A lot of work went on behind the scenes to ensure that the online academic calendar ‘read’ properly as a digital publication. The publication (I still use the word) became more user-friendly, student-centered, and visual. Tables replaced bullet points entries, font-sizes could be enlarged, and whole sections could be PDF-ed for convenience (but not downloaded). Nuances between UBC’s two campuses were accepted (I worked in the Okanagan; the first campus, the bigger campus, is in Vancouver) and found their way into language, text, and presentation. We agreed to never hyperlink outside of the academic calendar (too risky, students might get lost) and we used the phrase “the online academic calendar is the official academic calendar” often. After a few tries I think we got it right.
I miss my academic calendar. It was an intellectually challenging but rewarding task to take policies and see them through to implementation in a living, online document, a very different animal indeed. Online publications need not just a different work-flow, but a wholly different set of protocols that start way before text is proposed and approved. Although for years many of my Senators lamented the loss of holding the book in their hands and flipping through its pages to find what they were looking for, they are quite used to it now. It’s like the book never existed.
Source: What Happens After Print?