Today we were gifted with the enormously vast pleasure of having Scalar‘s Information Design Director Craig Dietrich join us virtually in Duke’s PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge for a consult and conversation.
Florian and I were joined today in the lab by our colleague Dwayne Dixon, whose digital Scalar dissertation was recently featured on HASTAC.
The three of us were greedy: we asked questions about Scalar’s past and future; we asked about personalized design possibilities and about specifically-tailored functionality; we asked about assurances as to Scalar’s longevity and about our options for sustaining our digital publication; and we asked for tips about how we might introduce Scalar as a digital dissertation platform to Duke U deans and administrators.
Our greed was well-rewarded. Craig enthusiastically addressed all of our questions in stride and offered not only comprehensive but surprisingly satisfying answers. It is indeed rare to find a digital publication platform that fills both needs, wants, and pie-in-the-sky desires. Our faith in – and enthusiasm for – the Scalar publication platform was undoubtedly confirmed today.
In addressing Scalar’s future, Craig responded by way of covering various angles:
1) Craig said the recent media server crash “opened their eyes” and they’ve made quick progress to not only remedy the issue but also to prevent its re-occurrence;
2) Scalar is actively working to create new features, designs, and functions that promise to be thrilling for publishers, authors, archivists and artists (we were treated to an example of this and are excited for its forthcoming release);
3) The Scalar folks want, and indeed insist, that Scalar live on for decades. Craig believes that if Scalar did somehow fail or fold or was in any way ‘taken down’, it would not just be a loss for Scalar authors and publishers but would also be a “catastrophic” blow to digital scholarship writ large (I thought this a profound and important statement);
4) Scalar evolves with automatic updates and innovative new features;
5) Scalar actively supports projects that solve, or at least speak to, the issues that drove the need for Scalar to be created.
In addressing issues about digital scholarship, digital dissertations, and publication persistence, Craig reminded us the following:
1) the Scalar software can be downloaded and hosted on a user’s own server. In this way, it can be a persistent environment. What if universities like Duke downloaded Scalar, tweaked it so as to suit a standard set of required ‘digital dissertation’ specifications (mimicking current dissertation submission regulations but acknowledging the affordances and the limitations of the digital format and thus satisfying the need for dissertation submission consistency), and hosted student-designed dissertation publications?…
2) Using a Scalar API, with one call, an author can download the entire archive of his/her Scalar book in an RDF (Resource Description Framework) format.
3) Each Scalar content element is a page itself and has a URL. Each content piece then – from text and media element to annotation and public comment – can have its own unique identifier thus making archiving an interesting but not an impossible operation.
When we asked about the community of practitioners, Craig pointed us to several impressive projects and people and I wanted to share those here as points of inspiration that we’ll be following.
Media Ecology Project Mark Williams & John Bell
Duke Press’s collaboration with Scalar
We were honored by Craig’s generosity and expertise and we look forward to many (and many more) future conversations and collaborations.