Current Cites (Digital Library SunSITE)

Volume 11, no. 7, July 2000

Edited by Teri Andrews Rinne

The Library, University of California, Berkeley, 94720
ISSN: 1060-2356 -

Contributors: Terry Huwe, Michael Levy, Leslie Myrick , Jim Ronningen, Lisa Rowlison, Roy Tennant

Arms, William. "Automated Digital Libraries: How Effectively Can Computers Be Used for the Skilled Tasks of Professional Librarianship?" D-Lib Magazine 6(7/8)(July/August 2000) ( - In Current Cites we don't just cite articles we agree with, we cite articles we think you should read. This one falls into the latter category. In it Arms (a computer scientist active in digital library development) posits a question that he then forgets to answer. But what "answer" he does provide is very disturbing. To begin with, he reduces the question to one of cost. That is, can automated digital libraries provide an "acceptable substitute" at a lower cost. Apparently they can, to someone who thinks Google provides better service than Inspec, as Arms claims. Unfortunately I do not have the space to refute Arms' opinion and unsubstantiated arguments that appear to suggest that automated digital libraries can perform most of the skilled tasks of professional librarianship. At least he seems to acknowledge that reference service is likely to remain too difficult for machines, although he relies on personal anecdotes when scholarly evidence such as that published by Bonnie Nardi is close at hand. For those of you who are librarians, read this piece closely. It largely depicts what computer scientists think of you, the libraries you have built and are building, and the value of human-constructed and maintained library collections and services. It is not a pretty sight. - RT

Baker, Nicholson. "Deadline: The Author's Desperate Bid to Save America's Past" The New Yorker (July 24, 2000): 42-61. - Nicholson Baker is well-known to the library community for his 1994 and 1996 articles in The New Yorker bemoaning the demise of the card catalog and taking to task the San Francisco Public Library for discarding books. He goes on the offensive once more with a quixotic attempt to save long-runs of American newspapers from being discarded after the process of microfilming. As with his other library pieces, Baker is no detached observer but a fully-fledged participant, actually forming his own non-profit organization, the American Newspaper Repository, in an attempt to save numerous sets of historical newspaper from being sold by the British Library. The piece highlights some important issues regarding the process of microfilming for preservation and archival purposes with Baker severely criticizing the library community for not doing enough to ensure the preservation of at least some hard copy runs of newspapers. He is particularly vexed at what he sees as the poor quality of much microfilming and what he views, rather unfairly, as the overblown claims of librarian administrators concerning issues of space and the degradation of much newsprint, especially from the 19th century. He correctly points out that with the demise of paper collections that companies such as Bell & Howell, which owns microfilm negatives for most large newspapers, has "a near-monopoly on the reproduction rights for the chief primary sources of twentieth-century history." As with all his articles the writing is of top quality, especially his description of a company in New Jersey, the Historic Newspaper archives, that sells newspapers to give as gifts for particular birth-dates. This article is sure to cause much debate in the library world. - ML

Borgman, Christine L. From Gutenberg to the Global Information Infrastructure: Access to Information in the Networked World Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000. - Despite a rather unsatisfying title, Borgman has succeeded in writing the definitive text book for digital library courses. Since the author is a professor at the UCLA library school, and a visiting professor at Loughborough University in England, this comes as no surprise. As one expects of a textbook, it is an authoritative overview of the issues, with frequent references to the supporting literature. Don't expect to be able to run out and build digital library collections and services based on what you learn here, but do expect to have a thorough grounding in the field from a scholarly perspective. - RT

Guides to Quality in Visual Resource Imaging. Council on Library and Information Resources, 2000 ( - Anyone digitizing visual resources owes it to their project to study the information at this site. Collected together in one location is some of the best advice on digital imaging from top-notch experts in the field. Practical information is offered on planning a project, selecting a scanner, factors affecting image quality, measuring quality of digital masters, and file formats for master files. This is not a static publication, but will be updated periodically to keep it up-to-date with current standards and best practices. An excellent resource from the Research Libraries Group, the Digital Library Federation, and the Council on Library and Information Resources. - RT

LC21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000 ( - This report comprises the findings of a committee of the National Research Council that reviewed the Library of Congress' technology practices and initiatives. Although the report focuses on the Library of Congress, there is much here that can serve as useful advice for other libraries. Skip over the sections and chapters that focus directly on the LOC, and find the parts that deal more broadly with topics that impact (or will) all libraries. Specific chapters to pay particular attention to (at least in part) include the introductory chapter and those on collection development, preservation, and organization for access. - RT

Miller, Paul. "Interoperability: What is it and Why Should I Want it?" Ariadne (24) (June 2000) ( - Interoperability between digital libraries is essential if library users are to be offered simple access to a wide variety of library content and services. Without it, library users must first discover where all the various digital library collections can be found, and then go to each one and search them individually. In this excellent overview, the interoperability expert for the United Kingdom's eLib Programme defines interoperability and describes all of its various dimensions in the digital library context. The web site that the author manages, Interoperability Focus ( is also a good resource for further information. - RT

The Secret Books ( - Okay, secret or not-so-secret digital bibliophiles: take a break from your monthly Current Cites reading list to visit this stunning flash- or dhtml-enhanced photographic interpretation of snippets of various of Borges' essays on books and libraries, including the ubiquitous "Library of Babel." Yes, on one plane this site serves as a glamorous advertisement to buy the photographer's physical book. But provocative photographic juxtapositions of old books with snakes, fruit, stone, voodoo candles, inscribed skulls and mirrors offer up a gorgeous statement on books and materiality in an ironically digital wrapper, as well as an elegant conversation between Borges' texts and Kernan's images. - LM

Tennant, Roy. "Beg, Buy, Borrow, License or Steal" LJ Digital (July 15, 2000) ( - For librarians building digital libraries in this age of the digital incunabulum, juggling the market (should we buy? license? scan an out-of-copyright version of? this or that very expensive digital publication) can make one's head spin. Our Current Cites colleague Roy Tennant offers some judicious advice stemming from his experience and expertise as the SunSITE manager at UC Berkeley, and now as eScholarship Web & Services Manager at the California Digital Library. Knowing one's options — and orchestrating the right mix — are the key. Roy outlines the strengths of each of the means he suggests in his title and provides a sidebar of useful links to help to get your head on straight. - LM

Young, Jeffrey R. "A Historian Presents the Civil War, Online and Unfiltered by Historians" NY Times Technology Circuits ( - The Valley of the Shadow project ( has been on the web for nearly five years, but as truly one of the most stunning digital archive success stories going, it garners renewed mention by Young on the eve of the release of the CD-ROM version. Under the aegis of the University of Virginia and the leadership of history professor Edward L. Ayers, the archive contains some 5000 pages of digitized photographs, newspaper articles, records, wills, census figures, and diaries covering the years 1857 to 1870 and issuing from two representative counties, one in Pennsylvania and one in Virginia. In his article, Young characterizes it as a "do-it-yourself history kit," where users can let their own research into the sources lead them to their own conclusions. With the boon of database searching, modern users can find connections which might have taken pre-Valley researchers an entire sabbatical to cobble together. And, as Young points out, the sources themselves take a refreshingly wide cross-section, from a slave woman's letter to her husband on her impending sale to traders, to the insipid diary entries of an upper-class teenager. The CD-ROM version, due out next month, is being touted as an interactive hybrid of multimedia and scholarship, or an "interactive archive." - LM

Current Cites 11(7) (July 2000) ISSN: 1060-2356
Copyright © 2000 by the Library, University of California, Berkeley. All rights reserved.

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