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Envisioning E-Publishing

Here at blog HQ, we’re split over the e-book phenomenon that’s occurred over the last year or two. Some (like Katie R. and Erin H.) are hard-core fans of physical books, while I (tech junkie that I am) obsess over iPads, Kindles, Nooks, and various other gadgets. But despite the hesitance of some, here at the Art Institute we're moving ahead full throttle and contributing to the technological future of museum publishing.

For the past two years, a cross-departmental team has been hard at work, envisioning a new technological environment to support the authoring and publishing of scholarly catalogues in a digital form. In addition to recent developments that improve the experience of digital reading—features that include columns, horizontal page ‘turning’, hyperlinked footnotes, and inline imagery—we have endeavored to define our online catalogue by meeting and exceeding the qualities of our established ink-on-paper books. We considered how these print catalogues are used for research: how the scholar finds an artwork entry, moves between entries, holds the book, makes notes, reads footnotes, etc. Rather than simply imitate a scholar’s interaction with a print catalogue, we have worked to provide enough familiar clues while developing an intuitive experience online that allows the scholar to explore, question, and easily cite entries in a whole new way. Our goal is to enable unprecedented access to the unique intellectual content and research of our authors.

We are currently finalizing a prototype of the online catalogue developed with IMA Lab, the esteemed programming team from the Indianapolis Museum of Art. This partnership has led to exciting out-of-the-box responses to the scholarly publishing challenge. Three pilot entries will be published on the Web in October as part of a usability study. Above you can see some images from the Art Institute’s prototype publication, Monet Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, that will be included in the study.

This work has been motivated and generously funded by a grant from the Getty Foundation as part of the Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI). To learn more about our development process, you can read a paper presented at the recent Museums and the Web 2011 Conference in Philadelphia.