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Workshop on Electronic Texts




After welcoming participants on behalf of the Library of Congress, American Memory (AM), and the National Demonstration Lab, Prosser GIFFORD, director for scholarly programs, Library of Congress, located the origin of the Workshop on Electronic Texts in a conversation he had had considerably more than a year ago with Carl FLEISCHHAUER concerning some of the issues faced by AM. On the assumption that numerous other people were asking the same questions, the decision was made to bring together as many of these people as possible to ask the same questions together. In a deeper sense, GIFFORD said, the origin of the Workshop lay in the desire of the current Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, to make the collections of the Library, especially those offering unique or unusual testimony on aspects of the American experience, available to a much wider circle of users than those few people who can come to Washington to use them. This meant that the emphasis of AM, from the outset, has been on archival collections of the basic material, and on making these collections themselves available, rather than selected or heavily edited products.

From AM's emphasis followed the questions with which the Workshop began: who will use these materials, and in what form will they wish to use them. But an even larger issue deserving mention, in GIFFORD's view, was the phenomenal growth in Internet connectivity. He expressed the hope that the prospect of greater interconnectedness than ever before would lead to: 1) much more cooperative and mutually supportive endeavors; 2) development of systems of shared and distributed responsibilities to avoid duplication and to ensure accuracy and preservation of unique materials; and 3) agreement on the necessary standards and development of the appropriate directories and indices to make navigation straightforward among the varied resources that are, and increasingly will be, available. In this connection, GIFFORD requested that participants reflect from the outset upon the sorts of outcomes they thought the Workshop might have. Did those present constitute a group with sufficient common interests to propose a next step or next steps, and if so, what might those be? They would return to these questions the following afternoon.


Carl FLEISCHHAUER, coordinator, American Memory, Library of Congress, emphasized that he would attempt to represent the people who perform some of the work of converting or preparing materials and that the core of the Workshop had to do with preparation and production. FLEISCHHAUER then drew a distinction between the long term, when many things would be available and connected in the ways that GIFFORD described, and the short term, in which AM not only has wrestled with the issue of what is the best course to pursue but also has faced a variety of technical challenges.

FLEISCHHAUER remarked AM's endeavors to deal with a wide range of library formats, such as motion picture collections, sound-recording collections, and pictorial collections of various sorts, especially collections of photographs. In the course of these efforts, AM kept coming back to textual materials--manuscripts or rare printed matter, bound materials, etc. Text posed the greatest conversion challenge of all. Thus, the genesis of the Workshop, which reflects the problems faced by AM. These problems include physical problems. For example, those in the library and archive business deal with collections made up of fragile and rare manuscript items, bound materials, especially the notoriously brittle bound materials of the late nineteenth century. These are precious cultural artifacts, however, as well as interesting sources of information, and LC desires to retain and conserve them. AM needs to handle things without damaging them. Guillotining a book to run it through a sheet feeder must be avoided at all costs.

Beyond physical problems, issues pertaining to quality arose. For example, the desire to provide users with a searchable text is affected by the question of acceptable level of accuracy. One hundred percent accuracy is tremendously expensive. On the other hand, the output of optical character recognition (OCR) can be tremendously inaccurate. Although AM has attempted to find a middle ground, uncertainty persists as to whether or not it has discovered the right solution.

Questions of quality arose concerning images as well. FLEISCHHAUER contrasted the extremely high level of quality of the digital images in the Cornell Xerox Project with AM's efforts to provide a browse-quality or access-quality image, as opposed to an archival or preservation image. FLEISCHHAUER therefore welcomed the opportunity to compare notes.

FLEISCHHAUER observed in passing that conversations he had had about networks have begun to signal that for various forms of media a determination may be made that there is a browse-quality item, or a distribution-and-access-quality item that may coexist in some systems with a higher quality archival item that would be inconvenient to send through the network because of its size. FLEISCHHAUER referred, of course, to images more than to searchable text.

As AM considered those questions, several conceptual issues arose: ought AM occasionally to reproduce materials entirely through an image set, at other times, entirely through a text set, and in some cases, a mix? There probably would be times when the historical authenticity of an artifact would require that its image be used. An image might be desirable as a recourse for users if one could not provide 100-percent accurate text. Again, AM wondered, as a practical matter, if a distinction could be drawn between rare printed matter that might exist in multiple collections--that is, in ten or fifteen libraries. In such cases, the need for perfect reproduction would be less than for unique items. Implicit in his remarks, FLEISCHHAUER conceded, was the admission that AM has been tilting strongly towards quantity and drawing back a little from perfect quality. That is, it seemed to AM that society would be better served if more things were distributed by LC--even if they were not quite perfect--than if fewer things, perfectly represented, were distributed. This was stated as a proposition to be tested, with responses to be gathered from users.

In thinking about issues related to reproduction of materials and seeing other people engaged in parallel activities, AM deemed it useful to convene a conference. Hence, the Workshop. FLEISCHHAUER thereupon surveyed the several groups represented: 1) the world of images (image users and image makers); 2) the world of text and scholarship and, within this group, those concerned with language--FLEISCHHAUER confessed to finding delightful irony in the fact that some of the most advanced thinkers on computerized texts are those dealing with ancient Greek and Roman materials; 3) the network world; and 4) the general world of library science, which includes people interested in preservation and cataloging.

FLEISCHHAUER concluded his remarks with special thanks to the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for its support of the meeting, the American Memory group, the Office for Scholarly Programs, the National Demonstration Lab, and the Office of Special Events. He expressed the hope that David Woodley Packard might be able to attend, noting that Packard's work and the work of the foundation had sponsored a number of projects in the text area.

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URL: http://cool.conservation-us.org/byorg/lc/etextw/proceed.html
Timestamp: Thursday, 04-Nov-2010 14:30:41 PDT
Retrieved: Tuesday, 23-Oct-2018 14:05:34 GMT