[Mirrored from: http://www.ub.uni-bielefeld.de/aktuell/kongress/vortraeg/seaman.htm]

WWW Administration - Bibliothek der Universität Bielefeld

The Electronic Text Center & On-Line Archive of Electronic Texts

David Seaman


The Electronic Text Center is both a physical space within the university library, open to all University of Virginia members, and also an on-line collection of many thousands of Internet-accessible texts and images. It is important to us that we perform two tasks simultaneously in order to build our digital library: we are both creating a set of electronic resources, and also creating a user community for it, by training our users to become effective consumers and producers of electronic texts and images.

Since 1992, the Etext Center has made available hardware and software for the creation and analysis of electronic texts; it provides training for these new tools and techniques; it acts as a focal point for HTML and SGML development in the humanities at Virginia; and it provides a place in which to use those texts that are not yet accessible on the Internet.


The Internet-accessible holdings now contain well over 10,000 texts and over 1,000 related digital images. Some collections, such as the following, are items held by us under contracts that limit their use to University of Virginia faculty and students or to members of the state-wide Virtual Library of Virginia consortium:

In addition to these large collections there are more than a thousand other literary, historical, philosophical, and religious titles in a variety of languages. Most of this latter group of texts can be accessed by any Internet user. The selection includes many 18th- and 19th-century English literary and historical works (often with illustrations), and some French, German, Japanese, Latin, and medieval English titles. Among the English holdings are texts and images taken from our Special Collections, including several of Jefferson's letters, some Mark Twain material, and some extraordinary 19th-century African-American historical documents. We now regularly see 140,000 accesses per month (late 1995) from all over the world on the public texts and related etext information (such as the online Text Encoding Initiative Guidelines, or the Electronic Text Center Guide to Electronic Text Creation). Current Web search tools such as Digital's Altavista show over 8,000 sites link back to Electronic Text Center resources (January 1996).

All of our on-line texts are encoded with Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML). Those texts we create or mark up ourselves are tagged according to the Text Encoding Initiative Guidelines and are converted automatically to HTML for use through the World Wide Web. The Etext Center maintains a staff of 2.5 full-time librarians, and a shifting number of humanities graduate students who work 10-15 hours a week.

Because most of our electronic texts are available on-line, we can provide the same search and display software (from OpenText) for all our collections. Having been taught to use one database, a user knows how to search any of our on-line holdings, thereby overcoming the frustrations involved with using CD-ROMs, where each disk has a different interface.


While the majority of our holdings are available through the World Wide Web, there are some that we cannot network for legal or technical reasons:

We hope that more and more the technical and publishing reasons that prevent us from treating these items as an integrated part of or electronic library will be overcome. There is a growing danger that texts available only offline, within the library building, become an isolated, orphaned part of our holdings, and get little use.


A principal aim of the Center is to build a broad-based user community for humanities-related electronic resources at Virginia. To this end we run regular training sessions, including classes on scanning, writing HTML, and on other aspects of the use and creation of electronic texts and images. For more than three years we have worked daily with individual users who range from first-year undergraduates in composition classes to graduate students studying aspects of Anglo-Saxon literature, American Studies, rabbinical responsa, medieval French, and various other teaching and research projects. We are also pleased to assist the Fellows of UVa's Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities.

Increasingly, we are building relationships with university presses, academic publishers, the producers of scholarly journals, and other emerging digital libraries. The Etext Center is providing a model for other institutions as they plan similar endeavors. Scores of librarians and scholars have visited the Center, including parties from Harvard, Duke, Indiana, Johns Hopkins, Iowa, Yale, Columbia, Chicago, Kentucky, UC Berkeley, Virginia Tech, Richmond, UNC Chapel Hill, UT Austin, Emory, the National Humanities Center, the British Library, Oxford, Cambridge, Nottingham, Glasgow, Leiden, Bielefeld, Groningen, the National Diet Library of Japan, and Sydney, Macquarie, and Curtin universities, Australia. This activity is important to us, as it fosters the development of electronic text and image services elsewhere.


Over three and a half years of daily operation, we have seen our electronic library progress from being new and unfamiliar to being a heavily-used and mainstream set of resources for our teachers and researchers. This increased use has been the result of regular training sessions, growing familiarity with the Internet, an aggressive collection development policy, the provision of networked texts, and the support provided by a staffed Center that has regular opening hours within the library.


Related URLs

Electronic Text Center

Text Encoding Initiative Guidelines

Guide to Electronic Text Creation

Sekretariat der Bibliothek der Universitšt Bielefeld