- Cynthia L. Selfe
- Gail E. Hawisher
- Patrick W. Berry
- Timothy Lockridge
- Melanie Yergeau
Using Computers and Composition Digital Press as a case study, we describe the challenges (and rewards) of digital publishing. It’s hard to believe that CCDP is nearly ten years old now. The six challenges below encapsulate what the press has accomplished and point toward the work that remains.
Challenge #1: Defining the Mission and Niche of Computers and Composition Digital Press
In the context of 2007, when Computers and Composition Digital Press (CCDP) was founded by Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe, with the able advice and help of colleagues such as Danielle DeVoss, H. Lewis Ulman, Dickie Selfe, Heidi McKee, and then-graduate students Patrick Berry and Melanie Yergeau, composition scholars had few, if any, choices of scholarly press venues for the publication of fully mediated book-weight (long-form) projects. Digital presses that depended on blind peer review, that focused on rhetoric and composition scholarship, and that explored the role of technology in and around those disciplinary areas were rarer still. 
The goal of Computers and Composition Digital Press, as we conceived it, was to provide an alternative scholarly press for long-form projects that had the specific gravity of printed books (especially monographs), which at that time were considered the “gold standard”:
The status of the monograph as a gold standard is confirmed by the expectation in almost one-third of all departments surveyed (32.9%) of progress toward completion of a second book for tenure. This expectation is even higher in doctorate-granting institutions, where 49.8% of departments now demand progress toward a second book. (MLA, 2007, p. 10)
In contrast, Computers and Composition Digital Press, we decided, would feature long-form digital projects (fully mediated works containing video, audio, animation, and alphabetic text) that explored the role of technology in and around the field of rhetoric and composition. The press’s second project, for example, was John Scenters-Zapico’s Generaciones’ Narratives: The Pursuit and Practice of Traditional and Electronic Literacies on the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, based on more than a hundred surveys and interviews with individuals from multiple generations whose literate lives spanned the United States and Mexico. Published by CCDP in 2010, Generaciones featured video clips in which individuals argued for the validity and value of their literacies and the paths of their lived experiences through story-based responses.
In addition, we wanted CCDP to be open-access, with all projects freely available to the public, reflecting the feminist principles that informed the work of Selfe and Hawisher. With these values in mind, the tagline of CCDP became “Open Access. Peer Reviewed. Online.”
Challenge #2: Seeking Legitimacy
We were convinced that to attract the best authors and editors to CCDP, its projects needed to count for tenure and promotion at even the most conservative institutions, and so we set the additional goal of creating a press with a highly respected International Editorial Board of scholars, one that depended on blind peer review– produced works with broad professional impact and featured projects with the intellectual reach, scope, and excellence for which more conventional presses in rhetoric and composition studies were known. We believed such a press would provide authors with the greatest support in creating digital long-form scholarship that could help influence the broader field of which they were a part while receiving the appropriate recognition for their digital scholarly contributions. This was especially important as English departments and writing studies programs around the country continued to debate the significance, assessment, and specific contributions of digital publications, as scholars like Valerie Lee and Cynthia Selfe (2008) and James Purdy and Joyce Walker (2010) argued.
To further strengthen the reputation of Computers and Composition Digital Press, we sought partners to help us in our mission. In the spring of 2008, the press began an affiliation with The Institute for the Future of the Book, and in fall 2008 it became an imprint of Utah State University Press (and later, in 2012, the University Press of Colorado). Through these efforts, CCDP established an increasingly visible profile as a publisher of long-form, fully mediated scholarship in rhetoric and composition, later enhanced by the professional awards garnered by its authors and their projects.
The third project published by CCDP in 2011, Susan Delagrange’s Technologies of Wonder: Rhetorical Practice in a Digital World, considered the theoretical and pedagogical implications of designing academic scholarship in interactive digital media. The project, which focused on mediated examples and boasted an innovative digital design, proposed a renewed emphasis on embodied visual rhetoric and on the canon of arrangement as an active visual practice; it used the concept of the Wunderkammer to argue for techné and wonder as guiding principles for new models of invention and intervention in multimodal scholarly production. Delagrange used this project as the cornerstone of her tenure and promotion case at Ohio State University (Mansfield) in 2012. The project was the first born-digital book in rhetoric and composition put forward as a credential for tenure and promotion at a Big 10 university, and it received the Conference on College Composition and Communication’s Outstanding Book Award in 2013, the Winifred Bryan Horner Outstanding Book Award from the Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition in 2012, and the Computers and Composition Distinguished Book Award in 2011.
Challenge #3: Establishing a Sustainable Gift Economy
Subsequent awards given to CCDP, such as the Conference on College Composition and Communication’s (CCCC) Advancement of Knowledge Award and Research Impact Award (2013) to Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times, along with CCCC’s Lavender Rhetorics Award (2016) for Jacqueline Rhodes and Jonathan Alexander’s Techné, have contributed to making CCDP a leading publisher in our field. Computers and Composition’s Outstanding Digital Scholarship Award was given to Megan Fulwiler and Jennifer Marlow’s Con Job (2014), and its Distinguished Book Award (2012) went to Debra Journet, Cheryl Ball, and Ryan Trauman’s The New Work of Composing, all of which worked to establish CCDP as an important publishing venue in rhetoric and composition.
These awards would have been less likely to have been bestowed on CCDP projects without the press’s excellent editorial staff and reviewers. CCDP’s International Editorial Board includes exemplary scholars across the profession and from such diverse fields as rhetoric and composition, digital writing studies, cultural studies, library and information science, education, video studies, feminist theory, technical communication, and digital humanities. These members not only endorsed the founding of the press, but also have added their own perspectives as to what such a press can and should do, stressing the need for a press such as CCDP in the current century. Richard Grusin’s response is indicative of the feedback we received upon directing invitations to potential editorial board members in 2007:
This is an important project that addresses the changing conditions of knowledge production brought about with new technologies with a real-world solution. I think the next step will be to work with our colleagues at organizations like the MLA to make this kind of thing acceptable in institutional settings as well as to think about developing a practice of producing online books that responds to the increasingly prohibitive cost of publishing scholarly print books of all kinds. I’m delighted to be involved. (Personal Communication, 9-27-07)
We are proud of this Editorial Board and hope we have lived up to Grusin’s expectations. We are also proud of and grateful to the outstanding reviewers from the board and beyond who have arguably, along with CCDP’s editorial staff, made the press what it is today. The long-term commitment of the reviewers, who work with authors from the submission of a pre-proposal through many initial revisions, several subsequent drafts, and the final submission to Michael Spooner and his Utah State University Press Advisory Committee and the University at Colorado Press Trustees, ensures the high publication quality for which CCDP has become known.
Challenge #4: Seeking Excellence: Recruiting Authors and Establishing a Collaborative Collective
CCDP’s editorial staff, along with the Editorial Board members and colleagues from around the world—Australia, Mexico, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States—have helped us recruit authors with the requisite skills for multimodal publishing along with the necessary informed scholarship the field demands. We believe, with Purdy and Walker (2010), that we need to consider how “digital scholarship might transform knowledge-making practices” (Profession, p. 178) while underscoring the fact that the press is a collaborative enterprise. The spirit of collaboration for which the field of rhetoric and composition is known seems especially appropriate in the digital realm. Already, as former editors of the print journal Computers and Composition, we had depended increasingly on the power of collaborative teams as the field expanded beyond the alphabetic to include video, audio, and still images. CCDP, with its born-digital projects, highlighted and affirmed the importance of such teams, with authors who brought technological skills to their efforts contributing to the wide range of intellectual innovations published by the press. We need only consider such groundbreaking collaborative projects as Con Job: Stories of Adjunct and Contingent Labor, Techné: Queer Meditations on Writing the Self, and Provocations: Reconstructing the Archive to catch a glimpse of the rich collaborative settings that have, like all CCDP books, been enhanced by peer review (see <http://ccdigitalpress.org/ebooks-and-projects>). These publications and many other CCDP books exemplify the transformation of knowledge that is taking place in the scholarship of the humanities. We believed when we started CCDP—and believe even more strongly now—that digital publishing venues have the potential to do justice to the new meanings and identities that people continually assemble and reassemble, together and alone, through language, literate exchange, digital media, and the texts of academic living.
Challenge #5: Working Toward Accessibility
Given the multimodal and multimedia nature of the digital publications, CCDP increasingly published projects that were as accessible as possible for users of diverse technologies (e.g., screen readers, mobile devices) as well as for users who had a wide range of needs and preferences for accessing communicative modalities (visual, aural, alphabetic).
As a first step toward meeting this goal, and with the help of Melanie Yergeau, we looked for guidance regarding the best practices and standards as defined by Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) of the World Wide Web Consortium Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C WAI), which had the goal of goal of providing a shared standard for web content accessibility that met the “needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally.” The WCAG aimed to explain how authors could make web content (including, especially, text, images, and sounds, and code or markup that defines “structure, presentation, etc.”) more accessible to people with disabilities (“Web Content Accessibility”).
Recognizing the challenges and the many benefits of working toward accessibility, CCDP also endorsed the spirit of the Accessible Books Initiative (and Consortium), which urged authors and editors to position accessibility as a primary concern and precondition of publishing. For CCDP, this effort meant developing and maintaining accessibility efforts as an ongoing process. More specifically, and on a pragmatic basis, the Press committed to:
- Providing alt tags and text titles for all content images.
- Providing captioning, audio description, and/or text-based equivalents for multimedia content.
- Supporting browser settings for enlarging text and applying user style sheets through a unique CSS signature.
- Enabling keyboard navigation of web pages.
- Encouraging authors to design their projects with the above goals in mind and pointing them toward resources that would help them do so. (“CCDP Accessibility Policy”)
CCDP also asked authors who published with the press to seriously consider its accessibility guidelines as they designed their projects, being prepared to provide alternate formats for readers who requested them. These guidelines and requirements were not insignificant for authors, often adding hours of work to their project preparation time and introducing tasks that necessitated new research and skills. Given the demands of sophisticated accessibility, the projects sent to CCDP increasingly stemmed from collaborative teams that could collectively shape content, research, design, and coding features to create robust long-form professional publications. In noting the time and skills involved in working toward accessible project designs, we also wish to make clear that these practices are necessary for the creation of any project, but are often thrown into relief—or made hyper-apparent—in discussions of digital or multimodal design. Often, arguments about the time and know-how involved in accessible practices are couched in language of burden and overwhelm—e.g., if only interpreters weren’t so expensive; if only we had the resources to print hard copies of all conference presentations; if only describing images didn’t take up so much of our time. In this regard, our focus on time and know-how has been at the level of inception of design, and we encourage authors to consider accessible practices, broadly construed, as a series of organizing processes that flow across all stages and modes of creation. In short, we want to recognize the ongoing labor that accessibility necessitates, while also ensuring that labor isn’t weaponized against authors, editors, and readers who have been systematically prevented from accessing and creating texts. Accessibility is a communal and interdependent process that mediates our experiences of composing.
Thus, making projects accessible occupies a large proportion of the CCDP’s editorial process, an effort that has fallen in large part to Senior Editor Timothy Lockridge (Miami University of Ohio), who continues not only to check projects for accessibility of coding features, but also to assist authors and editors as they work toward making projects accessible from an early developmental stage, with the goal of building in accessibility features from the beginning rather that adding them when the work nears completion. We at CCDP believe that such a commitment to accessibility is a significant aspect of the press’s contributions to the field.
Challenge #6: Sustainability, Labor, and Preservation Efforts
As the efforts of CCDP gained momentum in the current decade and the press placed an increasing value on experimental digital scholarship in rhetoric and composition, the editors had to confront the challenge of balancing sometimes competing values regarding preservation and innovation, sustainability and labor, repair and degradation over time. By this time, it was clear that users wishing to work with projects published in the early days of the CCDP’s efforts, whether for their classes or their own scholarship, were encountering increasing problems stemming from technological degradation: broken and dead links, outdated software formats, inaccessible mediated elements.
As a result, in 2016, the CCDP editors authored a statement on sustainability, repair, and labor in an attempt to address the increasingly complex and competing demands of keeping digital projects accessible, sustaining the experimental scholarly contributions of the press, and acknowledging the very real labor that we continued to put into keeping CCDP projects in updated form. This statement recognized a fundamental and complicated tension in the press’s work. Although we had continued to advise authors to use current coding and accessibility standards, we also acknowledged that the projects published by CCDP would need ongoing repair and updating over time as standards, practices, websites, software, and hardware changed. We also noted that the labor required for such updating efforts was a heavy burden for a press fully dependent on the volunteer efforts of authors, editors, and reviewers.
Thus, within the dynamic context for the born-digital, media-rich scholarship, CCDP noted the following steps it had taken toward conserving the labor of authors and editors while sustaining scholarly projects in accessible formats for as long as possible:
- Encouraging all authors to balance their expectations for preservation with an understanding of 1) the dynamic context for born-digital, media-rich scholarship, and 2) the labor involved in repairing/updating/revising projects so they function seamlessly with changing software, hardware, externally linked websites, etc.
- Encouraging all authors to balance their valuing of innovations (especially those that require advanced software, hardware, media formats, systems, etc.) with their valuing of the project’s accessibility to a broad audience.
- Advising authors on current standards for coding and accessibility and asking that they follow these guidelines.
- Storing all files (including media files and images) for every project on CCDP’s server, dating the publication/edition so that readers can gauge its state of repair/maintenance.
- Recognizing the authorial and editorial labor involved in updating projects, offering authors the opportunity to publish a new edition of their work (to revise or repair the project with the goal of maintaining or enhancing its content) every two years. When authors wish to publish a new edition, they can request the original files from the CCDP, revise/repair them, and send back a new set of files (in a single folder) that CCDP will install on its server and announce as a new edition.
In the years ahead, we hope to better understand and work through the tensions of sustainability and author access. For example, WordPress-based projects present a particular challenge, and we have had to pass on WordPress-based projects or ask that authors move a WordPress project to another format. Although WordPress allows authors to build projects from professionally-designed templates and WYSIWYG interfaces, it also presents preservation dilemmas: Outdated WordPress installations introduce server security vulnerabilities, and each new update to a WordPress installation might break a project’s design or structure. However, we also recognize that WordPress’s popularity is based on its many templates and ease of use, and it thus offers an approachable entryway into digital publishing. Likewise, many authors don’t have the time or knowledge needed to design static HTML pages, and not all institutions offer technological support for acquiring those skills or finding a collaborator. As the press grows, we hope to develop pedagogies and support systems that will make CCDP a more inclusive and approachable space for digital publishing.
In 2016, the press undertook several efforts to preserve the long-term viability of projects, both supervised by Senior Editor Patrick Berry (Syracuse University), who worked with students at Syracuse University. The first such project, which is currently in progress, was designed to update and repair content in Scenters-Zapico’s Generaciones’ Narratives: The Pursuit and Practice of Traditional and Electronic Literacies on the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, originally published in 2010. The primary objective of this work was to update the format of video clips and move the project to a web-based format. The second such effort involved an update of Patrick W. Berry, Gail E. Hawisher, and Cynthia L. Selfe’s Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times, originally published in 2012; the book was revised to address technical issues resulting from browsers’ no longer supporting the QuickTime plugin. Movie files were converted from .mov to .mp4, and Shadowbox was updated. Recently, Timothy Lockridge collaborated with Miami University’s Center for Digital Scholarship to produce an EPUB prototype of McKee & DeVoss’s Digital Writing Assessment and Evaluation, and he is now working with undergraduate and graduate students to explore the possibility of EPUB publications.
Perhaps the most important investment the CCDP has made in sustainability, however, has been reflected in adjustments to our editorial staff. In 2016, Cynthia Selfe and Gail Hawisher, the founding executive editors of the press, turned over leadership to three members of the press’s second generation: Patrick Berry (Syracuse University), Melanie Yergeau (University of Michigan), and Timothy Lockridge (Miami University of Ohio). These senior editors had been involved with the press for a number of years—first as graduate students, then as faculty members at their respective universities—and had a broad familiarity with the values and goals of the press. This new leadership, we are confident, will sustain the goals of Computers and Composition Digital Press and make the many adjustments needed to help it adapt to a rapidly changing profession, world, and technology context.
“CCDP Accessibility Policy.” Computers and Composition Digital Press website. Accessed 17 October 2016 at <http://ccdigitalpress.org/about/accessibility-policy>.
Delagrange, Susan (2011). Technologies of Wonder: Rhetorical Practice in a Digital World. Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press. Retrieved 17 October at <http://ccdigitalpress.org/ebooks-and-projects/wonder>.
Estabrook, Leigh (with Warner, Bijan, Research Assistant) (December 2003). The Book as the Gold Standard for Tenure and Promotion in the Humanistic Disciplines. CIC. Retrieved 17 Oct. 2016 at <https://www.btaa.org/docs/default-source/reports/scholarlycommunicationssummitreport_dec03.pdf?sfvrsn=0>.
Lee, Valerie and Selfe, Cynthia (2008). “Our Capacious Caper: Exposing Print-Culture Bias in Departmental Tenure Documents.” ADE Bulletin: (8) 51-58. Accessed 17 October 2016 at <https://ade.mla.org/bulletin/article/ade.145.51>.
Purdy, James P. and Walker, Joyce R. (2010). “Valuing Digital Scholarship: Exploring the Changing Realities of Intellectual Work.” Profession: 177-195. Accessed 17 October 2016 at < https://www.jstor.org/stable/41419875?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents>.
(2007). Report of the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion. Modern Language Association. Retrieved 17 October 2016 at <https://apps.mla.org/pdf/taskforcereport0608.pdf>.
Scenters-Zapico, John (2010). Generaciones’ Narratives: The Pursuit and Practice of Traditional and Electronic Literacies on the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press. Retrieved 17 October at <http://ccdigitalpress.org/ebooks-and-projects/generaciones>.
Section 508 “Electronic and Information Technology Act” of the Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. 794d), as amended by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-220), August 7, 1998. Retrieved 17 October 2016 at <https://www.section508.gov/section-508-of-the-rehabilitation-act>.
“Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)” by the World Wide Web Consortium Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C WAI). Shawn Lawton Henry (Ed.). Retrieved 17 October 2016 at <https://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag.php>.
- The exception to this statement is Michael Palmquist’s WAC Clearinghouse (see the History of the WAC Clearinghouse <http://wac.colostate.edu/about/history.cfm>, which was a pioneer in publishing digital books focused on WAC, but did not emphasize fully mediated works that dealt in some way with the role of digital technologies in rhetoric and composition studies. The first WAC Clearinghouse book, for example (edited by Charles Bazerman and David Russell, entitled Writing Selves/Writing Societies: Research from Activity Perspectives), published in 2002, was formatted as a .pdf document and resembled for the most part a conventional paper-based book, although the WAC Clearinghouse later pioneered other innovative digital formats and collaborative professional efforts in publishing.
- The photo represented here was taken by Synne Skjulstad, at that time a graduate student at the University of Oslo in Norway.