Pressbooks 5.3.0, McLuhan 2.3.0 and Aldine 1.3.0

Pressbooks 5.3.0, McLuhan 2.3.0 and Aldine 1.3.0 are now available. Changes include a new tool to compare cloned content with its source in the webbook, the ability to automatically collapse chapter sections in the webbook, many accessibility improvements in the webbook reading interface, and a number of bug fixes and under-the-hood improvements. Many thanks to Jonathan Hung, Lukas Kaiser, and Brad Payne for their contributions! You can read the full changelogs here:

Sprint Preview: May 14-25

Here’s what we’re working on this sprint:

  • LTI provider plugin: This week, we’ll be working on the Thin Common Cartridge component of our Pressbooks LTI Provider plugin, which will enable Pressbooks users to export a Thin Common Cartridge file directly from the standard Pressbooks export interface. We are grateful to all the members of the Open Source community who have helped us along this process for their valuable input! 🙂
  • Pressbooks, McLuhan, Aldine: We’re getting close to finishing the Pressbooks 5.3.0 update, as well as updates to McLuhan and Aldine; if all goes well, we’ll be aiming to release them on Wednesday, May 16th.
  • Buckram: We’ll be fine-tuning our Buckram themes for Buckram 1.0 release.
  • On the front end, we’ll be starting some spec work to improve usability on Aldine and webbook homepages.

Our Accessibility Policy and Forthcoming Accessibility Improvements

We’re pleased to share Pressbooks’ new policy on accessibility:

Pressbooks is committed to ensuring that our software is accessible to users and readers. We understand accessibility and inclusive design to be holistic, proactive processes that must be built into our product specification and development workflow. We also recognize that as a publishing tool, we have an opportunity to facilitate the production of accessible content. With this in mind, we are working with accessibility and inclusive design experts at OCAD University’s Inclusive Design Research Centre and others to identify areas for improvement.

For full details, you can consult the policy.

As noted in this morning’s sprint preview, we are tackling a number of accessibility issues in our current sprint thanks to clear, actionable feedback from Jonathan Hung and the team at the Inclusive Design Research centre. We’re thrilled to be collaborating with the IDRC to make our project more inclusive to all users, and we’re grateful for their insight as we develop our internal expertise on these vital issues.

Sprint Preview: April 30–May 11

Here’s what we’re working on this sprint:

  • LTI provider plugin: We are starting development of a first-party LTI provider plugin, which will support the integration of Pressbooks content into Learning Management Systems.
  • Pressbooks, McLuhan, and Buckram improvements: We are finalizing our next Pressbooks update, as well as an update to McLuhan which will include Buckram 1.0.
  • Accessibility improvements: We will be publishing our new Accessibility Policy this sprint, and implementing a number of accessibility improvements to McLuhan as part of the forthcoming release based on comprehensive review and feedback from Jonathan Hung at the Inclusive Design Research Centre.

Book Themes, Part 1: Frames and Pictures

One of the most complex aspects of Pressbooks is the way our book themes work across different formats. It even confuses us sometimes. In a series of posts this week, I hope to clarify some of the concepts that underpin our book theming system, reflect on how it has evolved over the years, and outline where we hope to take book themes in the future.

A Framing Device

Conceptually, I find it helpful to think of our book themes as two things: a frame and a picture.

A black and white photo of Marshall McLuhan leaning against a mantlepiece in a hand-drawn picture frame.
Marshall McLuhan, framed. (Wikimedia Commons)

Take McLuhan, our default book theme. It’s really two elements in one. The first element is a (fairly conventional) WordPress theme which provides the user interface for reading a Pressbooks book on the web. This is the “frame” — the user interface (UI) for readers of a webbook. The other component is the “picture” — styles which format the content of the book for display, either within the webbook “frame” or in other formats such as PDF, EPUB, or MOBI.

McLuhan provides the UI for all Pressbooks webbooks, even those that use other styles for their content. All other book themes are WordPress child themes, which means that they inherit the “frame” (the webbook UI) from McLuhan, the parent theme1. So if you change your book’s theme to Jacobs, you’re putting a new “picture” in the original frame:

A black and white photo of Jane Jacobs in a hand-drawn picture frame.
Jane Jacobs, framed. (Wikimedia Commons)

To demonstrate this more concretely, here’s a webbook using McLuhan:

A screenshot of the first chapter of Herman Melville's
Moby Dick in McLuhan.

And the same webbook using Jacobs:

A screenshot of
Moby Dick in Jacobs.

No difference except the typography of the book content.

Luther’s Legacy

Our old default book theme was Luther. When we built Luther, we made a tactical error and mixed the content styles for web into the UI styles. By failing to separate these concerns, we made the transition from Luther to McLuhan more awkward than it could have been; when we rebuilt the webbook UI in McLuhan, we had to supply some (now missing) content styles for old themes2 that had been relying on the Luther webbook stylesheet to properly display some of the webbook content. We’ve learned from this mistake, and all of our work on webbook UI and web content styles going forward will emphasize a proper separation of concerns.

Next: What’s Buckram?

The next part of this series will be a deep dive into Buckram, the SCSS book component library that is at the heart of our new batch of themes. Until next time!

  1. That being said, child themes can override components of the parent themes, so one could make a child theme that changed any aspect of the webbook UI by replacing or modifying template files.
  2. Only old themes, though! More on that in part two.