Word of the Day: Workflow

I started noticing the recurrence of the word “worklflow” about a year ago. This is also the time that I had begun to get what metadata are (I come from a galaxy far, far away, as you see). At first, I imagined a nice little boat gently floating  on a river: me and my team along the workflow. I took me a while to accept that the problems of workflow involve thinking in terms of non-linearity and arrhythmia.

In the traditional way my discipline works, the most you have to coordinate is topics for papers when you plan a conference or exchanging corrections between the author and the editor for a book. The idea to work in direct connection with institutions and not just shake hands and put their names as “cooperation partners” completely changed the way I do my job. Half of it is, in fact, another job.

At the time being, our cooperation extends to 5 institutions we are working out a workflow with:

– the easiest workflow to implement so far – and also the only institution we already have a signed Memorandum of Understanding with – was with the Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin. We received their digitizations and used them on our edition; anyone wanting to re-use them has to ask for their permission; it is all settled and implemented on the edition page (which I promise you will get to see at the beginning of April)

– the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-PK: the simple idea to implement in our digital edition a link to the digitizations hosted in the StaBi’s digital library involves a series of work steps before it comes to actually realizing this linking. We are now working on that specific workflow, which supposes a mutual effort in coordinating the granularity of information we put in the metadata (which both the StaBi and us want to use). Slowly but surely, I am getting acquainted with librarian data formats;

– Some of the texts we edit are major works of German Romanticism, so that the comparison between the manuscript and the first print is a major scholarly issue. In order to realize that, we are working on a workflow with the DTA (Deutsches Textarchiv, at the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften). The ball is in our camp right now, we have to realize a document that will be comparable to their document. It is not so easy since it does not just concern local amendments, but for instance whole paragraphs missing in one version – and the ending of the text is completely different, too;

– For the letters, I have emphasized often enough how important the index of persons is to me, especially with the aim of reconstructing intellectual networks. We are working out – guess what: yes, a workflow! – with the PDR (Personendatenrepositorium, also Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften) in order to retrieve some information from their database and for them to be able to use some of the specific information we provide through the unedited manuscripts;

– Within the Boeckh project, the cooperation with the University Library is a key element. Like for the StaBi, we have to find a way to mutually enrich our metadata. Unlike with the Staatsbibliothek though, it is not a limited number of folios we have as a common ground but thousands of books to be digitized. The difference of scale involves – well, a different kind of workflow. I am a little bit overwhelmed by the figures on that part of the project, I must admit. But we still have some time to figure it all out properly.

I hope to come to concrete cooperations like those also with the Archive of the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften and the University of Chicago Library / Special Collections. And hopefully others too. At some point.

One thing that I can say for sure is that I am very happy and proud of the way we use XML. The fact that we, the editorial team, the people who transcribe, comment, write papers on the literary value of those texts, encode them directly in XML/TEI makes it easier to put up all those cooperations. In fact, it makes it simply possible to work out direct workflows. That is one decision I will never thank Laurent enough for.

My biggest worry is still, of course, the long time archiving. On that point too, I think working in XML/TEI will be a major strength of the project. Still, I get more and more the question from the cooperation partners: “and how long does the project funding still last?”. June 2015 is coming closer, especially considering the time it will take to implement those workflows. But never would I have dreamed to be able to go that far in these 5 years, and I keep my fingers crossed that I will be given to pursue this work after this funding phase.

Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

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