April 6, 2021Nancy Adams
Transitions is an occasional series where community members reflect on the things they have learned while moving from one institution to another or one role to another.
By Cheryl E. Ball, Wayne State University
I’m still searching for the correct terminology to describe my previous life in the academy: For almost 20 years, I worked towards and then became a professor (little P), both tenure-track and tenured, in English departments at three different U.S. universities. (I used to just say I was “faculty” but since librarians can also be faculty, I’ve found that terminology confusing since I transitioned to library-land.) As a grad student and professor, I taught multimodal composition, print production, web design, and in the latter years a lot of digital editing and publishing classes that built on my industry and academic experience in publishing. I was also researching multimodal composition practices–essentially the classroom-based version of the editorial work I was doing with authors at the scholarly multimedia journal Kairos: Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. While editor, I’ve been able to study how authors are mentored and revise their work, how webtexts are peer reviewed and design-edited, how editorial workflows for scholarly multimedia are different (or not) from print-based publishing workflows, how the infrastructure of independent digital publishing is made possible (but not necessarily sustainable) on no budget, how the foibled preservation tactics of most born-digital scholarship is disastrous for the scholarly record, and more.
My research kept pushing me towards building an editorial management and publishing platform for journals like Kairos, and after years of struggle, pondering whether that was the right course, I began working on the Vega publishing platform–thanks to a Mellon grant I received in 2015. Working on Vega meant that I was spending half my time teaching in the English department and half my time researching and building things in the library, focusing on scholarly communications work (a phrase unknown to most faculty members outside of library-land). It was work I loved and wanted to do more of, but didn’t have the time as a faculty member. The outreach efforts that working from within the library opened for me–to reach out to faculty and students across campus, instead of “just” in my home discipline–satisfied my mentoring orientation regarding knowledge-making in the academy. So when the opportunity arose in late 2017 to transition into full-time library work, focused on building publishing infrastructures through Vega at Wayne State University, well, I did not jump at the chance. I was in the middle of my “critical” year in applying for Full Professor–the golden ring of academia.