September 9th, 2014 | Tags : Macalester College | Category : Education & Outreach, Faculty Work, Publishing

Passed Over by Traditional Print Publishers, Faculty Book Flourishes in Digital Format

“Without Terri Fishel’s offer to publish Captive Audiences / Captive Performers online, and her support throughout the long publishing process, this book might never, perhaps, have seen the light of day…” said Sears Eldredge, Professor Emeritus of the Theater and Dance Department at Macalester College. His extensively researched and richly presented e-book, Captive Audiences / Captives Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was nearly ten years in the making, but got rejected by traditional print publishers for being too niche. When Sears approached the director of the Center of Scholarship and Teaching about how he might be able to publish his books, she knew the library had been working with Digital Commons and reached out to Terri Fishel, Library Director at Macalester.

“Right at the beginning I announced that if Captive Audiences / Captive Performers was going to be published as an e-book, then I wanted to take advantage of the digital platform to make it a multimedia experience,” Sears said. Along with library staff Jacki Betsworth and Johan Oberg, Terri worked with Sears to bring his vision to reality. “The ability to incorporate so many images of POW artwork—and in color (not possible in a print book without being extravagantly expensive)—gives a ‘presence’ to the events being discussed. And to be able to have readers listen to the POWs telling their own stories or singing their songs—or hear electronic ‘realizations’ of some of the original music written by the POWs in the camps—makes the whole experience of ‘reading’ the text more multidimensional, more immediate, immersive, and compelling,” said Sears. “I think the publishing world is going to move more and more in this direction, and I greatly appreciate bepress’ willingness to let us experiment in this fashion.”

Another unique aspect of publishing through Digital Commons was the ability to upload the book chapter-by-chapter as it was written. Though the team eventually decided to upload the last portion of the book in a chunk, having two individual chapters uploaded early on as a trial provided unexpected benefits. First, it allowed the team to experiment with different formatting options and troubleshoot potential issues. And second, because the chapters were easily discoverable online, several of the former POWs mentioned in the book and their families were able to read the work, reach out to Sears, and eventually have their resources and insight incorporated into the final text. “They provided some extremely important additional information, including new images and audio materials that made the final text far richer in content than it would have been otherwise,” Sears said.