[Mirrored from: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/ariadne/issue8/scholarly-electronic/intro.html]
SETIS: Electronic Texts at the University of Sydney Library
Creagh Cole describes a project dedicated to providing in-house access to
a large number of electronic texts on CD-ROM. This article appears only in the Web version of Ariadne.
The University of Sydney Library has acquired a large number of primary texts in digital form
over the last few years. These texts include numerous versions of The Bible, the works of
Shakespeare, Goethe and Kant, more than 700 classical Greek texts in the Thesaurus
Linguae Graecae, the enormous Patrologia Latina Database of the Church Fathers, the
English Poetry Full-Text Database, and the Intelex Philosophy Texts.
To these texts and others like them must be added the texts available from
remote sites such as the collection of
some 2,000 French literary, scientific and philosophical texts at the
Frantext Web site , and the many public
domain texts available at the University
of Virginia Electronic Text Centre  and the
Oxford Text Archive
This is the story of my Library's attempt to provide the best possible support for
this growing collection of electronic literary, philosophical and religious texts.
Whether commercially available (at substantial cost) or freely available on the Web,
electronic texts such as these require a significant commitment of resources.
If the Library
chooses to provide the texts at all, it must also provide, at a minimum, computers and
associated hardware, search software (continually updated), auxiliary text analysis software
and staff expertise.
In addressing these problems my Library has initiated a new service devoted to the needs of
textual scholars throughout the University, and one which will not only maximise the utility of
electronic texts currently held by the Library, but also provide valuable skills, knowledge and
resources which can in turn feed into further initiatives in digitisation of textual material
within the Library and at the University more generally.
The new service has no local
precedent and has depended heavily on help from overseas sources and models, such as the
University of Virginia.
This is the story then of the
Scholarly Electronic Text and Image Service (SETIS)
 at the
University of Sydney Library
. The acronym
SETIS refers to the Egyptian goddess of the inundation, and for no better reason than this the
image of the goddess has become an icon for the new service at the University.
At the beginning of 1995 the Library approached a number of staff in the Arts Faculty on the
feasibility of establishing an electronic text centre similar to centres already established at a
number of universities in the United States. (The Centre for Electronic Texts in the
Humanities maintains a
Directory of Electronic Text Centres  world wide.)
a successful submission was presented to the University's Information Technology
Committee on the basis of strong academic support for the proposal, the university's
traditional involvement in and depth of research within the arts and humanities, and, finally,
the Library's strong record in introducing, managing and supporting new information
technology at the University.
From the initial library group concerned with the project a full-
time Coordinator was appointed for the service and space within the Library was found for the
SETIS was officially opened by the Vice-Chancellor in September 1996, although it had been
functioning for some months prior to that time. SETIS and its Coordinator were placed
under the direct administrative control of the Associate Librarian largely responsible for its
creation and the service currently operates with some independence from the departmental
structure of the Library.
SETIS intended from the start to achieve results on a number of different levels:
- to improve the service already offered by the Library for the use of electronic
texts at designated computers within the Library;
- to network texts via a common web interface throughout the University;
- to initiate and support programs of electronic text creation within the Library
and at the University more generally.
1: Electronic Texts Within the Library
SETIS provides in-house access to a large number of electronic texts on CD-ROM, for use
with IBM Pentium and Power Macintosh computers with high speed CD-ROM drives, large
monitors and ample memory. The texts may be used in conjunction with auxiliary software
programs: wordprocessing, text analysis and comparison programs such as TACT (Text
Analysis and Computing Tools) and Collate.
Furthermore, the Library now provides
specialist training and support for the use of the texts. Previously the texts could only be used
at slower machines already groaning under the weight of other functions required of them in
the Reference Collection, and there was no access to auxiliary software programs.
only learn about electronic texts as part of their other Reference responsibilities. Since the
texts were relatively little used in comparison with many of the bibliographic databases they
seemed to have little priority in this sense.
The gains have been important. It should, however, be mentioned that a disadvantage of the
new service dedicated to electronic texts has been, paradoxically, reduced access to the texts
within the Library since they are now located separately from the other services and SETIS
has more restrictive hours than the library as a whole.
This situation will change as staffing
levels for the service are reviewed. More importantly, the intention of the SETIS project was
to concentrate on networking the texts so that their physical availability within the Library
became irrelevant to questions of access. The networking of the texts is the central
development in this project.
2: Networking the Texts
A visit to the University of Sydney Library in 1995 by David Seaman from the University of
Virginia Electronic Text Centre gave us a strong impression of the value of networking our
texts. At the University of Virginia and a number of other sites, large
bodies of text encoded in SGML (Standard Generalised Markup Language) are made
available via a web interface with the Open Text search engine (originally developed to
search the Oxford English Dictionary).
The results of the search are filtered "on the fly" to
html format for display on the user's web browser. The advantages of this approach are great:
One of the major publishers of electronic text, Chadwyck Healey, recently acknowledged the
advantages of this approach, late last year releasing for access the new web site of literary and
reference texts (The Lion Web site ). Through this site
the publisher is signalling the
intention of moving towards leasing access to the products rather than selling the texts
themselves for libraries to mount independently. Libraries attempting to mount the texts
themselves in this way will avoid the annual leasing costs involved in such plans but will need
to solve some major problems:
- a single interface is used to access a large variety of texts so that a user with
knowledge of Netscape, or a similar web browser, and the use of forms to
search, can quickly orient himself or herself to searching each text.
- Access is maximised, unrestricted by the physical location, opening hours of the
- while the Library can concentrate on providing the service, the user must take
responsibility for his or her machine, client software and so forth. While the
initial cost to the library is heavy, over time the value of exporting these
responsibilities to the client will be great.
- due to the nature of the encoding of these texts, unlike the in-house CD-ROMís
which are, in general, platform dependent (ie the proprietary search software
ties the texts to either IBM or Macintosh computers), our networked texts on
the web are independent of client platform. This has alleviated a major
problem we have faced in the past in that whereas the library has been IBM
based, virtually all of our clients, within the Arts Faculty in particular, are
Nevertheless, the advantages of networking the texts in this way seem to outweigh the
disadvantages, not least because skills learned in the process will feed into the Library's own
text creation and publishing ventures. SETIS makes available a growing number of SGML
encoded texts for use via web browsers. Many of these are commercial texts and are
restricted for use at the University of Sydney only (this is regulated by IP address of the client
machine.) However, some public domain texts and texts created at SETIS will be
unrestricted and, therefore, available globally.
- One is the sheer cost of disc space, which is not insignificant and decisions will
need to be made for each new addition to the collection.
- It is not easy creating the web interface for the texts. The Open Text Search
engine, the texts themselves, and the web do not simply plug into each other.
Whereas Chadwyck Healey has a bank of software developers working on this,
libraries have for some time been relying upon "off the shelf" software
programs and are not equipped with many of the skills required.
- Not all of the available electronic texts that scholars will want to use are in
SGML. Many will continue to be used as stand-alone CD-ROMís or discs for
use only within the Library.
3: Text Creation
SETIS provides IBM Pentium and Power Macintosh machines with flat bed scanners,
imaging and OCR software as well as SGML editing software with compiled TEI and EAD
DTD's for encoding of texts and library finding aids respectively. X-terminals provide direct
access to texts on the main server and are expected to become increasingly important to the
functioning of the service as we become more familiar with working directly on large bodies
of texts and image databases in the UNIX environment.
SETIS is engaged in a number of text creation projects, and this has involved acquiring
knowledge and skills not only about scanning and text recognition software, but more
significantly, about Standard Generalised Markup Language (SGML) and the Text
Encoding Initiative guidelines for humanities texts. Current projects include work on
lecture notes by Professor John Anderson from the 1930's up to the 1950's and which are held
in the University of Sydney Archives; an edition of Lord Shaftsbury's Characteristics,
Manners, Opinions, Times held in the Rare Books collection at Fisher Library, digital
images of the New Australia Journal in Rare Books which are in a state of decomposition.
SETIS is also engaged in encoding the novels identified for digitisation by the
Australian Co-operative Digitisation Project
. These projects will give us the expertise to provide
support for similar initiatives at the University among academic staff and research students.
From the beginning the SETIS project has sought and obtained support outside the Library.
Academic staff within the Arts Faculty were closely involved from the early stages of the
project and an Academic Advisory Group was formed with representatives from the
Information Technology Committee, the Arts, Economics and Science Faculties and from
SUPRA, the University's Postgraduate Representative Association.
When we began our project we thought we might be breaking new ground in Australia. We
quickly discovered that in this endeavour we were in friendly competition with the
University of Western Australia's Scholar's Centre 
which, under Dr Toby Burrows had launched their
own project centred on the networking of electronic texts but using a different search engine,
Dynaweb. In fact, their use of Dynaweb gave us an opportunity to compare the two main
search engines currently used for this purpose, and more generally, we have gladly exchanged
information and experiences for a range of common problems.
SETIS was in large part modelled upon the initiatives taken at the University of Virginia by
David Seaman. Following his visit to Sydney in 1995 we agreed to act as a mirror site for our
region for the large collection of public domain texts provided by the University of Virginia.
Since that time, similar agreements have been reached with the Oxford Text Archive and the
Stanford University online Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
The Scholarly Electronic Text and Image Service began as an attempt to provide the best
support possible for our growing collection of electronic texts. In the process, the Library has
taken on tasks and responsibilities that have not traditionally been asked of it. These include
supplying text analysis software which mediate the scholar's use of his or her source texts, and
participating in the creation of electronic versions of primary source material from the
Library's collection. It is interesting that from the initial meeting of academic and Library staff
there was a general consensus that this was an entirely appropriate thing for the library to be
involved in. Indeed academic staff voiced very strong support for the project, acknowledging
the importance of Library involvement in the University's adoption of new information
- Frantext Web Site,
- University of Virginia Electronic Text Centre
- Oxford Text Archive,
- Scholarly Electronic Text and Image Service (SETIS),
- University of Sydney Library,
- Directory of Electronic Text Centres,
- Lion Web Site,
- Australian Co-operative Digitisation Project,
- University of Western Australia's Scholar's Centre,
Phone: +61 02 9351 7408
Fax: +61 02 9351 7290
SETIS Home Page:
Address: University of Sydney Library, University of Sydney 2006, Australia
Material on this page is copyright
This article last updated/links checked on 07-Mar-1997