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Lauren Rosenblum on Digital Art Publishing

For the past year I have been working as a Digital Publishing Assistant for Art & Architecture at Yale University Press. My desk at work is surrounded by bookshelves holding decades of examples of the Press’s unflagging commitment to the production and publication of high-quality art books. Immediately to my right, Evelyn Welch’s Art and Authority in Renaissance Italy is shelved between the exhibition catalog Lawrence Weiner: As Far as the Eye Can See edited by Donna De Salvo and Ann Goldstein, and John Welchman’s Invisible Colors: A Visual History of Titles.

As a logical extension to this storied, celebrated history, in the past decade it has become necessary for the Press to ask two disparate but fundamentally associated questions – one about its past and the other about its future:

What becomes of scholarly content and its associated images once a book is no longer in print?

How can the press guide the publishing process to embrace electronic advancements in access and presentation?

Digi_romanarchAs a Digital Publishing Assistant, I have participated in initiatives that address these questions. The forthcoming release of an electronic edition of David Roxburgh’s landmark book The Persian Album, 1400-1600: From Dispersal to Collection; an ongoing collaboration with The Metropolitan Museum of Art resulting in the re-release of their publications through a print-on-demand program; and supporting the editors of history and managers of digital projects in the release of Diana Kleiner’s electronic course book Roman Architecture: A Visual Guide, were all opportunities for me to confront the practical obstacles of digital publishing. Largest among the hurdles are the selection of the appropriate publishing formats, affordability for both publisher and customer, and the sustainability of the digital publishing process. Other challenges that are unique to books in art & architecture are in image rights: mitigating the high costs, managing long-term efforts, and negotiating the interests of a variety of stakeholders (museums, libraries, private rights holders, and artists among them), often located around the world.

In her article Pixel Dust: Illusions of Innovation in Scholarly Publishing, Johanna Drucker outlines the hurdles of cost and management inherent in digital publishing. She moves on to consider them in relationship to the digi_persianongoing crisis of humanities in contemporary academia in its perceived decline, and to the preferences and desires of the general public. She asks a fundamental question, “If the humanities lose their cultural authority in the process of becoming digital, becoming managed quanta, or superficial entertainment, then what is the point?”

In my short tenure in the Department of Art and Architecture at Yale Press, I have perceived here, much as Drucker promotes in her article, a respect for “the vitality of humanities [as] the lifeblood of culture, its resounding connection to all that is human [and] makes us who and what we are.” Despite hardships including declining book sales and an arduous university tenure system dependent on the vitality of scholarly publishing, there is a persisting belief in and dedication to the written word – whether it appears on a page or the screen.

In addition to her work at Yale University Press, Lauren Rosenblum is currently an adjunct instructor of art history at University of New Haven. She has held positions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Locks Gallery, Philadelphia.

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