||Web Technology in East Asian
Libraries: Its Innovation and Sustanability
1. The End of Cataloging in World Wide Web?
2. On the Future of Database Driven Internet Research Guides
Hanno Lecher, Unviersity of Heidelberg, Germany
were the Days! A
Short History of the East Asian Libraries Cooperative World Wide Web
by Hanno Lecher, University of Heidelberg, Germany
Against the background of the ever growing capabilities of search engines such as Google and the like, especially in terms of exhaustiveness, high quality results and content information, manually maintained link collections and virtual libraries seem to become more and more obsolete.
I believe, however, that there is still need for professionally maintained Web guides, as long as they turn their focus into a new direction: they have to develop into veritable research guides, including additional information services such as introductions on how to use the Web for research purposes in a given field, as well as state of the art reports, guest commentaries, mailing lists etc.
From the outset it has been the aim of the Internet Guide for Chinese Studies to serve exactly in this function. So far, I have to admit, I have failed to accomplish this goal. In my presentation I will explore the reasons of this failure, and what is been done currently to move into this direction more decicively.
Taking the newly designed IGCS section on News Media as example, I will show how the new concept of the IGCS will address the needs of Internet based research by using more flexible technology and by providing additional services that common search engines will never be able to handle:
1. The core of the guide will be a dynamic (probably
database of records on important resources available on the Web. These
will have a common format (similar to bibliographic records with fields
author, title, publisher, keywords, etc.) and include tags that allow
structured output. Also, the user should be able to decide whether to
verbose form of records containing all information available, or only
information showing title, editor, and URL.
2. Around the database there will be portal sites for each section that are maintained by specialists in the corresponding field. On the one hand these portal sites provide access to the records in the database (through a search mechanism as well as via some sort of table of contents), on the other hand they will also contain additional information and services such as:
a. a mailing list
b. an introduction to using the available Web resources
c. state-of-the-art reports on recent developments in the field
d. guest commentaries from other professionals in the field
e. some sort of news reports (new finds in archaeology etc.)
f. and more...
Dedicated portal sites will be better able to address the information needs of scholars and students alike, and they might easily establish themselves as eminent Web resources in their respective fields. At the same time, maintaining the records on Web resources as an XML database will reduce maintainance trouble, allow for better results handling, and improves the possibilities of cooperation within a team of experts acting as editors of often overlapping sections.
Manually maintained link collections might be doomed to become obsolete, but the need for high quality Internet research guides has to be addressed, and I think I have shown a way to do this in a very meaningful way.
Those were the Days!
A Short History of the East Asian Libraries Cooperative World Wide Web
This presentation is an update of the East Asian Libraries Cooperative World Wide Web. Some in the audience may remember the first presentation that I gave at CEAL about this project, in March 1994 under the title, "Possible Uses of the World Wide Web in East Asian Collections." A lot has happened since then!
The origin of the project can be traced back a bit further, to the Third Regional Conference of Asia Libraries in the Midwest, held in Ann Arbor in June 1989 at which participants identified a need to transmit such information as tables of contents to each other and to researchers. Already fax technology was available and we collectively imagined a kind of fax that could be transmitted simultaneously to several recipients. When the action agenda was drawn up, I was given the task of investigating emerging technologies to determine how to do this.
Upon returning to Ohio State, I began learning everything I could about image processing and transmission technology. Through an email list I met a librarian at Australian National University, Tony Barry, who had similar interests. Based on his advice, I realized the need for a computer with enough memory to store scanned images and function as an ftp server. The OSU Systems Librarian, Anna Wang, and I wrote a grant proposal for an OSU seed grant to acquire such a machine, the Macintosh Quadra 950, and a scanner. The grant was successful and we began experimenting in Fall 1991.
Initially the tools and techniques were quite primitive. In the summer of 1993 Tony Barry forwarded an email from Marc Andreesen announcing the Beta version of Mosaic, the predecessor of Netscape. The minute I tested it, I knew -- as everyone else would a few months later -- that this was a solution to the needs identified at the 1989 Ann Arbor meeting that exceeded our wildest hopes. I presented a paper that addressed the changes implicit in the evolving technology for librarians at East Asian collections at the ICANAS in Hong Kong that summer, entitled: "Human Resources for Asian Collections in a Networked World: The Time is Now."
At Ohio State we prepared grant applications to the U.S. Department of Education Title II-A and to the Japan-US Friendship Commission for projects entitled, "Project for East Asian Resource Sharing (PEARS)" and "Project for Japanese Resource Sharing," respectively. Before we knew it we were working with colleagues at nine other institutions to realize the promise of this emerging technology. The institutions that were included in these grants were: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin (PEARS grant) and Berkeley, Columbia, Duke and MIT (PJRS grant).
Once we got these multi-institutional grants, project management immediately became a challenge. The funds we received were allocated for equipment and student hours. There was not enough money to hire a project manager or other dedicated personnel or to hold meetings to facilitate coordination of effort. I still had my main job, which was expanding in scope, with income from a sizable endowment to spend.
Nonetheless, web sites went up at all of the participating institutions. I reported on these projects in detail at the Beijing IFLA in 1996 in a paper: "East Asian Libraries Cooperative World Wide Web: An experiment in collaboration to build interdependence." [i] The East Asian Libraries Cooperative WWW was ranked one of the most widely linked sites in 1997.[ii] It continues to get a lot of traffic.
Ohio State acquired a very large UNIX computer (Sun SPARCcenter 2000) for a cost of about $90,000 from the Title II-A funds. After the grant-funded period was over, I felt strongly that the availability of this computer should continue to be exploited for cooperative projects supporting research on East Asia using World Wide Web technology.
Working with engineering graduate students, whom I was able to hire in a graduate research assistant position, I concentrated on database development. The first database was that we put up on the web was the Japanese Company Histories database, with data converted from a Pro-Cite bibliography into a number of flat file lists on the web site. Later we put the data into an interactive, searchable file. This database also includes links to scanned images of tables of contents of a number of these books.
Furthermore, we set up a secure system that would allow contributions from remote project participants. In particular, I began working with scholars. One example is the National Taiwan University Center for Buddhist Studies, for whom I provide a mirror site to improve North American access to their extensive databases. Another example is Kinema Club, a project initiated by Japanese cinema scholars to share information about research resources. Their web site, including a database of Japanese cinema studies, went up in 1995 and was followed later by the Kinejapan@lists.acs.ohio-state.edu, a scholarly mailing list on Japanese cinema studies with about 400 subscribers worldwide. I serve as the main "owner" of that list at Ohio State, but Aaron Gerow (Yokohama National U) and Markus Nornes (U Michigan) bear most of the responsibility for the list and its operations, both technical and intellectual.
I also explored cooperation with organizations, especially the Association for Asian Studies. During a three-year period (1995-97) I ran a cooperative electronic resources booth in the AAS Exhibits Hall, with a goal of supporting scholars and librarians involved in creating electronic resources. In 1996 I organized a well-attended workshop held in conjunction with the Honolulu AAS meeting. A prototype for a database of annotated entries for web resources in Asian studies was set up after a discussion at AAS -- this was the precursor of the Digital Asia Library project currently underway at U of Wisconsin. I also started the Asiandoc electronic newsletter where developers of electronic resources for Asian studies could share information about their projects. While all of these efforts were successful to some extent, gradually efforts like these came to seem less necessary.
I also have worked closely with the North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources. In 1997 I volunteered to look into setting up a union list of Japanese serials to support the ARL Global Resources Program's Japan Project. There was no model to follow for how to do this, so I worked with my graduate research assistant to develop software designed to fulfill the dreams of the 1989 meeting mentioned earlier. By a series of lucky coincidences, I met an executive from the Honda Corporation who took an interest in my research -- he refers to my office as a "lab" -- and provided a donation from Honda to support programming for the union list during 1998-99.
The union list software, which consisted of a large number of inter-related cgi scripts proved to be unstable. Ultimately data was corrupted as a result of software problems. When we could not fix it and efforts to find more funding proved futile, my supervisor convinced me to shift my focus away from web projects and toward collection management. By this time the grant-funded computer was aging, so Ohio State purchased a replacement, with the understanding that it might be used in part for other purposes as well (as it now is). My new supervisor continues the same advice, with added pressure to do a more traditional kind of research, leading to publication in peer-reviewed sources.
Following the NCC San Diego meeting, a meeting was held at ARL in July 2000 to discuss the future of the union list. At that meeting Ohio State agreed to stabilize the data, finish inputting data we had on hand along with information in the 1992 printed union list, complete this work by October 1, 2000, and maintain the database on our server until a new home could be found. We have followed through on those commitments.
With all that experience running a web site, what am I doing now? Well, I am increasingly focusing on integrating my work into larger library systems. For example, rather than establishing a separate database of Ohio State's manga collection we have added collection information and specific genre terms (shojo manga, yakuza manga, etc) to records so that they can be retrieved directly from the OPAC. I am thinking of doing the same for the Japanese company histories collection, so that I will not need to continue maintaining the separate database that exists now. As part of U Wisconsin's Digital Asia Library, I am cataloging Japanese web resources in CORC. These records will be integrated into Ohio State's OPAC as well. At the ARL meeting last July, the clear preference was for incorporating retrospective records and holdings information in the national bibliographic utilities, although everyone appreciated the need for a union list in the short term. Overall, the direction is toward integration of subject collections in mainstream library systems, thereby facilitating access, document delivery, and reference services. The East Asian Libraries WWW is still up and running. I still think of it as the electronic shelf of my collection, but its future direction is unclear.
Before concluding, I want to mention some books that have influenced me and helped me to understand more about the context in which we work. While some specific information in these works might be out of date, I still find them useful and recommend them highly: