Collaborative Readings #4: Shawn Martin’s “Reaching Out: What do Scholars Want from Electronic Resources?”


Shawn Martin’s brief 2005 article, “Reaching Out: What do Scholars Want from Electronic Resources?,” still poses relevant questions for this community. Noting the varied responses received by the TCP (Text Creation Partnership) when they interviewed scholars about why digital tools were not more widely used, Martin suggests the following:

1. Consider examining and perhaps reshaping the interface of the database.

2. Encourage librarians and faculty to raise awareness about the existence of these tools in their college communities.

3. Generate grants, contests, or prizes designed to reward “innovative electronic publication and research.”

As Martin goes on to note, however, these suggestions only raise larger questions about the influence of electronic resources on the humanities, including how use can be maximized, how best to reach out to college communities, how we can identify which obstacles impede using these resources in the classroom or in scholarly research, or how we evaluate their impact on the humanities.

All of these questions are important, but the last one seems especially significant. As promising new platforms such as 18thConnect begin to take shape, we should be asking what we want from these new capabilities and potentials.


35 Responses to “Collaborative Readings #4: Shawn Martin’s “Reaching Out: What do Scholars Want from Electronic Resources?””

  1. Dave Mazella Says:

    I read this article, which seems rather preliminary, though it does ask the right questions, I think. Like anything else, I think that hands-on experimentation, especially in the classroom context, probably encourages more open attitudes towards the conceptual possibilities of these tools. Looking concretely at the barriers created for users is also a good thing, when users feel that they are too busy to learn new techniques. Frankly, the most important aspect is probably maintaining a social and organizational network (like this blog) where this kind of information can be pooled, because these tools are complex enough that no single user exhausts the possibilities, but a community of users can be begin to build up better, more effective practices among themselves. You never know where the next bit of useful information is going to come from, especially with technology.

    One aspect of this puzzles me, though, and that’s how we can know what we want, or others can plan on what we will want, in relation to new technologies. This seems like a huge problem, because universities are filled with dead technologies and lousy interfaces that haven’t worked out. Do we simply accept this as the cost for our progress in other areas, or are there better ways to anticipate and help shape technological change?



  2. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Dave, your last question particularly interests me. I don’t know whether we can yet know what we want from online technologies; as you point out, much of our understanding of this technology’s potential relies on experimenting with it. But I don’t think we can simply accept waste as inevitable. Watching the evolution of platforms such as 18thConnect or NINES seems essential so that we can work collectively to see what they make possible even as we ask that they respond to needs scholars, teachers, and students define.


  3. Dave Mazella Says:

    Well, this comment calls forward my other, equally geeky persona, the faculty governance geek, and what I’d observe is that universities are like a lot of other big organizations that absolutely depend on technology acquisitions, updates, etc., but rank and file users are often left outside the loop of those discussions, and those nominally in charge are often manipulated by consultants or tech experts with little experience or interest in our particular uses of the technology.

    So communication is paramount here, but surprisingly difficult once we get into the genuine complexities and large budgets of this kind of stuff. But yes, yes, communication and input are key, but faculty have to know enough and be persistent enough to know their own priorities and preferences.

    The other side of this, as I’ve learned, is keeping up communications and input with the library side, and trying to understand their constraints better, so both sides are not just yelling at each other. But this in itself is another demand on faculty.

    In the same way that I have difficulty accepting the idea that my computer will fill up with junk and need to be replaced regularly, librarians and faculty sometimes fail to understand how to budget for the need to continually update and acquire new resources. The open-endedness (and potential waste) make this difficult to calculate or deliberate about, somehow.


  4. Anna Battigelli Says:

    You’re absolutely right about the need for better communication and coordination between librarians and faculty when it comes to investing in technology. It is sometimes difficult for those purchasing resources to know what works in the classroom. Similarly, faculty members need to familiarize themselves with new technologies and resources. Better coordination would seem to be likely to reduce wasteful acquisitions.

    I’m curious about what those who understand these new electronic resources and the platforms used to coordinate them hope to see from something like 18th connect. It would be great to have someone explain, for example, how they use the “exhibits” made possible by a platform like NINES. These are larger questions than those we have considered so far, but they are important.


  5. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    I had read Shawn Martin’s article, too, and agree with Dave’s assessment of its being fairly preliminary but posing necessary questions.

    Anna’s and Dave’s comments have generated a number of thoughts.

    First, the electronic environment–although rapidly developing–is still relatively new. My university certainly doesn’t have all its classrooms equipped with the state-of-the-art equipment that enables us to harness even the resources we have to their full potential within the classroom. I suspect that many other institutions are still converting their classrooms, too.

    About 6 years ago I helped to obtain a mobile computer lab for my dept., but the 30 computers came on two huge carts, and they are really hard for us to move in and out of elevators to get them to the proper floor and then back again — and the elevator just fits one at a time, so it requires multiple trips. Room scheduling constraints has made it impossible for us to have classroom space on the same floor where the computers are stored. Then of course there’s the issue of whether each machine was plugged in so they would recharge after their last use–and more issues as well. And now these many years later, with many students bringing laptops to class (and the building finally becoming wireless about two years ago), the idea of a mobile lab seems quite out-of-date. We are also only now obtaining smart boards. The Math and sciences had these a few years ago (and I took training on them at that time), but they now seem to be reaching the humanities classroom. This spring we will have our first class in English (jointly taught with education–“Technology and the English Classroom) that will use Kindles (as well as a number of other electronic tools). We already had several courses dealing with cyber-literature, computers and writing, and the like, but this is the first to incorporate the new electronic reading devices (and the proprietary platforms tied to many of these devices also raise questions such as which devices will go the way of the Edsel).

    Because of both the relative newness of the electronic world–and the still rapid development taking place (which will probably not slow), the false starts and misdirection seem to be hard to avoid completely. Should ECCO and Burney have waited to be produced until better OCR scanning was developed? Some might say yes, but I am glad that the projects are available now rather than later. When I bought a case of 3 1/2″ disks, I didn’t think that 2 years later I would be using CDs instead; fortunately, I did not stock up on CDs because now I use primarily flash drives. I still have a 5 1/4” drive to read those floppies (most information they contain I’ve transferred to other formats–but I had nearly 100 and I know some of that info has not been converted–and now many of the disks have become corrupt).

    Also, how many faculty in a department are completely on board with using the existing resources? Institutions can and often do quite a bit in terms of workshops and the like to foster the use of such resources and equipment, but that doesn’t mean that all will embrace the new digital world.

    My experience with the librarians at West Chester, Maryland as well as other research libraries suggest very much a willingness among librarians to work and collaborate with faculty. I realize though that this willingness may not be the case in many other places. Librarians have their own journals, but I wonder how many of us regular read or consult these works? As Dave notes, librarians are also under financial constraints and thorny budget issues, and they must respond to the needs of very diverse constituents (think of the cost of scientific journals).

    Perhaps influenced by my history-of-the-book work, I think we may know what we want on some levels, yet our knowledge of what we want is often constrained by the difficulty in thinking beyond what we know. Even some of the dissatisfaction with Google Book Search (which is valid and justified on most counts) prevents some potential users from discovering unfamiliar ways it can be used to find valuable information.


  6. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Here’s one thing I would like. I would like a platform on the internet where I could collect, say, paintings relevant to a given class’s lecture/discussion. That way, once in a smart classroom, I could simply log onto the platform and click on each painting as needed. Similarly, images from databases, such as EEBO, ECCO, and Burney could also be captured to show students developments in typeface or book production.

    It seems to me that the kind of platform available through NINES’s exhibit feature is especially useful for classroom instruction–perhaps more so than for scholarship.


  7. Eleanor Shevlin Says:


    Are you interested in a databse of images? Or storing your own? ECCO has put up the beginnings of an image database, but it is quite small.

    I actually use my various courses’ Blackboard sites for images (both loaded directly as a page as well as URLs to sites–e.g., ones featuring a Rake’s Progress. I also keep images in a folder stored on a flash drive. Images load very quickly in PowerPoint, too–so sometimes I set up a PowerPoint. But perhaps you are speaking about something else…

    Google offers a 3-d modelling tool–SketchUp. A speaker for a seminar series that I run with Sabrina Baron at the Library of Congress gave a talk last October on this tool–but I was at EC/ASECS and missed it… He used it for his classroom work (I believe), but it is probably more involved than what you are interested in having available for your purposes.


  8. Anna Battigelli Says:

    I would like a non-proprietary platform, where I could capture images from various sources, so ECCO’s option isn’t quite the thing. When I bring in paintings about Ovidian love, for example, I have used a flashdrive, but that’s just a bit more work than what could be available from one’s keyboard. If instructors had a reliable online storage “place” to stash images for teaching (perhaps like what you have on Blackboard), wouldn’t that be convenient? Does this online space already exist?


  9. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Are you bringing your own laptop or are you using a computer set-up that’s already in the classroom? Do you want these images hosted on an outside server? Does your university have space on its server that it could give you? (We do if you open an account).

    I actually find Blackboard to be fine for my needs (and I think WebCT–which may have been purchased by Blackboard–and e-College, all course management systems I have used in the past, can all store and display image files). I typically have the images on my flash drive (I am not using my own laptop) in case the network is down. It’s a back-up.

    I’ve never used Zotero for images, but I would think that it has that capacity, too.


  10. Anna Battigelli Says:

    I was thinking of something like Zotero, which can be used to archive images in addition to other data.


  11. Eleanor Shevlin Says:


    That makes a lot of sense… Maybe others know of similar resources? I would be interested in hearing about others.



  12. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Those who are unfamiliar with Zotero might well be interested in learning more about this research management tool. See its homepage that has a video introduction–it’s free and offers many options.


  13. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    ALthough the new blog, ProfHacker: Tips & Tutorials deals with more than technology, there are many posts that could be of interest to readers of this blog.

    ProfHacker delivers tips, tutorials, and commentary on pedagogy, productivity, and technology in higher education, Monday through Friday.

    Contribute to ProfHacker
    You can always contribute to ProfHacker by suggesting a link.

    Moreover, ProfHacker welcomes contributions in the following areas:

    ■Working with your IT department
    ■What to Expect…
    ■“What’s in your backpack/messenger bag/briefcase? / What’s on your desk?” features
    ■Software reviews
    ■Website reviews
    ■Database reviews
    ■Book reviews
    ■Conference blogging


    • Anna Battigelli Says:

      I have been reading ProfHacker since I read about it on Sharon’s Early Modern Notes, and it is a great resource. It provides remarkably clear overviews aimed at faculty who might find the kinds of electronic teaching resources and social networking technologies out there part of a strange new world.


  14. lmaruca Says:

    Possibly OT–leaving philosophical questions behind and getting concrete here:

    Anna, I don’t know if this is what you are looking for, but I used an online file storage service to store all my images and documents. I use Dropbox, which gives up to 2GB free (I haven’t used it all yet, and I have dozens of images and 100s of document files). It can be accessed from any computer, so I don’t have to rely on a program being downloaded onto my classroom machine, which would require onerous and lengthy permissions and IT service. However, on my own computers a program is installed that automatically updates any changes I’ve made on any of my documents on any of my other computers (eg, office desktop, laptop, home desktop). There even is a newly released iPhone app. This has obviated my need even for flash drives, Eleanor! Also, some folders can be marked as open, allowing for file sharing or collaboration.

    OK, I realize I’m sounding like an ad here. There are other services out there– is one–but Dropbox is the only one I have experience with. I’ve been using it for over a year, and it really has made my computer use more efficient since I no longer have to remember what file I revised on which computer. Its interface is super simple. And if Dropbox suddenly went out of business (the danger I see in relying too much on any “cloud” service), copies of all my documents are on every computer of mine so I’m safe. Their privacy/security terms look like any Web 2.0 company’s–it’s all encrypted, you own your data, they retain the right to use it/display it (because that’s what they do), etc.

    Is this what you were looking for?


  15. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Yes, Lisa, that sounds like exactly what I’m looking for. I’m thinking specifically of the times when I want to display paintings or digital images of texts for teaching. Dropbox sounds like it would provide the space I’m looking for online so that everything can be done from the computer without the need of an external unit (which in my case, can so easily get left behind). Thanks! I’ll check this out!


  16. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Thanks, Lisa. Dropbox is very good to know about…

    On one hand the 2GB sounds very generous, but on the other hand (and perhaps I am a document pack-rat), I’ve found myself rather quickly filing up 2 GB drives.


  17. Aaron McCollough Says:

    Evernote is also a nice option for this kind of thing. I use Dropbox for lots of stuff, but I also use Evernote, as it lets you mark things up, etc. Like Dropbox, Evernote has a governor on the amount of free-access it allows, but it is based on monthly traffic, so (I think) you can store more overall as long as you are only accessing a certain amount every month.

    I’d like to return to Shawn’s article, though, too. As the new Outreach Librarian for the Text Creation Partnership (Shawn’s old job), I continue to be interested in the answers to these questions vis-a-vis ECCO, EEBO, & Evans.

    I’m curious about reasons why ECCO and Evans text sets have not been picked up and played with for scholarly projects in the way EEBO texts have. There are some kind of obvious answers (e.g., there aren’t nearly as many texts), but are people thinking about using the texts that are there for Digital Humanities projects? If so, what are they? If not, why not?


  18. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Thanks, Aaron, for the information on Evernote.

    As for your query about ECCO and Evans text sets, could you say a bit more? By DH projects are you speaking primarily about linguistic anaylsis via a text corpus? Or more broadly?

    That EEBO has been available since about 1998 and ECCO appeared several years later probably has much to do with any lag in using ECCO for DH projects. Moreover, my sense (which may well be wrong) is that more libraries picked on EEBO initially, but it has taken longer for academic libraries to purchase ECCO (perhaps because of cost and other factors such as an increase in the number of electronic resources becoming available for humanities work. That there was more competition perhaps extended both the decision-making process and the time needed to build the budget/find the funds).

    I have been involved with projects at the moment that have not invited the type of linguistic analysis across a large text corpus. However, these projects would really benefit from a tool that would allow me to search across images (prints, illustrations) for large-scale data collection of themes and similar physical traits, etc.


  19. Dave Mazella Says:

    Aaron, I’m interested in your question, but not quite sure about the terms of your comparison between EEBO and ECCO. What kinds of projects did you have in mind? I’m at an institution where we only just acquired EEBO, and have yet to pick up ECCO, so this is all hypothetical for me.


  20. Anna Battigelli Says:

    I would also like to hear more about DH projects
    using EEBO. In some ways, ECCO’s full-text searching
    seems like it would be more, not less, amenable to
    such projects, if you mean, as Eleanor guesses, the
    kinds of linguistic analyses now being done on Monk
    and elsewhere.



  21. amccollo Says:

    Sorry to have gone so long without responding. I thought I’d clicked the “notify me for follow-up comments via email,” but maybe not…

    To flesh out my question about DH projects and EEBO, ECCO, EVANS a bit, I’d first stress that I’m mainly curious about usage of TCP texts derived from each of those collections. In other words, one of the things that makes TCP texts interesting and powerful tools is that they are fully-encoded, TEI-compliant SGML/XML versions of the image products we typically identify as EEBO, ECCO, and EVANS. While the latter two collections in this list each have a “dirty”-ocr layer for basic searching functionality, the TCP texts can stand alone, and they can be processed and/or presented in wide variety of ways. This has led to a number of corpus-linquistics-style projects as Eleanor suggests. The MONK project at Northwestern has used the EEBO-TCP texts extensively. A number of editorial projects have loaded the EEBO-TCP corpus locally at the hosting institution and used it for comparative purposes. A recent project of interest is the Holinshed Project ( Other projects are tracking patterns of reference (, etc.

    Presumably, ECCO-TCP and EVANS-TCP users would benefit from similar kinds of applications. I recognize, of course, that these resources are not yet available to all scholars due to their expense. All the same, the more thinking people begin doing about how the resources *could* be of use, the more useful they will end up being when they are made freely available.


    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      No need to apologize–you probably didn’t check the “notify” box for new comments (I’ve had that happen to me)–or perhaps it was a glitch.

      Laura Mandell and Bob Markley, co-directors of 18thConnect, are pursuing the types of developments that you are suggesting would be useful. (See Laura’s post on emob from earlier this year.)

      I also want to take this opportunity to mention your new TCP website, Aaron. I am planning on giving it a full post later this week. Based on the site, TCP is already involved in working with ECCO and Evans to provide XMl/SGML encoded texts.

      I am very curious about your comment about when these texts “are made freely available.” How might that transpire?


  22. Anna Battigelli Says:

    I would second Eleanor’s question: when might these
    texts be made “freely available”? Perhaps you are you positing
    a future in which all libraries have subscribed?


  23. amccollo Says:

    My reference to free access pertains to the TCP texts specifically. When the project began, the explicit purpose from a library perspective was to produce TEI-compliant editions that would be free. The arrangement established with the TCP’s commercial partners ended up with a kind of “moving wall” of access. During the first five years of encoding, access would be available only to partners. During the next five years, the commercial publisher would have an “embargo” period during which time they could license the texts as an enhancement to the search functionality of their image products. After the embargo period, the encoded texts become free. This will be a bigger deal with EEBO-TCP than with, say, ECCO-TCP, because far more texts have been produced for the former than the latter. That being said, the ECCO-TCP texts and the EVANS-TCP texts should be a real value to the community.


  24. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Aaron, this is extremely interesting news and reflects quite well on the forethought of the University of MIchigan library and its administrators. Just to clarify, will the TEI-compliant editions when their embargos expire then be available freely and one will be able to access and fully search those texts without needing access to EEBO? If so, roughly what percentage of EEBO’s texts might be “freed” from commercial subscription? Am I understanding this potential future landscape correctly?


  25. amccollo Says:

    Eleanor— Yes, I think you are understanding things correctly. Following their embargo periods, each set of TCP texts will become freely available. Most likely, they will be hosted by a few institutions. I expect, for example, that Michigan will simply remove the authentication requirement from its interface (or host an open mirror version). Currently, UM’s interface links the text page images to their relevant EEBO page images, which will not be possible in a free version (because ProQuest will own those images in perpetuity). It’s conceivable that individual libraries could rescan their own holdings of books and thereby repopulate the image database, but there are a number of bibliographic and technological/logistical complications to such an idea.

    The first 25,000 encoded texts are set to become free in January of 2015. If we are able to raise enough revenue to encode the rest of the collection (roughly 44,000 unique items), then the entire EEBO archive (as TCP text) would become free in 2020.


    • Allison Muri Says:


      I have a question about what “free” means, as it’s very difficult to find any license agreement online (the Partnership Agreements at are not available through the provided links). Does release of 25,000 texts in 2015 mean that any user could download and freely use the entire set in any way he or she saw fit? Are there any kinds of restrictions on these texts, how they are subsequently displayed, etc.?


      • Eleanor Shevlin Says:


        I will let Aaron confirm, but it is my understanding that “free” means “free” and that a user can use the encoded TCP texts in any way she or he wishes. Proquest, however, will continue to own the digital images.


  26. Eleanor Shevlin Says:


    This is really fascinating news. And I am glad that you clarified ProQuest’s ownership of the images; that detail explains how ProQuest’s investment will be protected. Let me further clarify: if a library is a subscriber to/has purchased EEBO, does it also have a right for its users to have access to those images in perpetuity?

    And a final question, would those desiring access to the “freed” texts in 2015 be able to go to UMichigan online library site (if UM does handle this situation by removing the authentication) and access the TCP texts–much like users can go to the BL site and access ESTC?


  27. amccollo Says:

    I’m actually not sure what the relationship is between individual libraries and the commercial digital resources they’ve purchased. It isn’t ownership but rather licensing, but I’ve had trouble getting my head around what that will mean in the long term. It’s a good question and one worth interrogating further. My guess is that there are a variety of arrangements out there, maybe as varied as the institutions in question.

    An open version of the TCP site would work like the demo (, but it would not be limited to a few texts as the demo is, and there would be no links to page images like this one (;cc=eebodemo;idno=AFK4071.0001.001;node=AFK4071.0001.001%3A4.7;seq=8)


  28. Eleanor Shevlin Says:


    Many thanks… I will investigate some of the arrangements; you are right about this question being one worth pursuing.

    The demo provides a good sense of what to expect.



  29. Jo-Anne Hogan, ProQuest Says:

    I can help answer with Eleanor’s earlier question.

    A library which purchases ProQuest’s EEBO database has acquired permanent rights to all of the images and associated metadata for use by its authorized user community. The library can have all of that data shipped to them for local storage and hosting upon request, or the library can pay an annual access fee so that their users can access that data via the search interface hosted on ProQuest’s servers.

    Alternatively, a library can subscribe to EEBO on an annual basis. This option is initially less costly to the library than the ownership model, but does not provide any access rights if the subscription is canceled.

    I would like to add that as exciting as the prospect of a completely openly accessible versions of EEBO is, it has only been made possible by the investment of many libraries in both EEBO and the TCP over the years, and that effort still needs financial support to be completely realized.


    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Thanks so much, Jo-Anne, . The first option you described is the arrangement that I am most familiar with (although it may not be the arrangement my own library has).

      I am also very glad that you noted the financial investment that has already been made by many in creating these EEBO and the support that will be required to sustain and complete the work (as well as support its maintenance once completed). Often with the Internet and, more specifically digital texts, the cost and labor involved are overlooked.

      I will also mention that I posted an entry about the TCP’s new website this morning, and I also mentioned the EEBO Introduction series.


  30. Anna Battigelli Says:

    This is such interesting news! It might be helpful to continue this discussion under Eleanor’s recent posting regarding the TCP website.


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