electronic texts and libraries (129)

Sat, 18 Mar 89 17:37:52 EST

Humanist Mailing List, Vol. 2, No. 740. Saturday, 18 Mar 1989.

(1) Date: Fri, 17 Mar 89 22:37:05 EST (64 lines)
From: Brian Whittaker <BRIANW@YORKVM2>
Subject: Re: Oxford Electronic Shakespeare, etc., cont. (84)

(2) Date: 15 March 1989, 14:18:53 EST (45 lines)
From: Brad Inwood (416) 978-3178 INWOOD at UTOREPAS
SUBJECT: Shakespearian clarification

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Fri, 17 Mar 89 22:37:05 EST
From: Brian Whittaker <BRIANW@YORKVM2>
Subject: Re: Oxford Electronic Shakespeare, etc., cont. (84)

Ivy Anderson's comments on the price and usefulness of the electronic
Shakespeare raise some interesting questions about the role of computers
in the library, and also some interesting questions about the role of
the library in scholarship.

I believe the crux of the matter is the function of the library in
research. Is the library a place where one can actually *do* research,
or is it only a place where one can look up the research that others
have done? Library acuisitions in the computer hardware and software
area seem to be directed largely, perhaps even entirely, towards the
latter function. Thus indexes, abstracts and information files (rather
than data files) seem to be the order of the day. These products permit
the scholar to find out very quickly what hypothesis other scholars have
pursued or are pursuing. Products like the electronic Shakespeare, on
the other hand, might actually be used to *do* research, not merely the
high powered statistical approach to literary stylistics, but also
less technical question like "Do the words RIGHT and BLOOD
ever occur in the same speech in any of Shakespeare's history plays?"

This question of the function of the library may have a geographic
flavour. Some universities are blessed with libraries rich in
manuscripts and first editions. I suspect that at those universities
professors and students alike go to the library to do research with the
original documents. Those of us not fortunate to be at one of those
ancient intitutions may be tempted (or obliged?) to use our libraries
differently: students look up what has been written about Hamlet in
order to crib material for their essays; professors look up what has
been written about Hamlet, one hopes, not to crib material but in order
to make the best use of a week or a whole sabbatical at the distant
library that has the early primary documents. In other words, in some
places students, faculty and librarians are accustomed to seeing the
library as a place to look things up, largely because there is not much
else one can do in those libraries.

So, if the electronic Shakespeare is not an instrument for looking up
what research others have done, but rather an instrument for doing
research, then the question is "Where does one do research?" If
students, professors and librarians are all agreed that people do
research in the library, then surely all university libraries and most
metropolitan reference libraries will buy the electronic Shakespeare,
and Ivy Anderson assures us that the price is quite reasonable by
library standards. If, on the other hand, the library is merely a place
to look up what others have done, then those wishing to use the
electronic Shakespeare will have to buy their own copies, at a price
that is steep for a professor and prohibitive for a student.

I am glad that Ms. Anderson has raised this question for discussion. I
expect that most librarians will hesitate over acquiring the electronic
Shakespeare for the same reasons she has expressed. However, I fear that
most librarians will draw their own conlusions rather than consulting
the users as she has done.

Brian Whittaker
Department of English
Atkinson College, York University
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------49----
Date: 15 March 1989, 14:18:53 EST
From: Brad Inwood (416) 978-3178 INWOOD at UTOREPAS
SUBJECT: Shakespearian clarification

It does sound splendid, to run shakespeare from your CD-ROM, in any
format; if you have a CD-ROM drive and the DOS-extensions to run it.
And so forth. The point about being a "non-starter" is simple enough.
Most scholars I know are still grinding along on XT-s or AT-s. They
don't as a rule have affordable access to the hardware and expertise
needed (or the money to buy them) to go the route that scholars at well
furnished research centres can go. Even without CD-ROM technology one can
make good use of electronic texts -- and we all have floppy drives on our
computers. That is why it makes sense, for all the merits of CD-ROM, to
publish major texts on floppy disc in the first instance. Archives
etc. can always have their CD-ROM version; but the average humanist
scholar is ill-equipped and probably a bit of a techno-klutz. It is this
"mass" scholarly market which needs to be served first.

But on reflection,
is CD-ROM storage the ideal route to go now? Even with the cash to buy
into it, many people might want to wait just a bit longer for a technology
with read-write capability and faster access times -- I am not the first
person to notice that CD-ROM has not had the market acceptance so widely
predicted when it was first introduced. There are reasons for that, after all.

My last plaint is trivial. If we are going to off-load the text
to magnetic media whenever we need to modify it for our own purposes, then
why should we care what medium we off-load from, floppies or CD-ROM? This
kind of consideration hardly argues for primary distribution on CD-ROM.

My original crack about CD-ROM distribution being a non-starter was part
of a complaint about Sebastian Rahtz's carping at OUP, no more than that
But Bob Kraft has made me think a bit more about the issue of storage
media, distribution, etc. Are the issues significantly affected by the
texts we are distributing and storing? The TLG corpus *needs* a CD-ROM.
But Plato and Aristotle alone do not. Neither would Locke, if we could
get him. Neither would Shakespeare. Big compound corpora needed for
non-dynamic reference need one sort of medium. Single-author text-bases
designed for intensive research and manipulation need another. Let us
not get stuck on the CD-ROM juggernaut by going over to it for primary
distribution except in cases of real need.

Brad Inwood
Classics, Univeristy of Toronto