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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Catching up with Sarah Brett

By Katherine Stileman

While we regularly bring you the thoughts and insights of Oxford University Press (OUP) authors and editors, we rarely reveal the people who work behind the scenes. I sat down with Oxford University Press Digital Development Editor, Sarah Brett, to find out more about her history with OUP.

When did you start working at OUP?

I left university in 2005 and started working at OUP in May 2006 at the tender age of 21. Can’t quite believe it’s been seven years already!

What is your typical day like at OUP?

I work on one of our online products, Oxford Scholarly Editions Online (OSEO). I’ve been in this job for about five months so I’m still learning new things and my day varies a lot. Getting content online involves working closely with lots of different departments, so there are usually emails from various people to answer throughout the day. I’m also responsible for a team of external freelancers who check the content online so I may also have to bundle documents up to send to them, or answer queries on existing work they’re doing. Because of the collaborative nature of the project I tend to have at least one meeting a day, and then when I have a free day or afternoon I will spend it actually looking at the books closely and writing guidelines for the text capture service to help them understand how to convert the text into xml (a markup language, like html, which can be customised for textual content).

My job is pretty varied as I’m in an editorial role which means a lot of digging around in old books and looking at print content, but because of the nature of an online product I also have to think about xml and how that content is behaving in the online environment. I really like the dual nature of the job.


What’s the most enjoyable part of your day?

I enjoy the detective work that’s involved. Sometimes I can be looking at a very old scholarly edition that was published in the 1930s which doesn’t conform to modern standards of typesetting or that has a really unusual structure, and trying to work out how best to present this very old book so that it behaves in a sensible way online. To add another dimension of difficulty, the editions we’re looking at contain historical material that was originally written pre-1800. For example Shakespeare in the original language and spelling often proves troublesome when it comes to text capture! It’s quite a challenge, but an enjoyable one, trying to bring the worlds of print and online publishing together.

What is the strangest thing currently on or in your desk?

I like having lots of stuff around me at my desk, it never looks tidy, so amongst other things I have a bicycle horn, a cuddly Moomin troll, and a promotional Rubik’s cube with chemical symbols on it.

What was your first job in publishing?

I started work as a Commissioning Assistant in Higher Education editorial at OUP. I stayed in that job for a couple of years working on print books but being from a bit of a geeky background I was always intrigued by the companion websites which accompanied the books. My manager at the time obviously realised that and suggested I apply for a job in the Web Team, and that ultimately led to my current job as a Digital Development Editor working on OSEO. I studied English Literature at university and I’m a bit of a history nut so this job’s pretty ideal.

What are you reading right now?

Despite studying English Literature my heart belongs to fantasy books that can offer some escapism in quiet moments so the book I’m carrying around at the moment is a rather trashy fantasy novel City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare, and my bedtime reading is a sci-fi book called The Educated Ape and other Wonders of the Worlds by Robert Rankin.

Tell us about one of your proudest moments at work.

It’s always nice being thanked in the acknowledgements of a book. I couldn’t be an author but I like seeing my name in print. In my new job the most exciting moment is seeing a book appear on the staging site (so online, but only visible in-house) and knowing you helped it to get there.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you take with you?

My latest knitting project, my bike, and a laptop so that I could read everything that’s published on OSEO. There’s so much interesting stuff on there that I often wish I could just spend my days at work reading it, but sadly that’s not what they pay me for!

What drew you to work for OUP in the first place? What do you think about that now?

I liked the history of the building and the company, and the fact that it seemed like a really friendly place to work — more like a college than a business. Since 2006 I’ve seen a lot of changes happen in publishing but OUP remains a lovely place to work. People are focused on maintaining the sense of history at the same time as changing our output to meet the demands of the digital age.

What is your favourite word?

Amanuensis .The little OED defines it as ‘a person who helps a writer with their work’ – which is how I guess Editors could be described, at a bit of a stretch. Plus it’s a nice word to say.

Sarah Brett is a Digital Development Editor for Oxford Scholarly Editions Online at Oxford University Press.

Katherine Marshall is a Marketing Executive for Academic Law at Oxford University Press.

Oxford Scholarly Editions Online (OSEO) is a major new publishing initiative from Oxford University Press, providing an interlinked collection of authoritative Oxford editions of major works from the humanities.

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Image credit: Sarah Brett’s desk courtesy of Sarah Brett.

Recent Comments

  1. Roger Pearse

    Seven years? You will find the next twenty years go even faster.

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