Justin Tonra

Making an Audience

Making an Audience

I propose to deliver a paper that will focus on the relationship between readers and electronic texts, with specific reference to the hypermedia archive. Due to the fact that the creation of hypermedia archives is still in a period of relative infancy, there is a conflict between their creation for a purely academic sense of achievement, for commercial gain, and for a genuine desire to satisfy the educational and pedagogic demands of a certain audience, whether it be comprised of students, academics or others. Though there are a number of important examples extant, the hypermedia archive currently appears to be at a tentative stage of research and development, rather than widespread implementation.

As a consequence of this, a stable audience for the hypermedia archive has not been defined with any clarity; in my paper, I aim to address what this fact implies for a team undertaking the creation of such an archive. In doing so, I will refer to my own experiences as part of the current project at the Moore Institute in the National University of Ireland, Galway to create a pilot hypermedia archive of the works of Irish poet, Thomas Moore (1779-1852).

One of the major benefits of the hypermedia archive is that it can resurrect and reproduce obscure documents and provide unified and remote access to materials that are scattered at various points across the globe. However, there are certain obstacles that audiences may have some difficulties in overcoming: the experience of reading from a book and from a computer screen are very different, and studies[1] on electronic book usage have demonstrated readers’ objections to the computer’s lack of tactility, and their consequent inability to fully immerse themselves in the reading experience.

In my paper I will argue that the relationship between the hypermedia archive and its audience is a reciprocal one; the structure and content of the archive will posit a certain audience, and conversely, the demands of that audience will be reflected in the design and capabilities of the archive. I will explore further issues about the relationship between the hypermedia archive and its audience, such as: How can the archive best serve the user’s expectations of reading a text on a computer screen? How important is the design and appearance of text and images in the archive? Should it aim to replicate the experience of reading a book, to adhere to the ‘book metaphor’? Will a hypermedia archive ultimately supplement, rather than replace other formats, and should its design be directed accordingly? I will also consider the implications of the hypermedia archive for scholarly audiences and how online peer-reviewing and scholarly publication may provide an alternative to publication in periodicals and journals.

[1] Dearnley, James, Cliff McKnight and Anne Morris. ‘Electronic Book Usage in Public Libraries: A Study of User and Staff Reactions to a PDA-Based Collection.’ Journal of Librarianship and Information Science 36.4 (2004): 175-82.

Levine-Clark, Michael. ‘Electronic Book Usage: A Survey at the University of Denver.’ Libraries and the Academy 6.3 (2006): 285-99.

Making Books, Shaping Readers

School of English, O' Rahilly Building, University College Cork, Ireland.