A Project MUSE Tripleheader: eBooks Beta, Terry Ehling, and The Wire

“The thing about the old days is that they the old days.” — Slim Charles, The Wire

Last week was an important one in the history of Project MUSE as we launched the eBook beta site, welcomed new Associate Director Terry Ehling, and published an issue of the journal Criticism dedicated to scholarly interpretations of The Wire, a groundbreaking television show about the myriad challenges facing Baltimore city. Borrowing from the legendary Chicago Cub shortstop Ernie Banks, “let’s play three.”

The eBooks beta site launched last week and we have received valuable feedback from our user community. The site has been widely praised for its “simple and clean” approach.  As expected, we have adjustments to make and are compiling a list of action items to be prioritized and completed before launch. The majority of these minor fixes are related to usability.

In a recent meeting, Johns Hopkins University Press Editor-in-Chief Greg Britton said, “You guys in Project MUSE reinvent yourself every week, right?” Well, not every week but it sure seems that way. Last year, we added more than 50 new journals to the platform and will exceed 500 before the end of the year. We have approximately 30 more on the way for 2012.

In January, we’d built a program called Project MUSE Editions with 28 publishers and 400 books. In February, we were selected to be the vendor of choice for the University Press eBook Consortium (UPCC) —which was an initiative funded by Mellon to explore the feasibility of eBook distribution. In March, we became the University Press Content Consortium and by April had signed 65 publishers, mostly university presses and will offer 13 – 15,000 eBooks in January, 2012.  We have new publishing colleagues, advisory boards, and co-workers—and have significantly expanded our content community.

Terry Ehling joined Project MUSE and has made a positive impact in her first ten days. She brings a wealth of experience as the former director of Project Euclid and the director the Digital Products Lab at MIT. Terry will take the lead on the University Press Content Consortium. She spent most of the week learning about Project MUSE but also came with ideas for new products, new content acquisition targets, and a refreshing vision for the future of digital publishing as related to Project MUSE.

Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the Arts by Wayne State University Press has published an issue dedicated to The Wire. With article titles like “The Greek Gods of Baltimore: Greek Tragedy and The Wire” and “The Last Rights of D’Angelo Barksdale: The Life and Afterlife of Photography in The Wire,” admirers of the show will be interested in the depth of scholarly investigation and homage that has been paid to this five-part masterpiece of the small screen.

In the preface, Robert LeVertis and Paul Farber write:

“Our hope is that this issue, and the excellent essays within, will circulate in a broader conversation going on amongst scholars and critics across the world, from elite institutions to underrecognized intellectual fertile grounds. We collectively revisit The Wire to take on its mantle and its burden, and rather than merely look back, make anew.”

To encourage the “broader conversation,” we have worked with the publisher to make this issue accessible to all as the free sample for 2011.

I enjoyed the The Wire very much for its ambition, authenticity, and for its rendering of some of Baltimore’s more uniquely indigenous characters.  As a native, I applaud its willingness to tell the story of a cancerous drug trade, a long defunct educational system that endlessly feeds the drug pipeline with new recruits, and the decline of a newspaper meant to provide the semblance of a lens into the mechanisms of corruption and failure. 

Speaking at AAUP in June, David Simon said, among other things, “I don’t want to save the newspaper, just the newsroom.”

On the top floor of a six-story building with an expansive view of Baltimore City, we produce and deliver high quality content in a vibrant, “newsroom” type of atmosphere. We also share a similar vision with the Criticism editors.  We are not looking back at our accomplishments, but are actively engaged in making Project MUSE new again.

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