#36 Fall 2000
- News from the Chair: What Are We Doing Here?
- Licensing Primary Full Text Databaes: What Does a Bibliographer "Have to Know"?
- Brown Women Writers Online
- Stebelman Proclamation
- LES Bibliographer
- Collecting Contemporary Fiction
- Editor's Note
- ACRL 2001
- LES and Related ALA Resources
News from the Chair: What Are We Doing Here?
The thing that surprised me when I became LES chair-elect was how much time and attention ACRL demanded. "Whoa!" I thought. "What's all this, this flood of e-mails, real mails, calendars, deadlines, documents, guidelines, policies, plans, none of which have anything directly to do with librarianship as I know it on a day-to-day basis." I mention this not as a complaint (nor even a warning to future candidates) but as an insight into the nature of our involvement in professional activities and associations. You sign up for something or agree to serve, and suddenly you are immersed in activities you had never dreamed of. This made me ask, What is the nature of these professional associations?
What I had expected and looked forward to was the personal connection with other literature librarians. This is what has appealed to me most since I have been active in LES. To discover a community of literature librarians who, unlike the other librarians where I work, are doing nearly the same things I am, with nearly identical pleasures, rewards, problems, frustrations. There IS a professional community made up of the faces and voices, insights and ideas, complaints and frustrations, solutions and initiatives that we are part of, and we are so not only at ALA conferences but also throughout the year through the section discussion list, ongoing committee work, and this newsletter.
Personal reward and association solidarity aside, however, an organization such as LES must be useful and provide something tangible for its members. We don't just meet at ALA and share stories about the good times and the bad back home; we get together and work. Some of us are actu-ally paid (that is, reimbursed) to attend LES meetings and so need to prove there's some value to our institutions in membership. LES has evolved since it became a full-fledged section in 1995, and certainly it will continue to as active members find ways to improve their professional work by working together with other literature librarians. The three Ps--programs, publications, and participation--are pretty general, but if we look at specifics, we can see real usefulness within these:
--last year's book with its chapters on collections and services;
--a new section bibliographer, Dan Coffey, who will carry on the useful and surprisingly extensive compilation initiated by Scott Stebelman;
--ideas about reference sources and services, about 19th century materials, and about research competencies in literature generated in our discussion groups.
Yet, to return to ACRL's surprising tentacles, it is important to recognize that LES is part of a larger association, that many of the issues we as a section experience are shared by other sections and the larger body, that we literature librarians are librarians like the psychology and the arts and the documents librarians--and, let me quickly add, like public and school librarians too who work with our same literature, albeit with different readers. Part of my role as chair may be to interact with ACRL as never before, but all of us profit from thinking beyond our daily task and our local organization to those shared professional goals and ideals.
So, for my peroration, what I hope for for LES members is that they, as I, can enjoy their association with colleagues from around the country, can gain an expanded sense of their professional identity, and that they will participate in our programs and publications and bring in new ideas about ways LES can be of real, practical assistance to all its members.
William Wortman, Chair
Licensing Primary Full Text Databases: What Does a Bibliographer "Have to Know"?
Oh, Time! Show mercy to me, and unwind This tangled web, or tear the strands away That twist and knot, and cause so great delay In this fair work . . . "To Time," Mary Montgomerie Lamb, 1862
These lines express my frustration when I am confronted with the pages and pages of fine print accompanying the purchase of electronic full-text products. Licensing language (words like "indemnity") can certainly seem forbidding. To be frank, I'd much rather buy books.
Alas, a large portion of academic library literature budgets are, in this millenium, allocated for electronic primary resources: Early English Books Online, Harper's Weekly, Literature Online, Middle English Compendium, and many more. Because of the magnitude of these purchases, decisions are often made at a point in the organizational structure well above the ground floor (or mezzanine) that bibliographers occupy, and the license language itself may be negotiated by administrative or legal personnel far removed from the world of library collections and reference. Nonetheless, there are important reasons for literature bibliographers to study, understand, and even review license terms before they are signed. Licenses dictate the extent to which electronic texts are (and will continue to be) available to library users and the prices libraries pay for that availability and accessibility. In particular, licenses must address issues of quality and completeness of textual products. They must ensure that the library retain rights to archival copies. Preferably, the vendor will continue to provide support such as user manuals and aids and continue to inform faculty and students about the product, releasing the library from some of the burden for publicity. Licenses must guarantee, in some detail, fast and speedy access and the delivery of statistical information by the vendor.
Reviewing product proposals and licenses takes time. A vendor should not rush a library to make a hasty decision just to secure a special price or discount. If possible, there should be an evaluation period before the license is signed, during which the product can be tested and the license terms reviewed by subject librarians. Following are some of the many factors that we should consider in this review process:
--lease or purchase price and its impact on the purchase of traditionally formatted
--dates of and extent of coverage, if applicable;
--detailed description of content;
--technological medium and standards (Web-based, CD, SGML, XML, etc.);
--access issues, including library, off-campus, on-campus access;
--availability of statistical information about usage;
--user training, documentation, and continued outreach to users by the vendor.
The International Coalition of Library Consortia has published a Statement of Current Perspective and Preferred Practices for the Selection and Purchase of Electronic Information outlining issues involved for license negotiators. Adopting the ICOLC principles, many large libraries, consortia, and university systems have developed guidelines for those negotiating license terms with vendors. The University of California libraries (the California Digital Library) have posted a CDL Content Provider Information Resource Page providing links to a wealth of information. See the Checklist of Points to be Addressed in a CDL License Agreement in particular.
If you have suggestions for other good citations or Web sites, a list will be included in the next issue of Biblio-Notes. Meanwhile, literature librarians need to assume an active stance, creating licensing language to ensure that our investments in digital texts result in rich dividends for the students and scholars we represent.
University of California, Davis
Brown Women Writers Online
A year ago, many of us may recall receiving an attractive brochure inviting our institutions to subscribe to Women Writers Online, the e-text collection produced by the Brown Women Writers Project (WWP). I remember grumbling at the time about having to pay an annual access fee for texts from a non-commercial vendor. After all, I thought, Indiana University still offers access to the Victorian Women Writers Project for free. But when one stops to consider what commercial vendors charge for access to equivalent databases, for example, the Eighteenth Century Fiction database from Chadwyck-Healey (now Bell & Howell), not to mention what other digital women’s studies re-sources available on the market cost (the Gerritsen Collection of Women's History, 1543-1945, for a high five-digit figure), suddenly WWP doesn’t seem that expensive after all.
One-hundred-sixty institutions, including mine, have subscribed since that first call, with thirty or so more, as one hears in Providence, close to tying the knot. This gives the shapers of this database a predictable cash flow with which to expand, and indeed, texts are being added at a rate of forty-sixty a year to a corpus of 204 texts (as of September 18, 2000), gleaned from the Renaissance to 1841. If that doesn’t sound like much considering the scale of other text encoding projects, one must keep in mind that WWP texts are very heavily tagged in SGML, allowing searches of considerable sophistication in the entire corpus or a user-defined subset. It is possible, for example, to restrict the scope of searches to individual text types, such as place names, book titles, quoted material, all verse (or non-dramatic verse only), foreign language passages, etc. And for those who ques-tion the utility of such finely grained searching, consider how useful a place-name tag is when locating references to Italy or Rome in the database while excluding occurrences of these words or their derivatives in book titles or in references to literature, music, or historical events. The search expression "ital* or rom*" with this tag restriction neatly retrieves 543 hits, almost all relevant, and the display is a model of clarity, with an ARTFL-like KWIC display that allows for quick orientation, for example, the seven references to Italy and Rome (one to "Italia") in Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s Legacy for Young Ladies (1826).
Of course, even the most refined data is of little use if no one knows it’s there. Some institutions rely on librarians to beat the bushes to advertise new resources such as this one. Others subscribe to the Field of Dreams approach: buy it, and they will come. Yet few will argue that the best way to encourage use of non-print resources is through a presence on the OPAC, preferably at the indi-vidual item level. The WWP has done a fine job making available machine-readable records for loading into library OPACs. At Northwestern, the link through the MARC 856 tag delivers the OPAC users to a connect screen, and from there, the distance to the WWP can be covered by a single mouse click. Desirable from a user standpoint, of course, would be a deep link directly from the OPAC to the resource, with login and password encoded into the connecting protocol, but this is apparently still a blue-sky hope. Desirable, too, would be some way that subscribers could be informed when new cataloging had been finished so that OPACs could be updated.
The Women’s Writers Project still has a long way to go to become the kind of research and teaching site that ARTFL, the Blake Project, or the Middle English Compendium have become. There is only a rudimentary research paper and syllabus collection at the WWP site (four papers, all from MLA ’99 in Chicago, and five syllabi), and a newsletter that appeared regularly until 1998 appears to have gone to sleep. The project would like to transform the syllabus collection into a searchable syllabus database, which would be of great use to teachers and to students, but this appears to still be a distant hope. The project appears to be investing its energies and resources into expanding its text base, seeking to attain critical mass for large-scale text analysis, and there is certainly considerable wisdom in this approach.
More and more women’s studies materials are being made available online. The most ambitious projects deliver SGML-tagged full-text. Among these Cadillac sites are the WWP, the VWWP at Indiana mentioned earlier, and the separately searchable works of women writers represented in the large former Chadwyck-Healey databases. A number of other text collections are indexed, or at least catalog their material carefully, such as Early English Books Online and the Gerritson Women’s History database, but do not provide full-text. Instead, they deliver page images to the screen, and this is still very useful.
Finally, some women writers sets available only in microfilm are made accessible bibliographically through the provision of MARC records. Prominent examples of this approach are Adam Mat-thews’s Women Advising Women set (over 1100 items) or the various subsets of the Edition Cor-vey from Belser wissenschaftlicher Dienst, including close to 500 texts of French women writers--all of these OPAC accessible, at least bibliographically. Since for most of us this side of the Charles River, accessibility helps justifies outlay, publishers who offer large microfilm sets with paper finding aids only increasingly face an uphill battle interesting prospective customers with competitors such as these. At Northwestern, all of these products have an item-level presence on the OPAC, and this has had a manifest effect on levels of use.
Given these improvements in accessibility and what might be called the penetrability of texts, things are looking up for scholars and librarians in the field of women’s studies. Where does the Women Writers Project fit into this ever-denser net of electronically accessible resources? If it can continue to expand its textual base while maintaining a high encoding standard, and at the same time develop into a teaching- and research-oriented site with a host of supporting resources, there can be little doubt that it will claim a permanent spot on the virtual library shelf in the future.
In honor of Scott Stebelman’s years of contributions to the section, the officers of LES issued the following tribute, written by Marcia Pankake, to him at ALA in Chicago on July 9, 2000:
Whereas, nineteen years ago today, July 9, 1981, at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, numerous academic librarians with an interest in and responsibility for collections work were gathered together for the first ALA RTSD Institute on Collection Development,
And whereas at that gathering Dr. Scott Stebelman, then the subject librarian for English, Philosophy, Speech Communication, Theater, and Religious Studies at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, distinguished himself as a man of vision who set his sight on a distant horizon, and as a man of action who rounded up the English and American literature specialists present to sign a petition to start a group in ALA devoted to our specialty,
And whereas the afore-mentioned Scott subsequently served in many capacities in the English and American Literature Discussion Group and Section, serving twice as its vice-chair and chair, serving on its publication committee, nominations committee, steering committee, program committee, member of the editorial committee of the Section's first book, editor of Biblio-Notes and moderator of the listserv, and all-round exemplar for the promotion of mutual interests and development of professional skills,
And whereas this said Stebelman has recently retired from his position at George Washington University Library and from the profession,
Be it resolved that the Literatures in English Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries proclaims its gratitude to Scott Stebeleman for his leadership and his faithful service, and wishes him well in all his future endeavors.
One of Scott Stebelman’s many achievements was serving as the section bibliographer. Scott has been succeeded in this role by Dan Coffey, Languages and Literatures Librarian, Iowa State University. Dan has recently published an essay about Joanne Kyger in the online journal Jacket and contributed six articles to the St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. He looks forward to expanding Scott’s excellent bibliography to ensure its continued usefulness to librarians and scholars. Dan looks forward to hearing from those with suggestions about the bibliography.
Collecting Contemporary Fiction
A brief summary of the section’s program at ALA in Chicago appears in College & Research Library News (61:8): 670-671. Many attendees have asked about the titles recommended by novelist Julia Alvarez during her talk. Her annotated list is available from Algonquin Books.
Anyone interested in contributing to the following columns should contact the editor:
--"My Life as a Humanities Librarian"--the ways you have learned to do what you do, noteworthy achievements, and anecdotes involving patrons, colleagues, administrators, or tools of the trade;
--"My Favorite Reference Tools"--one or more particularly useful sources (print or electronic);
--"Personal/Institution News"--what is going on with you or your library that will be of interest to the section’s membership.
ACRL X: Crossing the Divide will take place in Denver, March 15-18, 2001. In addition to keynote speakers, there will be over two-hundred peer-reviewed programs as well as displays by two-hundred vendors. Questions can be directed to 800-545-2433, ext. 2522, or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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