November 2, 2005

The Electronic Literature Collection: Call for Works

by Scott Rettberg · , 12:06 pm

The Electronic Literature Organization seeks submissions for the first Electronic Literature Collection. We invite the submission of literary works that take advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the computer. Works will be accepted until January 31, 2006. Up to three works per author will be considered.

The Electronic Literature Collection will be an annual publication of current and older electronic literature in a form suitable for individual, public library, and classroom use. The publication will be made available both online, where it will be available for download for free, and as a packaged, cross-platform CD-ROM, in a case appropriate for library processing, marking, and distribution. The contents of the Collection will be offered under a Creative Commons license so that libraries and educational institutions will be allowed to duplicate and install works and individuals will be free to share the disc with others.

The editorial collective for this first volume of the Electronic Literature Collection, to be published in 2006, is:

N. Katherine Hayles
Nick Montfort
Scott Rettberg
Stephanie Strickland

This collective will review the submitted work and select pieces for the Collection.

The editorial collectives for each volume will be chosen by the Electronic Literature Organization’s board of directors. The tentative editorial collective for the second Collection, to be published in 2007, includes Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, Marjorie C. Luesebrink, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin.

Literary quality will be the chief criterion for selection of works. Other aspects considered will include innovative use of electronic techniques, quality and navigability of interface, and adequate representation of the diverse forms of electronic literature in the collection as a whole.

For the first Collection, the collective will consider works up to 50 MB in size, uncompressed. Works submitted should function on both Macintosh OS X (10.4) and Windows XP. Works should function without requiring users to purchase or install additional software. Submissions may require software that is typically pre-installed on contemporary computers, such as a web browser, and are allowed to use the current versions of the most common plugins.

To have a work considered, all the authors of the work must agree that if their work is published in the Collection, they will license it under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License, which will permit others to copy and freely redistribute the work, provided the work is attributed to its authors, that it is redistributed non-commercially, and that it is not used in the creation of derivative works. No other limitation is made regarding the author’s use of any work submitted or accepted.

To submit a work:

  1. Prepare a plain text file with the following information:
    • The title of the work.
    • The names and email addresses of all authors and contributors of the work.
    • The URL where you are going to make your .zip file available for us to download. The editorial collective will not publish the address of this file.
    • A short description of the work — less than 200 words in length.
    • Any instructions required to operate the work.
    • The date the work was first distributed or published, or “unpublished” if it has not yet been made available to the public.
  2. Prepare a .zip archive including the work in its entirety. Include the text file from step (1) at the top level of this archive, and name it “submisson.txt”.
  3. Upload the .zip file to a web server so that it is available at the specified location.
  4. Place all of the text in the “submisson.txt” file in the body of an email and send it to with the name of the piece being submitted included in the subject line.

The Electronic Literature Collection is supported by institutional partners including the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing (CPCW) at the University of Pennsylvania, ELINOR: Electronic Literature in the Nordic Countries, Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and The School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota.

6 Responses to “The Electronic Literature Collection: Call for Works”

  1. Jason Scott Says:

    Hi, not to be a killjoy, but this sounds like a great way to make a CD-ROM that will be unplayable in 8 years, something where you’ll have to jack out an emulator and a copy of a version of Firefox (hey, remember Firefox back in 2005?) with RazzleDazzle-Plugin v1.3 (v2.0 broke EVERYTHING) or it won’t be viewable.

    I have a lot of hypercard stacks to show you.

  2. nick Says:

    Jason, I’m interested to know why you think this sounds like “a great way to make a CD-ROM that will be unplayable in 8 years.” Don’t worry about being a killjoy – after doing similar work on the New Media Reader CD-ROM, working with others to formulate Acid-Free Bits: Recommendations for Long-Lasting Electronic Literature and Born-Again Bits: A Framework for Migrating Electronic Literature, and developing this project thoughtfully with a group of similarly experienced people for several months, an offhand comment mentioning something that we’ve already discussed and dealt with isn’t going to diminish my enthusiasm for the Collection at all.

    I think your issue is with us allowing work that requires standard browsers and common plugins. If we didn’t allow browsers and, say, the Flash plugin to be used, it wouldn’t really be possible to represent a wide range of functioning e-lit in the Collection. Besides the substantial amount of work in HTML, a lot of stuff that is worth sharing with people is in Flash. If all of this stuff doesn’t work in eight years, well, that’s too bad. We’ll try to make things as easy to access and run as possible. But our project isn’t an attempt to make every proprietary computer program run forever, and we can’t fix update sabotage inflicted by giant corporations like Adobe/Macromedia.

    Some of the stuff on the CD-ROM will still work after eight years. Some of it probably won’t, despite our best efforts. Still, the Collection can help people read this work, study it, teach it, and learn about it a great deal in the next few years. And it’s not like we’re taking other versions of the work away. Someone eight or more years in the future, thanks to the Collection, will have an additional way to try to get access to a piece of electronic literature and to get it running. Two additional ways, actually, since the same Collection will be published on CD-ROM and online.

    I know you have plenty of experience with digital archiving, too, and I’d be glad to her what exactly your concerns are here, if these aren’t them.

  3. josh g. Says:

    Couldn’t one just include a copy of Firefox and Razzle-Dazzle Plugin v1.3 on the CD-ROM to solve the problem? It’s even possible to have an installed copy of Firefox with its own custom profile, plugins (I think), etc on a CD-ROM. So the collection CD could have a single-click option to run a browser configured for the media it contains (without affecting the user’s normal browser installation).

    Hardware or OS changes may still require an emulator in the future, but I don’t think there’s anything that can be done to avoid that. Unless you’re thinking that sticking with highly standardized HTML files only may allow the media to continue being accessible, but that seems questionable. (Heck, in 10 years maybe no one will bother with CD-ROM drives anyway, and the collection will have to be copied to the new common flash-ram or holographic media format to be accessible.)

  4. nick Says:

    Couldn’t one just include a copy of Firefox and Razzle-Dazzle Plugin v1.3 on the CD-ROM to solve the problem?

    Firefox we could legally include. Plugins, in general, no, unless we get permission from the company that made them. I’ve already wasted too much of my life trying to do things like that in working on the New Media Reader – with results that were at best mixed.

    Regarding Firefox, if we did include it, why stop there? We might as well include a whole operating system to run Firefox and the e-lit that can be viewed in it. Of course, if we did that, it might not run on the hardware that’s around in eight years…

    Basically, we have to draw the line somewhere to be able to do this. The Electronic Literature Collection is an electronic literature project, not a browser preservation project, so we’re not worrying about preserving the browser, we’re just putting together a collection of e-lit.

    Hardware or OS changes may still require an emulator in the future, but I don’t think there’s anything that can be done to avoid that.

    I agree completely. The only thing to be done in general is to write the emulators that are necessary. Doing so is a substantial project all its own. Putting together a collection like this, while leaving that problem aside for the moment, is still going to be worthwhile, and will help to show a lot of people the full range of things that computers can do.

  5. mark Says:

    It’s not identical, but I’ve on and off had some discussions with people in the computer-music community who are concerned with archiving that material, and an emerging consensus is that everything should be open source, so plugins and playback devices and so on can be ported to new devices and OSs in the future. So, for example, a lot of people who use graphical dataflow-style soft-synth programming for their pieces are starting to move towards the open-source Pure Data instead of the previous de-facto-but-proprietary standard, Max/MSP.

    Flash is kind of an in-between problematic case. It’s a theoretically open format, but the only playback software that can actually play it back is Macromedia’s proprietary player, despite some efforts to create open-source players (there are some GPL players, but they choke on all but the simplest stuff). Whether this is because it’s horribly complex, because nobody’s invested sufficient resources in writing the player, because the open specifications aren’t actually as complete and transparent as claimed, or some other reason, it does make the situation somewhat uneasy. The HyperCard comparison is not too far off, IMO, with the added problem that reimplementing Flash playback from scratch is actually quite a bit harder than reimplementing HyperCard.

  6. Remy Says:

    Actually, including an operating system on the CD isn’t a bad idea. Some bootable linux distro, like Knoppix or Ubuntu or something wouldn’t be a bad thing. Tweak it with the appropriate plugins (should come with them out-of-the-box anyway), and you’ve got a bootable CD-ROM full of e-lit.

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