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Collaboration, formats and remixing: the Booktype workshop at UCL

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Image 931(photo: Kristin Trethewey)

Booktype was featured as part of this event at University College London – Working with the Page: Publishing Workshop

On day two, we looked at the tools that exist for us to produce digital and print publications and how one tool can be used to produce both. We covered how a book's content might be realised in a number of different formats depending on distribution. We looked at what "formless content" means and that "the page" is no longer a fixed container for the content of books in the digital age. We presented tutorials in both InDesign and Booktype.

I was really happy to be asked by Sourcefabric to run this workshop on Booktype as it gave me a chance to spread my knowledge of an online tool that I use just about everyday. I was able to use the preparation and delivery of the session to deepen my own knowledge and explore the issues involved from other perspectives.

As the workshop facilitator for Booktype in an academic setting, I wanted to give hands on experience as well as an overview of some of Booktype's possibilities surrounding its innovations. I took inspiration from Adam Hyde's recent presentation at Republica to break the subject up into three areas.

Before the Book – on-line collaboration when creating the book

The Book - The printed book, epub, html and new formats

After the Book – Re-use, remixing and keeping the book alive

The format was a half day workshop and then an open lab time to help those who wanted to use Booktype for their project. I prepared a presentation, discussion and exercise on each of the key areas of Booktype. As it worked out, rather than using remixed, public domain content, the participants were primed to use their own content to work with.

Booktype, attribution, ownership and privacy

Working with real content brought issues of attribution, ownership and privacy slap bang into the front of the room. The first features we explored were how to hide your work and how to protect it from being edited by other people.

In preparation, I thought about ways of sidestepping some of these anxieties by inviting participants to embrace the possibilities for new models of collaboration and the freedoms of open licenses. I had some great examples from Co Design for Civic Media from an MIT group,  Collaborative Futures and an Occupy Movement publication. As we started to use the software it was clear that some of the features and design make Booktype open by default. Especially the default licenses that you can choose from. This brought up a fair amount of criticism regarding the lack of choices within licenses and quite a few concerns about using an on-line collaborative tool like Booktype.

Through discussions in the workshop and during the breaks I picked up a lot of perspectives from academic staff concerning the following: open licenses, publishing openly on the web, what control academic journals have on publishing, different cultures of attribution and the importance of publishing in academia.

This kind of conversation is needed but there was a danger it can de-rail workshops. It would be sad if it limited the extent to which we can experiment and enjoy the innovative practices and outcomes that new technology and licenses can bring. In this workshop I took their concerns seriously and was honest about the fact that this is an emerging software in an emerging field. It didn’t take long before we were able to move forward as a group using and testing Booktype.

On a side note, I’m glad to be able to discuss these issues at a forthcoming research workshop on the Digital Manual in Edinburgh from the perspective of FLOSS manuals (which also uses Booktype) .

Formless content – Booktype as your flexible, formless friend

The area of the workshop that seemed to have the most impact was using Booktype as a tool designed to allow multiple outputs from a single repository to many different devices.

The idea that you write first and design later was seen as a key advantage to the Booktype methodology.  This can be compared to the session on InDesign in the morning where the first thing you do is create your margins and exact dimensions of the container for your text. It also became apparent that this methodology saved a lot of duplication effort (especially when preparing new editions and translations). This lowered the obstacles approaching a book production and will be important for the future of publishing in general.

The terminology surrounding certain on-line posts about formless content was very useful to introduce these ideas. I’ll include the links to the materials I used:

Here are links to Booktype resources that were practically useful during the workshop.

Possible Booktype uses

After some initial concerns of open-by-default  on-line working spaces, there was a tangible change of mood. There was a lot of enthusiasm surrounding the ability to generate a list of possible uses for Booktype in an academic context.

  • Grammar text books created for students learning exercises
  • Training community groups associated with the University to create and share their own training resources in Booktype
  • Personal publications of University staff and students
  • Anthologies of work for departments and courses
  • Induction packs for departments
  • Lots of opportunities surrounding translations. For both community and collaborative projects
  • Working collaboratively on exam scripts
  • Many kinds of teaching materials, including reading lists, and ‘create your own reader’ for electronic reading (many trees are killed creating readers that are sometimes unread)
  • Creating new ‘editions’ of old works as a learning experience for students – creating a new forward and giving introductions to works helps give experience in re-framing and re-contextualising works to bring them up to date
  • Creating magazine books of blog posts with forwards and commentaries
  • Creative writing-a book could be used as a collaborative space for creating a writing exercise or a book could be a final goal in a creative writing task

At the end of our time together, there was an enthusiasm to keep experimenting with Booktype. Marita Fraser who convened the workshop has the understanding, enthusiasm and skills to take the project forward. I would recommend a UCL installation of Booktype to be a very worthwhile project for Sourcefabric to support. It is likely to create excellent case studies for how Booktype within the university would be very useful to academic staff and students.

Case study

One of the workshop participants, Novella, needed to take some work that her students had been writing and turn it into a short anthology.  Novella was keen to finish some specific tasks and chose Booktype as a suitable tool for completing it in a limited timescale.

Novella was able to crack straight on with her task after the Booktype workshop. There were only a few images to insert. One was placed on the first page to create a cover.There was no need to override the default layout provided by Booktype apart from outputting the book to an A5 pdf format. To print, we used the ‘booklet’ setting which allowed us to fold the A4 paper to create an A5 booklet with the pages in the right order.

With this task completed, Novella then went on to complete and print another short book in a couple of hours.