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ICCC/IFIP Conference: Electronic Publishing '97
New Models and Opportunities

14-16 April 1997 - University of Kent at Canterbury

Conference Paper Abstract

The Librarian's Role in building the virtual library

Taylor Fitchett, The University of Cincinnati College of Law Library

The advent of the virtual library is the most fundamental change in the history of librarianship. Librarians are faced with understanding and envisioning the potential of a vast array of rapidly changing technologies and applying them to the construction of the virtual library. They need to move aggressively into this new frontier while the technology is young in order to influence standards for the acquisition and authentication of documentation; to manage the organisation and presentation of trillions of electronic characters; and, to promote the preservation of electronic text. The lack of a co-ordinated strategy among libraries for the development of the virtual library is already affecting libraries in terms of hard resources and opportunity costs.

The Center for Electronic Text in the Law is one of a growing number of library efforts focused on the production of electronic text but one of a very few non-commercial initiatives directed at the management of electronic legal text. The Center is currently looking at methods of coding electronic text, most specifically using TSGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language) - a method of preserving text structure in an application-independent manner. An encoding standard designed for the humanities and social sciences that has been adapted for legal materials is employed i.e. TEI, Text Encoding Initiative. As the virtual library grows, meaning must be extracted from vast amounts of textual data. Applying this type of markup to documents constructs a foundation for the future, preventing information loss when documents are migrated to applications not yet created. At the Center original documents are digitally imaged for preservation purposes but also turned into marked-up ASCII text for transportability and searchability.

Many libraries will become electronic publishers, blurring traditional lines between those who produce information and those who create repositories of that information. While some librarians do not believe that libraries should become involved in electronic publishing, even they must become involved in the management of electronic data. The text conversion process, i.e. the process of taking an original hard copy document and putting it in an archivally acceptable electronic form is complex and expensive. Nonetheless, it is the professional responsibility of the librarian to understand the management principles of electronic text as they participate in building the virtual library.

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