When We Dream About the Future: Digital Ambiguity in 2020

Greetings from the Digital Department here at Ooligan Press. First, a quick query for our more CMOS-centric students and readers. Even before I was given the role of Digital Assistant last winter term, I pondered the correct verbiage for our department. I’ve overheard others call it the Digital “Asset” or “Content” department and feel I must clear things up. “Content,” as a (contemporary) cultural touchstone has become almost ubiquitous within our digital lives: we consume content constantly, daily, minute by minute. The term has even entered popular slang with creatives and business professionals alike in an abbreviated form with “slingin’ ‘tent” popularized by writer and producer Scott Aukerman. Both asset and content connote the objects we are making at the press, yet both fall short of describing the breadth of bringing these works into the world. We don’t often get comments, but if you’ve got an opinion on our official title, we’d love to hear it!

According to Publisher’s Weekly, companies like the juggernaut Penguin Random House “…are producing bespoke events and experiences around their content, and I think we should all be doing that…This has given us all an opportunity to go a little bit beyond that, but also to produce content that feels really authentic to certain groups of people who are hungry for it.”

Along with traditional book objects and newer media like audiobooks, ebooks, and interactive storytelling, publishers are also reinventing the convention space (more often these spaces are virtual). Rethinking our concepts of what is digital, what is physical, and what the grayness in between looks like is the bigger idea that I’d like to cull out of this modest blog post. Inspired by our brilliant professor Dr. Kathi Inman Berens’s Digital Skills course, I’ve set a long-term goal to focus our department’s resources on our stewardship. We are only here for a short time and part of our work is to always improve, innovate, and embrace ambiguity; to work through it. Certainly, this pandemic has highlighted the ways in which our lives have been shaped by our digital landscape and simultaneously prepared us for remote learning, remote working, and for change.

This shift can also be seen in the ever-present space of the library: a wellspring of digital content and a champion for the ebook (a technology that mirrors The Little Engine That Could). “In my opinion, one of the issues libraries face in the digital realm is that the publishers are so deeply invested in twentieth century models. I am hoping this helps shake them out of that,” [Carmi] Parker said. “This opportunity to experiment with different models means that when we start talking again with publishers about how e-lending can work best for all of us, we will have some real data to go on.” The pandemic has in fact amplified a progression of ebook popularity and has lent to a “Watershed Moment for Library Ebooks” according to Andrew Albanese in his article for Publisher’s Weekly. I feel privileged and grateful to be part of such an exciting field laden with meaningful opportunities for cultural transformation.

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