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Electronic Publishing: the Libraries releases two scholarly manuscripts online

In the summer of 1998, Professor Emeritus of the UMass Art History Department J. Leonard Benson came to Linda Seidman of Special Collections and Archives hoping to find a home for two scholarly manuscripts, entitled "Greek Color Theory and the Four Elements" and "Greek Sculpture and the Four Elements." The works had been well received by scholars in the field, but Professor Benson had been unsuccessful in his efforts to find a publisher, likely because the potential audience for the specialized monographs was fairly small, rendering a print run of the image-rich texts prohibitively expensive. Linda Seidman and Rachel Lewellen of the Digital Initiatives Team accepted the manuscripts with the recognition that Professor Benson was offering the UMass Amherst Libraries the opportunity to explore the new role of electronic publisher that other research libraries, such as the University of California and the University of Virginia, have embraced. In late September 1998, Charity Hope of the Digital Initiatives Team was given the lead on this test case, charged with developing a prototype for electronic publishing. After much thought, effort, and time, this project is coming to fruition this spring with the online publication of the two works. The works will be included in the online catalog and made available form the Libraries’ Web site. A release celebration and project presentation is planned for Wednesday, May 24th, at 3:30 PM in Special Collections and Archives. All members of the UMass Amherst community are welcome to attend.

Early work on the project included significant copy editing and extensive research on electronic text publishing in other libraries and research centers, including markup and software choices and emerging on-line publication standards. With the assistance of the Libraries’ Law Librarian and the UMass Amherst University Press, a contract was drafted defining the Libraries’ responsibilities as publisher, and Professor Benson’s responsibilities as author. Copyright questions have also been paramount from the first, as Professor Benson’s texts are richly illustrated with over 130 images owned by dozens of copyright holders, all over the world. Charity educated herself, then Professor Benson, on the intricacies of copyright, searched for materials in the public domain, and supplied the author with permissions forms (drafted with the assistance of the Law Librarian) to send off to publishers, museums and photographers who owned the copyright for images which were to be included in the online text.

Technology Choices

Research and consultations with electronic publishing experts in other libraries helped to shape the technology and markup choices for the project. Open (non-vendor specific) and archival standards for text markup were recognized as crucial to ensure the longevity of the digital texts. It was also desirable to select a markup vocabulary that would reflect the complex inherent structure of the documents, which, like many scholarly texts in the humanities, include chapters, subsections of chapters, multiple quotations, bibliographic references, passages of poetry, excerpts in ancient Greek and in translation, footnotes, and numerous cross-references. After much investigation, the markup structure XML (Extensible Markup Language) was selected for this project.

XML is a still-developing standard with the support of the World Wide Web Consortium (the primary standards producing organization for the Web) and growing support among producers of software for Web development, browsing and searching. XML is widely predicted to be the future publishing format for structured electronic information, replacing both SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language) and HTML (HyperText Markup Language). Like SGML, XML is a general standard that allows for the creation of content-specific markup vocabularies, called DTDs (Document Type Definitions). Different tagging vocabularies have been developed for different kinds of documents and data.

For a scholarly monograph in the humanities, an appropriate tagging vocabulary is the SGML-based document type description TEI-lite, created by the Text Encoding Initiative, an international project to develop guidelines for the preparation and interchange of electronic texts for scholarly research. The choice of XML TEI-lite for this project allowed us to use markup tags that are comprehensible to both people and computers, and that accurately describe the true content of the texts, not just the desired appearance in a browser. For example, chapters are <div type="chapter"></div>, songs are <div type="song"></div>, and a bibliographic citation can be coded as <bibl><author>Hetzer, T.</author> <date>1935, 1948</date> <title>Titian Geschichte seiner Farben</title> <pubPlace>Frankfurt-a-M</pubPlace></bibl>.

In the future, these content-specific, semantically meaningful tags will allow much more meaningful searches of XML documents.

As XML only describes the structure of a document, not the formatting, a separate style language was implemented. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), a style language developed for the latest versions of HTML, will work with XML, but only in later Internet Explorer browsers. To accommodate our diverse users, we chose instead to utilize something created specifically for XML, called XSLT (Extensible Style Language – Transformations). XSLT allows us to transform our XML document into an HTML file that can be viewed in any browser. The advantage of separating style from content is that the same information can be organized, formatted, and sorted differently for different uses and viewers, tagged once for variable use again and again.

Challenges and Possibilities

As each of the many technologies involved in this project were new to the Digital Initiatives Team, new to libraries, and new in general, anticipating how much time each step would take was difficult, and everything took longer than expected. In addition, lacking a project budget, we needed to utilize freely available software; the use of free software is not without drawbacks: with the help of Kevin Cummings from LISTS, Charity is still wrestling with some "not quite ready for prime time" products. More fundamentally, Charity found challenging the combination of roles that she individually and that the Library in general embraced with this project – Librarian, Publisher and Technologist. However, tackling this project allowed the Digital Initiatives Team to investigate new technologies that may well become central to information organization, access and exchange in a Web environment. And in an era when the ongoing viability of the specialized scholarly monograph is less and less secure (see, The Specialized Scholarly Monograph in Crisis), it is important to explore alternatives to the traditional publishing process if we want to preserve this valuable information source.

The Texts

Greek Color Theory and the Four Elements, by J.L. Benson. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries, 2000.

Greek Sculpture and the Four Elements, by J.L. Benson. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries, 2000.

For more information, contact:
Charity Hope
Research Library Resident
Du Bois Library

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