Save me a byte - cultural preservation on the World Wide WebIf one of the biggest selling features of any abode is its storage space - then the web is worth millions. The World Wide Web is a home to gazillions of megabytes of information - information that might otherwise exist only on ephemeral and hard-to-find paper.
This week, CM profiles two projects dedicated to saving important archival information on the web: one is our own CM digital archives project in which we have tried to save as many of the back issues of the magazine as time and money allowed; the other is Project Gutenberg, a 25-year-old volunteer mission to save legacy material in electronic form.
Saving twenty-three years of volunteer efforts!Magazines have a limited shelf life, newspapers even more so, and not all of them make it to microfiche. Yet the information contained in them can become valuable research and historical material in the future.
Recognizing the vast global influence and economic efficiency of the World Wide Web, CM magazine went online in 1995. But what about all those issues of CM published between 1971 and 1994 that existed only on paper? What about the efforts of hundreds of volunteer reviewers dedicated to promoting and preserving Canadian children's literature?
Thanks to Industry Canada's support, the CM Digital Archives project has put much of that information into electronic format - and literally saved it from destruction.
"The ones we were working with, a third of them were photocopied, some of them were in rough shape, there were pages missing," says Jim McDowell, one of the students hired to work on the project.
"We're making information available to readers online that they otherwise would not have access to. These magazines would be on the back issue stacks in some libraries and in cardboard boxes in the basements of others," adds Peter Tittenberger, Managing Editor of CM, who oversaw the project.
Because of the limitations of time and money, only one hundred and fifty reviews and one hundred and fifty feature articles were selected from past issues of CM and converted to electronic format. This material was then indexed and cross-indexed to make searches for author, subject, title, book, and more available to users.
Tittenberger says that now, especially, it is important to make archival material available and easily searchable online.
"Theoretically, the internet will be available to every school in Canada by next fall," he says. "As a research tool, this material would be very relevant. And it would bring an element of history to the internet."
Industry Canada's commitment to the project was not only to save important cultural documents but to train young people in the "coming information technology," says Tittenberger.
McDowell says that the job was a learning experience in many ways. He did not have a lot of internet experience to begin with, but, he says, "it was easier than I thought. The actual HTML language isn't that hard. Anyone who's unfamiliar with the net should know that it's a lot like using a word processor."
McDowell says he came away with not only a fuller understanding of information technology, but that he also has developed a keen interest in Canadian children's literature.
"I'd never heard of a lot of these authors before," he says. "I thought it was great to make this information accessible to people."
The CM archive is available as part of the entire CM site and selected articles appear in each issue of the journal. Should more money become available in the future, CM would attempt to save the entire archive.
"Digital Archiving makes this material available to anybody at all times," says Tittenberger. "So it doesn't matter if it's published in 1994 or 1984, you can always access it."
The CM archive is also available at the Schoolnet Digital Collections site: http://www.schoolnet.c a/collections/cmarchive/.
Project Gutenberg: Making literacy possible!People are at work all over the world "saving" material by converting it to electronic form through Project Gutenberg, a twenty-five-year-old volunteer collaboration that has so far brought seven hundred and thirty-six literary texts into electronic form. Everything from Dickens to Shakespeare to all six volumes of Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire have already been converted through the project.
"We want to post 10,000 books on to the world, via the Net, BBS's, and 'sneakernet' - handing a disk to a friend," says Michael Hart, Executive Director of Project Gutenberg.
The project is aimed at stopping illiteracy by making literature available to everybody. Hart says that books are too expensive for many people to buy and that libraries are too inaccessible.
"When you think of the cost/benefit ratios, there is no comparison. Try buying Alice In Wonderland at your bookstore, then download a copy. The cost in your computer is 1/400th - same as the cost of books after Johann Gutenberg as compared to before," he says.
"(Electronic) books are always available, never in for rebinding, on the wrong shelf, no pages torn out, and the library is always open. Most people never enter a library in a given year. Most people would have trouble reading this," he adds.
The project converted thirty-two texts each month in 1996 with an aim of doubling production to sixty-four a month in 1997. In October of this year alone, the project made etexts of books by Charles Dickens, Christopher Marlowe, R.L. Stevenson, Leo Tolstoy, and Bertrand Russell among many others. In the same month in 1995 works by W. Somerset Maugham, Edna Ferber, Homer and Willa Cather were converted.
Project Gutenberg also goes about investigating copyright. While most of the works converted are already in the public domain, five to ten per cent are newer, copyrighted works, according to Hart.
Project Gutenberg is always looking for volunteers to choose and proof a text. Over seven hundred people have volunteered so far and Hart says the average needed is about one volunteer per title. The project has also experienced funding cuts in the past few years and monetary donations are welcome as well.
For more information, contact Michael Hart at email@example.com. The web site can be found at http://www.promo.net/pg
Anybody else for a byte?As the World Wide Web becomes more popular, more and more people will recognize it as an invaluable archival resource.
Anyone else familiar with or involved in archiving projects - especially geared towards children's literature - please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We are interested in keeping informed about these types of projects and continuing to do profiles of them in the future.
Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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