Open Shelf is a Failure

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Samuel BeckettThis is one of my favourite observations and encouragements from the always sunny and positive Samuel Beckett (its from Worstward Ho, 1983). I’m a big fan of screwing up. Quite good at it really.

Of course the proof of this is in the pudding … the spoiled pudding I suppose.

A project I’ve been working on for some time has recently been released. It’s an ongoing thing; it started in one place and is moving into other, as yet unknown, place.

The project is Open Shelf, the new e-magazine of the Ontario Library Association. We launched with our initial content in early September and we plan on releasing new content every two weeks. I’m the Editor-in Chief.

So, what am I saying? Is Open Shelf a failure?

Yes, no, perhaps, of course.

I am ever thankful to Shelagh Paterson (Executive Director of OLA) and the OLA Board of Directors for their willingness to take a risk on this project. Moving from a print quarterly  with a revenue base (Access, which OLA published for 20 years) to an open access online something-or-other with no income took intestinal fortitude.

Working with a number of wonderful people we started inventing Open Shelf nearly two years ago. We had to learn almost everything about digital publishing from the ground up; the epitome of neophytes.

Open Shelf

Open Shelf

And so it was released, warts and all. Yup we had (have) some challenges. Site performance …. well it sucked. The RSS feed seemed wonky. Some readers found it visually confusing. Articles didn’t render well on certain browser or on some devices. The table of contents (which I thought was very cool) mystified people. I could go on. And on.

Other readers, bless them, really liked it … and had some suggestions for making it better.

We published some excellent articles and we have some brilliant columnists. I like the bold visual style and I think the format is going to be flexible. There are lots of wonderful contributions in the editorial stages. It has, I think, my most important criteria for success: readability.

We’re going to move forward, perhaps stumble forward. The editors, writers, and readers are all together on this journey. I know we will make improvements as well as entirely new screw ups.

And that’s the message. It’s easy to talk about encouraging failure and allowing people to make mistakes. The real value is in actually doing it …. and seeing (demonstrating) that it really does work. We are failing better. Good on us.



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