Sarah Werner


Sarah Werner

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Sarah Werner (although sometimes folks know me better as @wynkenhimself). I've recently started calling myself an independent librarian, basically a made-up job that sounds better than "independent scholar." I trained to be an English professor: I got a PhD and wrote a dissertation about Shakespeare and performance and feminism (it's also a book!). And then life happened. I didn't get a tenure-track job, I got married, I had a couple of kids. Through some making of my own luck (I hate talking about being lucky; it's hard work to be ready to seize opportunities) I ended up working at the Folger Shakespeare Library as director of their undergraduate program, and so I turned into a book historian and digital media scholar. I fell in love with rare books libraries and how we today interact with old books, and so I quit that job to write and to work as a consultant for special collections libraries.

I've just finished writing a book about how books were made in the first centuries of the printing press and how we work with them today; Studying Early Printed Books, 1450-1800: A Practical Guide will be out from Wiley Blackwell in spring 2018. While the book is in production I'm developing a website that will host images of early printed books and teaching resources.

What hardware do you use?

I rely heavily on my crappy old laptop, a Dell Latitude 6430u that I bought I don't even know when — I think 2013 when I had to take a research trip to England and it was pretty new? The trackpad clicker only works in its sweetspot and I've worn through the coating on the "n" key, but other than that, it's trucking along just fine and it's where I do all my work.

I also rely heavily on my iPhone — I'm using a 6s Plus at the moment, which was a hand-me-down from my spouse after I dropped mine in the toilet. I love the camera but it's way too big for my hands. I do a ton of reading, browsing, and tweeting on it, though, so I manage. I recently got one of the new Apple Watches so I could take walks without having to carry my phone with me, since it doesn't fit into my pockets — I worry about being out of touch if something happens to one of my kids, so this has been freeing. (Pockets, by the way, are an important hardware issue that drive women nuts.) Rounding out my Apple ecosystem is an old iPad; my son tells me it's an iPad Air 2. I use primarily to read PDFs on; when I was teaching it was a godsend. Now I still use it for reading journal articles, but it lives mostly as a device to display recipes and to play music through while I'm cooking.

Other odds and ends: I do a lot of pleasure reading on my Kindle Paperwhite — I think it's the 3rd gen, but it could be the 2nd. The ability to adjust the font size and read at night without a light shining in my aging eyes is fabulous. If I didn't have this, I wouldn't be able to read nearly as many novels as I do, and reading is part of what keeps me sane.

Finally, the biggest category of hardware that I depend on are all my books. I read novels on my Kindle, but work books are always paper codices. I find them easier to take notes on, to refer back to, and even just being able to stand in front of my shelves and stare at them can be helpful.

And what software?

I wrote my book entirely in Scrivener and it made the whole thing possible. Since the book is largely constructed out of chunks of information (these are the steps for laying out type, this is how books are bound, here is how you understand catalog records), using Scrivener let me start out with an outline that I could then slowly build up into blocks of coherent text. I could rearrange blocks as I needed, mark sections as incomplete, and easily move between different places in the project. If I hadn't had it, I don't think I could have really grasped both the large picture of what I was writing and the smaller details.

Shorter pieces, like talks or manuscript reviews, I still do in Word, even though I know everyone hates it. I also use some of the other Office 2013 things, like PowerPoint for my image-heavy talks and sometimes Excel to track various things. But I'm also an inhabitant of the land of Google products for collaborative or public documents, such as the lists I maintain of digitized Gutenberg Bibles and early printed books that aren't available as open-access digital facsimiles.

It feels like most of what I'm doing these days is creating this Early Printed Books website. It's a fun project and a super exhausting one. I spend a lot of time searching for usable images that (a) show features I need, (b) are a high-enough resolution to see details (at least 1000px and preferably around 3000px), (c) that can be downloaded as jpg, jp2, or tiff files, and (d) that are either public domain or use CC BY or CC BY-SA licenses. Oh, and I like to have images of works that cover the entire period of hand-press printing (1450-1800), that come from across the early modern West, and that are produced and hosted by a range of institutions. I have a secret Pinterest board of images I've come across accidentally (my rare books librarian friends post some great stuff on Twitter), and I have long lists on Workflowy of categories of images that I need and links of places to find things. I've been using Pinboard for years and have accumulated a bucketload of links for everything connected to these projects and other projects and just about anything I come across online that I might want again (it's connected to my Twitter and Pocket accounts, so things I fave or save there are bookmarked as well).

Once I have specific images and time to download them, I use Tropy to organize them. It lets me add my own metadata — I need to track both the details of what the imaged book is and the institution providing it, not to mention the licensing terms and tags of book features. Tropy is an open-source project from CHNM and is designed for researchers who take a lot of images in archives. It's only just been released, and I can already see it will meet my photography needs the way Zotero meets my reference organization needs. Once I've got the highest possible resolution of the images I want downloaded, I use IrfanView to resize and compress them so I can then upload them to my site. (I still download as hi-res as possible because sometimes I need to zoom in on a specific detail and it's easier for me to download things once rather than to have to go back and start over again.)

The website itself is built on WordPress with a whole lot of modifications from the standard themes. I use an AMPPS Stack to develop this thing on my local computer and spend a lot of time fiddling with bits and pieces in Notepad++ to get things to work the way I want them to. I often feel like I don't know quite what I'm doing, but between the WordPress Codex and the PHP and CSS tutorials in W3schools, not to mention the assistance of my teenaged programmer son, it's going pretty well. Plus, you learn by doing, right?

I keep all of this and everything backed up on SpiderOak, because I am a packrat and a hoarder and if I lose my work it will never get published and I will never get paid.

What would be your dream setup?

Oh, man. I would love a computer with a bigger screen because my eyes are getting old. I work at home at a built-in standing desk now, but ideally I'd like one that had adjustable height and even an adjustable seat because sometimes you just want to sit down. I always need more bookshelves, and books. If I could get full access to all the online databases I need without paying an arm and a leg, I would be thrilled. (It's hard to do research when you don't have an academic affiliation.)

But what I'd really really like is a magical filing system where I could drop a pile of paper on my desk and it would just put itself away instantly. And my own printing press would be fun.



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