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Review: Marjorie C. Luesebrink Collection at ELO's The NEXT

A review of Marjorie C. Luesebrink Collection at ELO’s The NEXT, a collection of digital literary art, directed by Dene Grigar

Published onAug 28, 2023
Review: Marjorie C. Luesebrink Collection at ELO's The NEXT

Marjorie C. Luesebrink Collection at ELO’s The NEXT

Project Team
Dene Grigar (Managing Director and Curator), Washington State University Vancouver
Richard Snyder (Metadata Specialist), Northwest University
Holly Slocum (Lead Designer and Operations Manager), Washington State University Vancouver
Greg Philbrook (Database Manager and Technical Specialist), Washington State University Vancouver
Andrew Thompson (Game & Flash Preservationist), Washington State University Vancouver
Arlo Ptolemy (Game & Flash Preservationist), Washington State University Vancouver
Ruth Woodcock (Metadata & Content Developer), Washington State University Vancouver
Ariel Wallace (Designer and Content Specialist), Washington State University Vancouver
Sierra O’Neal (2D & 3D Animator), Washington State University Vancouver
Joel Clapp (Videographer and Motion Graphics Designer), Washington State University Vancouver

Project URL

Project Reviewer
Kristen Lillvis, St. Catherine University
Melinda White, University of New Hampshire

Project Overview

Dene Grigar

The Marjorie C. Luesebrink Collection at ELO’s The NEXT features 66 works created and collected by this pioneering digital literary artist who publishes under the name M. D. Coverley. The 27 works produced by Coverley in the collection date back to the release of the web browser and the moment in time when print literary artists began experimenting with computers for the purpose of storytelling. Because many of these works were published with Flash and other outmoded platforms, they had become inaccessible to the public. Recovering her work meant not only working with Luesebrink to locate them but also migrating them and producing video playthroughs of those unable to be suitably recovered. Her collection also features her personal library of born-digital literature created by notable authors Shelley Jackson, Stephanie Strickland, Deena Larsen, Michael Joyce, and many others.

Her oeuvre can be conceptualized into four main periods, beginning with hypertext narratives from 1996. All of the works organized in this area of artistic output sees Coverley working in open web languages to produce narratives that explore women’s history, mythology, and contemporary socio-political issues.

The lure of digital hypermedia in web-based art drew Coverley to long-form, hypermedia writing. From 2000 to 2006 she published two major interactive novels, Califia and Egypt: The Book of Going Forth by Day. Both provided the opportunity to more fully realize her interest in mythology, with the former relaying a foundational myth of Californian history imbued with the dream of boom and bust born out of the Gold Rush; and the latter, to the mythology of Egypt with its rich interplay of image and storytelling.

The popularity of Flash as a platform for media-rich storytelling for the web provided Coverley with the ability to express herself with movement, sound, music, user interaction, and participation — not to mention an expanded color palette and spatial orientation. Beginning in 2000 with “Universal Resource Locator,” Coverley published nine Flash works, collaborating with other artists like Reiner Strasser and Stephanie Strickland who were also interested in the affordances of this platform for creative expression on the web.

With the introduction of YouTube in 2005 and the iPhone in 2009, Coverley, like many literary artists, returned to open web languages or new web-based platforms that favored video and other media forms. During this period she began exploring Excel, PowerPoint, and video via Vimeo for producing works of fiction. What is obvious about Coverley’s work is her drive to create and her ingenuity to leverage the tools on hand to tell complex stories for new audiences of digital writing and drawing upon a wide range of knowledge and topics to do so.

The NEXT is envisioned as a combination museum, library, and preservation space that maintains and makes its archives accessible for the next generation and responds to the growing need for open-access, travel-free cultural and research experiences for today’s public and scholars. The collections that it makes accessible, like The Marjorie C. Luesebrink Collection, are intended to showcase and preserve the output by digital artists and scholars for future generations to discover and study.

Project Review

Kristin Lillvis and Melinda White

The Marjorie C. Luesebrink Collection offers a history of the field of born-digital literature, with Luesebrink’s works alone providing important examples of hypertext pieces, interactive novels, and Flash art, as well as works created in Excel and PowerPoint. 

Luesebrink is a key figure in born-digital hypertext literature. She has consistently published in the field for more than 30 years, with her early works important examples of the beginning of browser-based storytelling. Luesebrink was the second president and first woman president of the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO). She also highlights and collaborates with other women authors. The Marjorie C. Luesebrink Collection builds on the author’s collaborations in its well-curated digital collection of multimedia storytelling. This effort includes 27 works by Luesebrink along with 39 works by other major literary figures, many of whom published art before the web browser was available to the public.

The NEXT is a significant archival project, as the ELO looks to preserve and archive born-digital literature, making it easy to find and access for scholars, Preserving works of electronic literature and other born-digital media is important to several humanistic fields, including literary studies, art and media studies, history, and modern languages. The NEXT was co-founded and is directed by one of the most significant scholars in born-digital literature, Dene Grigar, also a former ELO president and leader in born-digital preservation and conservation.

The collection uses a searchable database, with images and summaries, to showcase Luesebrink’s work and those texts she has collected from other authors. The website is clean, organized, and searchable. But even more significantly, the Electronic Literature Lab has preserved many of these works in the collection through restoration processes involving migration and emulation to make them once-again accessible. For example, texts originally created with Flash, which Adobe no longer supports, are either playable via Ruffle or viewable via video playthroughs. This preservation is priceless work in the field of born-digital literature, as it enables scholars, students, and enthusiasts to interact with many of the works in the collection (including when on a mobile device). 

Indeed, one of the main goals of the collection and The NEXT,  broadly, is long-term accessibility and preservation. Most discussion in the field of born-digital literature comes down to HTML-based platforms as a “safe” and preservable option. Here we have HTML, images, videos, and platforms preserved and archived. 

In the Marjorie C. Luesebrink Collection, videos, gifs, buttons, and hyperlinks increase visitor interaction with the archived materials. In that context, The NEXT has been coded in Semantic Markup and Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) to increase the accessibility of the collections. Additionally, The NEXT relies on D3.js for visualizations.

The goal of the collection is to make these works accessible to “the next generation” and “today’s public and scholars.” These are valuable texts that show born-digital literature from its historical beginnings, highlight the community of authors who shared their work, make works previously unavailable shareable with the public, and capture not only the work of a significant and prolific author of electronic literature but also the work she has collected and shared for readers, scholars, researchers, and students. 

The collection’s presentation is intuitive and organized, making it inviting, accessible, and straightforward for its audience. Everything is searchable — alphabetically by title or by date, creator, format, or “standard,” which is alphabetical with Luesebrink’s work listed first. The NEXT makes accessible a variety of texts — many for download — in their original or preserved formats. The interactivity of the collection works well for both the public and scholars (which includes students), who can engage by viewing the catalog entries; playing with the born-digital media; and/or watching video walkthroughs of the texts. For scholars in particular, the infrastructure of the collection allows for deep engagement with the works from a variety of disciplinary and theoretical perspectives. 

The Marjorie C. Luesebrink Collection focuses on a single author (Luesebrink/Coverley), but it includes from Luesebrink’s personal collection works of electronic literature by other authors. Though the collection does not explicitly focus on women, groundbreaking feminist creators — including Judy Malloy, Shelley Jackson, Deena Larsen, Stephanie Strickland, Donna Leishman, and, of course, Luesebrink herself — author most of the pieces in the collection. The NEXT, the home of the collection, assumes a larger commitment toward inclusivity. In her curatorial statement, Grigar asserts that recent collection strategies focus on efforts to “diversify the collections to include more non-English language works, focusing much attention on Latin America, Francophone Canada, the Middle East, and Europe.” To that end, The NEXT can now be read in Canadian French, with Spanish, Portuguese, Bengali, continental French, Italian, German, Polish, Arabic, and Japanese to follow.

In creating a digital “combination museum, library, and preservation space,” The NEXT helps meet “the growing need for open-access, travel-free cultural and research experiences”— experiences that are in many ways more accessible than physical archives. The NEXT’s current phase of development (Phase 4) has increased accessibility through use of Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) and Semantic HTML. Additionally, project team members have developed The NEXT’s ELMS (Extended eLectronic Metadata Schema), which expands upon the Metadata Object Description Schema (MODS) from the Network Development and MARC Standards Office of the Library of Congress to provide richer descriptions of each work. Among other considerations, the ELMS highlights each works’ accessibility, specifically describing the “the hardware, software, and physical aspects involved in accessing and experiencing the work, including the work’s compliance with current accessibility standards” as well as the “sensory modality” the work draws upon. Almost all of the works by Luesebrink in the collection include the accessibility metadata, and The NEXT has set the goal of refining the metadata for all texts, specifically for visitors with physical, cognitive, and neurological disabilities.

The Marjorie C. Luesebrink Collection thus provides a significant contribution to the field of electronic literature, not only given Luesebrink’s status as an important author and figure but also due to the other work housed and preserved. The collection shows the span of born-digital media over years, from early hypertext to current platforms, and is vital to the continued study and enjoyment of these texts for years to come.

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