Archive for the ‘E-books’ Category

Universal Short Title Catalog (USTC)

April 5, 2014

The Universal Short Title Catalog (USTC) holds records for European books printed through the sixteenth century.  Records list locations of original copies.  If open-access digital copies are available, these are also noted.

The USTC web site describes itself as “a collective database of all books published in Europe between the invention of printing and the end of the sixteenth century.”

The project also offers 6-8 week internships at St. Andrews for

available to qualified scholars wishing to gain experience of work with a major bibliographical project. Successful applicants will receive instruction in rare books cataloguing and have the chance for hands-on experience with the University Library’s uncatalogued 17th century collections.  In addition to physical bibliography, the internship will involve extensive practice in the manipulation of digital resources. A certificate of completion or letter of reference will be made available to those successfully completing the internship. They also attend our annual book conference, held at the end of June (this coming year, 19-21 June 2014).

Please see St. Andrews’  internship page for details.  Plans are underway to expand coverage into the seventeenth century.

From Boston to Peru: Reading Books at the Boston Athenaeum and the Peru Free Library

October 9, 2012

How are we to bring order into this multitudinous chaos and so get the deepest and widest pleasure from what we read? 

V. Woolf, “How to Read a Book”

Photo Credit: Megan Manton/Boston Athenaeum

“To enter the building is to feel an overwhelming impulse to read.”  So wrote Sarah Schweitzer about the Boston Athenaeum in a 2009 Boston.Com article.  Indeed, pushing back the building’s red, leather-bound doors, one plunges into the world of reading like a sea-creature slipping into the ocean’s depths.

How is it that a building can transform us from scatter-brained urban land creatures subject to Boston’s many disparate calls into more focused beings equipped to swim through the world of learning?  It may be that the library’s high ceilings and twelve floors expand our sense of possibility, inviting the mind to unbend.  Certainly, the Athenaeum’s quiet aura of uninterrupted work offers a refuge from the jostling noise of the city’s streets.  Fellow readers lost in concentration call us to our task.  Art, sculpture, newspapers, journals, 750,000 books, maps–all await, encouraging inquiry.  The interior’s opulence telegraphs the value of spending time with books, transporting us to a lost age when leisure allowed one to linger over fictions and treatises, sermons and histories, maps and art, with nothing more pressing awaiting than afternoon tea.

But the Athenaeum’s true luxury is something even more precious and more rare than comfort and splendor alone: it offers the order necessary for sustained reading.

We see this order in the carefully designed reading spaces enticing one to that concentrated state of mind so beneficial for reading.  Solid walnut tables provide space for research materials.  Desks tucked between bookshelves beckon. Upholstered chairs placed next to side tables allow readers to sit next to stacks of books and begin the task of browsing.  The reference room displays recent journals side-by-side on long tables (shown below) carefully ordering the chaotic possibilities before us.

Photo Credit: Megan Manton/Boston Athenaeum

In short, the library has been designed for readers by readers to encourage us to leave the tyranny of the present by plunging into the otherworldly and timeless worlds contained in books.  Seated at the Athenaeum, we can take down volumes and, in Woolf’s words, “make them light up the many windows of the past; we can watch the famous dead in their familiar habits and fancy sometimes that we are very close and can surprise their secrets, and sometimes we may pull out a play or a poem that they have written and see whether it reads differently in the presence of the author.”

Photo credit: Megan Manton/Boston Athenaeum

The Boston Athenaeum is a subscription library.  To borrow books and use the upper floors requires a membership fee beyond the reach of many.  But the first floor is open to the public six days a week, and the Athenaeum’s programs, including concerts, are open to the public free of charge.  Its value as a public space is at least threefold: it is a research and membership library; an art museum and public gallery; and a public forum for lectures, readings, concerts, and other events.

Perhaps most of all, the Boston Athenaeum is a valuable icon reminding us of the civic value placed by a community on reading.

Less palatial, but no less essential, are the public spaces created by our public libraries.  Situated by the apple orchards of upstate New York is the Peru Free Public Library (shown below), a lovely 1927 structure that blends the old and the new.  It maintains its early twentieth-century elegance, even as it runs on solar energy.

Photo credit: Theresa Sanderson

Smaller in scale than the Boston Athenaeum (it holds about 14,000 items), it, too, beckons readers with its carefully arranged reading spaces.  A fireside (below) often warms  readers working at the reference room’s long tables during the shortening fall days and throughout the winter.

Photo credit: Theresa Sanderson

Carefully arranged reading spaces offer an opportunity to clear one’s head:

Photo credit: Theresa Sanderson

A children’s reading room is designed to invite young minds to the world of books:

Photo credit: Theresa Sanderson

The Peru Free Library’s many activities bind the community through art shows, pottery shows, book sales, children’s activities, public lectures, and other events.  Like the Boston Athenaeum, the Peru Free Library is carefully and creatively managed.

Public reading spaces like the Boston Athenaeum and the Peru Free Library contribute immeasurably to their communities and to their readers, allowing them to expand their sense of who they are.   By orchestrating spaces designed to slow us down long enough to stop skimming and sink into deep reading, they encourage a more studied approach to thought than is possible away from books.  If we feel as Woolf did, that heaven is “one continuous unexhausted reading,” the Boston Athenaeum and the public libraries that share its commitment to encouraging reading make it a little easier to experience heaven on earth.

A Digital Public Library of America

March 8, 2011

Robert Darnton has championed the concept of a national digital public library through a series of galvanizing essays in The New York Review of Books.  In October 2010, he convened a community of what Harvard Magazine described as “forty-two leaders of research libraries, major foundations, and national cultural institutions” in Cambridge to discuss strategy for building a digital public library of America.  That same month, Darnton’s opening talk at that conference was published in the New York Review of Books.  His The Library: Three Jeremiads, appeared in NYRB in December, further delineating the complex relation between digital libraries and their brick-and-mortar counterparts.  Details of the conference were published both by Jennifer Howard in the Chronicle of Higher Education and by the Harvard Magazine, which cited Darnton as describing the project as

the digital equivalent of the Library of Congress…bringing millions of books and digitized material in other media within clicking distance of public libraries, high schools, colleges, universities, retirement communities, and any individual with access to the Internet.

Responses to the concept of constructing a national digital public library have been positive.  In December, David Rothman published “Why We Can’t Afford Not to Create a Well-Stocked National Digital Library System” in the Atlantic, arguing that one of the benefits of the project is that it digitizes more than the commercial selections offered by Kindle’s and iPad’s digitization projects: significantly, it digitizes library books.  Referring to a digital public library, Rothman claims it’s a cause

I’ve publicly advocated since 1992 in Computerworld, a 1996 MIT Press information science collection, the Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, the Huffington Post, and elsewhere, including my national information stimulus plan here in the Fallows blog?

Rothman departs or seems to depart from Darnton, however, over the issue of access.  Rothman wants the digital public library to be a genuine public library, open to all citizens, not simply those affiliated with research libraries.

Details of the plans continue to emerge.  Michael Kelly provides an overview of Harvard’s Berkman Center for the Internet and Society and its plans for a year of workshops regarding the project in Library Journal.com.  Recently (Feb. 18th), Jennifer Howard again interviewed Darnton for the Chronicle of Higher Education to obtain updates on the progress made by Harvard’s Berkman Center for the Internet and Society on the Digital Public Library of America.

Now that Oxford and Cambridge are making plans to digitize their backlists, this may be a good time to discuss the benefits and consequences of having a national digital public library.  Will digital books be read?  Do readers need POD (Print-on-Demand) options?  Is this project getting the attention it deserves?

Digital Resources and Ethics

November 19, 2010

While numerous EMOB postings have discussed issues of access and quality surrounding digital resources, we have yet to discuss these issues extensively within the context of ethics. A September 30th post on Barbara Fister’s Library Babel Fish, “The Great Disconnect: Scholars without Libraries”, spurred me to think more about the ethical side of questions that we’ve been raising. Fister’s post was inspired by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) blog’s post, “Underground Resource Sharing”, that in turn was motivated by other posts, including one by a blogger who, upon graduating, suddenly discovered he lacked access to JStor” (ACRL blog). As the ACRLblog post’s title indicates and Fister’s post explores, there is an underground market for commercial subscription, password-protected databases. The post by the dismayed blogger who found himself without access to JStor generated numerous comments that offered the underground market as an obvious solution to his problem. For instance,

Virtually everyone I know who’s not employed by a top-tier R1 has a bootlegged EEBO account: through friends who are still grad students, advisors, or friends with cushier jobs.”

These comments prompted Fister to respond:

Comments on his post pointed out that, duh, you just get a friend to send articles to you, or you join a Facebook or FriendFeed group dedicated to swapping articles or just get somebody’s login. Too bad we spent so much on EEBO – apparently everyone has a bootleg login.

The notion that “everyone has a bootleg login” as well as the remark, “Too bad we spent so much on EEBO” gave me pause. While I have known a case in which someone shared his login with a few former students (now colleagues elsewhere), I was frankly surprised to hear that this practice is seen to be so widespread. Am I being naive? And, as Fister’s reply suggests, if it is so common, then the practice certainly has financial implications not only for the commercial owners of these resources but also for the institutions that allocate funds (often student technology fees) to purchasing these resources. As Fister also noted, these databases are not free, and it is telling that the surprised blogger could have spent several years if not many earning an advanced degree and remain clueless about the economic issues, costs, and licensing terms associated with these resources.

The exchange also raised questions about sharing an article or a text with a colleague at another institution that lacks access. I have done so on occasion and had considered the gesture a favor to another colleague. I have also performed a quick search and sent title results to a friend. While I can count on my hand the number of times I have done so, this post made me realize that this good-will gesture has another side to it as well if practiced regularly–and perhaps even if practiced only rarely or at all. So, is the use of bootleg logins rampant? What do others on emob think about this underground trafficking, the sharing of passwords and articles or texts? Is the rare sharing of an article or text unethical ultimately? Are these questions of degree? Or are all of these activities equivalent? And how do we view and balance these questions of ethics against those related to the ethics of the digital access divide separating the scholars who have these resources from those that don’t?

On the POD reprint-publishing front, I just discovered this week a new level of ethical low. A student came to me for help in finding a copy of Frederic P. Miller, Agnes F. Vandome, John McBrewster’s Fan Fiction: Fan Labor, List of Fan Fiction Terms, Legal Issues (2010) for a paper she was writing on copyright issues. Well, we couldn’t find the title in WorldCat, etc. though it did come up in Amazon and Google Books. The work was published by Alphascript Publishing, which, as Wikipedia’s Signpost reports, sells free articles as expensive books”, and this title is just one of many they are “publishing.” A general Google search revealed the scam being perpetuated by this outfit:

An Amazon.com book search on 9 June 2009 gives 1009 (6 August, gives 1,859) “books” from Alphascript Publishing.[nan 1] 1003 of the books are described as “by John McBrewster, Frederic P. Miller, and Agnes F. Vandome”. They are called editors in the book listings. It seems the only content of the many books is free Wikipedia articles with no sign that these three people have contributed to them.

The Wikipedia article also notes:

The articles are often poorly printed with features such as missing characters from foreign languages, and numerous images of arrows where Wikipedia had links. It appears much better to read the original articles for free at the Wikipedia website than paying a lot of money for what has been described as a scam or hoax. Advertising for the books at Amazon and elsewhere does not reveal the free source of all the content. It is only revealed inside the books which may satisfy the license requirements for republishing of Wikipedia articles.

The piece concludes by noting that “PrimeHunter has compiled a list of the 1009 titles,” and this list was as of June 2009. The specific title that led to this discovery sells for $49.00 on Amazon.

On a happier note, this week I received an invitation for a trial subscription to InteLex’s “The Eighteenth Century”, part of its Past Masters English Letters series. InteLex, a corporation located in Charlottesville, VA, publishes “highly accurate full text databases in the humanities.” Its Past Masters English Letters series series, produced in association with Oxford University Press, features “scholarly electronic editions of the correspondence, journals, notebooks, and memoirs of the most important figures in English literature and other fields from 1100-1950.” Although I have yet to arrange for a university trial subscription, what seems encouraging about this series is the following testimony:

In the world of scholarly electronic publishing, InteLex continues to get it right, as they have from the beginning: working closely with scholarly editors, selecting high-quality editions to digitize, marking them up carefully and well according to international standards, and permitting libraries either to rent them over the Internet or to purchase, own and locally house them, as we do print editions–all at reasonable prices. I recommend InteLex databases to libraries wholeheartedly, not only because they are superior publications and a good deal, but also because InteLex is the kind of electronic publisher that academic libraries need most in the 21st century.

—Scott Dennis
Humanities Librarian and Coordinator
Core Electronic Resources
Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library
University of Michigan

As Scott Ennis’s words suggest, resources offering well-chosen texts that are marked up using recognizing standards, produced with scholarly input from start to finish, and sold for a reasonable, fair price are the types of tools we do need for the 21st century. In light of this post’s topic, this list of characteristics also outlines an ethical template that publishers would be wise to follow in making digital products available.

Based on the list of authors (Gay and Swift, both Fieldings, Humphrey Wanley, Humfrey [paleaographer, Anglo-Saxonist, librarian, 1672-1726] and many more figures including late eighteenth-century ones) and its extensiveness (the series contains forty-eight volumes of correspondence) this offering appears to be valuable; in a future report I will report on my experiences using it.

An update on Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker

July 20, 2010

[Edit: fixed a couple of broken links—my apologies. -bp]

I wanted to let readers of this blog know about a couple of updates at Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker that I hope will make the site a valuable adjunct for those who look for early modern books at Google Books and the Internet Archive. These changes should also make it easier for users to contribute links to the site.

For several months, between about November, 2009 and March, 2010, visitors to the site wouldn’t have seen a whole lot happening. During that period, rather than adding new links to the site, I was re-tooling the site’s data model in order to make things more flexible and robust—essentially, I was recreating all of the site’s content along new lines. This was not fun, but I think the results are worth it. (more…)


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