Archive for the ‘Open-source tools’ 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.

Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) to open April 2013

March 30, 2012

By April 2013, the Digital Public Library of America should be up and running.  With this announcement, Robert Darnton opened a recent talk about DPLA sponsored by Harvard Library Strategic Conversations.

Darnton reviewed DPLA’s brief history, including its origin at a meeting at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute on 1 October 2010, its successful coalition of foundations committed to providing financial support, its appointment of a steering committee, and its selection of John Palfrey as the steering committee’s chair.  Six “workstreams” have been designed to arrive at consensus-driven plans in the following areas:

To join a workstream listserv, consult the appropriate web page.

Darnton insisted that DPLA was not simply a response to Google, though DPLA is open to working with Google and has extended invitations to that effect.  He provided an incisive history of Google Book Search’s legal troubles, and noted that DPLA has much to learn from that history.

Next, John Palfrey (chair of the DPLA steering committee, and author of Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives), outlined some of DPLA’s goals, though he conceded that the exact nature of the DPLA was still be determined:

  • constructing a creative and technologically sophisticated learning environment beyond that created by e-books.  This involves imaginative work by architects, programmers, catalogers, users, and and just about anyone else prepared to think innovatively.
  • considering the following elements that will shape the still indistinct and ever-evolving nature of DPLA:
    • code will be free and open source
    • metadata will aggregate existing data and create additional data.  It has already arrived at an agreement to network with Europeana, Europe’s digitized knowledge-sharing platform.
    • content will include all media types
    • tools and services will facilitate public innovation.  Palfrey provided as an example the use of a “scanabego,” a truck with scanning tools that would be driven across the country to local historical societies, offering to digitize their records in exchange for linking those records to DPLA.
    • DPLA’ community will be widespread and participatory.  According the DPLA web site, “DPLA will actively support the community of users and developers that want to reuse and extend its content, data, and metadata.”

In the discussion that followed the presentation, one of the most interesting comments was Charles Nesson’s description of a Digital Registry Project to address the copyright issues that plagued Google Books.  The Registry seeks pro bono commitments from major law firms “to defend the copyright status determinations of major cultural institutions such as libraries and universities” (see the memo available on Charles Nesson’s web site.)  According to the DPLA web site,

The objective of the Digital Registry Project is to create a comprehensive registry to undergird digital exploitation of intellectual property—for personal, educational, or commercial use. This vision encompasses all copyrighted works, all orphan works, and all works in the public domain. The Digital Registry seeks to kick start the registry process by beginning with those works that belong no one and therefore belong to everyone: the public domain. This registry is intended to be a simple and unassailable starting point for all larger registries.

More information is available at the extensive and carefully designed DPLA web site and the DPLA blog, which is guaranteed to interest emob readers.

“Why Books?” Conference at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute

October 31, 2010

Why Books?“–a two-day conference sponsored by Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute, October 28-29–promised to “bring[] together speakers from a variety of disciplines–from literature and history to sociology and computer science–to probe the form and function of the book in a rapidly changing media ecology.”  It did just that.  The conference’s first day offered a broad variety of site visits allowing for detailed discussion of a given topic; day two gathered a series of plenary speakers to discuss the future of the book from their disciplinary perspective.

The two site visits I attended were splendid.  The first was Lindy Hess’s “How to Get Published,” in which Susan Ferber (Executive Editor at Oxford University Press), Lindsay Waters (Executive Editor of Humanities at Harvard University Press), and Janet Silver, (Literary Director of the Zachary Shuster Harmsworth agency), discussed the features of successful book proposals, addressed determining whether a manuscript belongs with a trade or university press, when to use an agent (when approaching a trade press), the need to use word counts rather than page counts, and the need for consistently good writing.  Both Waters’ Enemies of Promise and “A Call for Slow Writing” should be mandatory reading for all academics.   Susan Ferber shared valuable and detailed advice from her experience editing manuscripts and disseminated “Tips for Book Proposals” and has since added “An Editor’s Book Publishing Tips for the Uninitiated.”   She also recommended William Germano’s Getting It Published: A Guide for Scholars and Anyone Else Serious about Serious Books (University of Chicago Press, 2nd ed., 2008).  Silver helped distinguish between trade books and university press monographs but also acknowledged that some manuscripts might function as a bridge between academic and trade publishing.   This kind of sane and honest discussion, full of lucid advice from those who understand the publishing business is something we should see more often at annual meetings of professional societies.

In a second session, called “Preserving Web-Based Digital Images,” Andrea Goethals discussed the need to preserve web content, showed participants the complexity of doing so, and demonstrated web harvesting in progress.  She distinguished between domain harvesting and selective harvesting.  The former might include sites from France with the “fr” domain; the latter might be organized around a theme, say, Olympics 2012, or Katrina, or Obama.  This was a useful introduction to the complexities of preserving the human record now contained on the web.

The series of talks on Friday are summarized below:

Opening Conversation: “Future Formats of Texts: E-books and Old Books”

Robert Darnton noted that old books and e-books need not represent contradictory extremes along the spectrum of communication.  Though he first saw Melville’s copy of Emerson’s Essays at Houghton’s reading room as an undergraduate, it is now online for free.  Additionally, the new digital technology allows (as he discusses extensively in The Case for Books) for monographs to be accompanied by online archives.  His forthcoming book, Poetry and the Police: Communication Networks in Eighteenth-Century Paris (Harvard University Press) will be accompanied by online recordings of the ballads that Darnton argues Parisians used to record and disseminate information, suggesting that forms of “going viral” existed long before the internet.   These examples demonstrate the utility of a hybrid combination of the book and digital sources, and provide models for the future of the scholarly monograph.

Stuart Shieber provided a detailed comparison of what readers appreciated in books and what they appreciated in e-readers like the Kindle.  He distinguished between the functionalities of e-book readers and those of e-books.  The Kindle might have an edge over the codex in its weight, its search function, its reference access, its aid to the poor-sighted, and its ease of acquisition.  But the codex still seems preferable to the e-book.  His conclusion nicely summarized the conundrum at the heart of his talk: “ebook readers are preferred to books, but books are still preferable to e-books.”

Session 1: “Storage and Retrieval”

Adrian Johns looked at the final purposes of universal libraries, tracing the history of copyright with its obligatory deposit requirement to argue that the current trouble Google is experiencing with orphaned works originated in ever-expanding term of copyright and an increasingly exhaustive claim to the right to copies on the part of deposit libraries.  He also wondered whether the public use of reason–something he connected to the mission of deposit libraries–required a degree of privacy that e-reading might diminish.

Matthew Kirschenbaum detailed the kinds of things scholars of the future might want to explore when looking at, say, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom: A Novel.  Will scholars of the future want not only Franzen’s desktop, his 100s of saved drafts, but also a record of his Windows use and his iTunes playlists?  Turning to the kind of digital forensics necessary to study such material, he suggested that some kind of computational analysis of these records will be necessary as will skill sets  in both the sciences and the humanities.

Session II: “Circulation and Transmission”

Isabel Hoffmeyr looked at the Indian Ocean Book trade to suggest models for modes of production and consumption that depart from print capitalism theories of circulation.  She suggested that the cosmopolitan networks made possible by the Indian Ocean’s trade routes, with their dismissal of copyright and libraries, more closely resemble today’s new print environment than standard theories of circulation.

Meredith L. McGill looked at the printed poetry of Francis Ellen Watkins Harper and asked two related questions: 1) what print occurs outside the book? and 2) what would it mean to sift books by format?  A printer’s decision to use one format over another directs our attention to the kind of circulation envisioned.  In that sense, circulation might be considered as occurring, or being envisioned, before textual production.

Session III: “Reception and Use”

Paul Duguid reflected on the limitations of digital projects such as Google Books, which contains what he called “splendidly corrupt editions” and suffers from a naivete about both bibliography and books that hinders its goals.  A work like Cotzee’s Diary of a Bad Year, in which page design enriches meaning, simply cannot be adequately scanned onto the limited format provided by Kindle.    Eventually, the digital world will need to move away from a narrative of liberation that posits a world of endlessly digitizable texts to a more carefully corralled world, in which the overload of information is sifted and constrained.

Elizabeth Long pondered reader’s experiences with e-readers, finding that readers liked e-readers’ storage capacity, portability, downloading powers, reduction of bookshelf space, and their instant gratification.  Readers were less satisfied by the experience of flipping back and forth, the impossibility of writing marginalia,  the difficulty of note taking, of viewing maps and illustrations, of measuring how much was left in a given chapter, their lack of page numbers, and the difficulty of citing etexts.

In closing remarks, Peter Stallybrass noted that the expected oppositions had not come up in the day’s talks.  He reminded us that technologies do not displace one another and that targeted binaries, such as oral vs. literary, or print vs. manuscript, often impede rather than enrich discussion, though this was not an issue at this conference.  That reading rooms at libraries are more packed than ever before suggests that whatever else the digital world may do to the future of the book, it has not made the book of less interest or less valued.

New Open-Source Tool!

August 5, 2010

Thea Lindquist sends the following note:

A colleague and I at the University of Colorado at Boulder are interested in the idea of adapting or developing an open-source tool designed for use with digitized historical primary sources and would be interested in your feedback. This tool would be aimed primarily at students and offer them enhanced opportunities to interact with the sources and collaborate with others, hopefully also from mobile devices. We feel that engaging student interest in this way is increasingly pressing as digital collections propagate; as students integrate Web 2.0 technologies into every aspect of their lives; and as close work with primary sources becomes an ever-more important component of humanities curricula. Depending on how things go, this tool could be the first in a suite of extensible, open-source pedagogical tools that will facilitate student engagement with primary sources.

We are considering a tool that will allow students to: view and annotate text-based primary sources as well as images such as maps, cartoons, and photographs; create linkages between documents within the collection and to outside resources; and save the augmented source as a new learning object that can be shared among classmates and (at the instructor’s discretion) released for broader consumption. This is just one idea – we intend to work with students to assess their needs but are also interested in the instructor perspective.

As a first step, we are creating a freely available digital collection of World War I primary sources to use as a test-bed and are now beginning to look into what sorts of tools are currently available or in development that aim to achieve the same sort of goals. That way we can contact potential collaborators and also be sure not to duplicate effort.


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