Humanities Computing Unit - Oxford University
This paper explores a small-scale, but influential library digitisation project undertaken by Oxford's newly-established Humanities Computing Development Team. Topics covered include: a general background to the project; its objectives (for the library and faculty concerned, for the HCDT, and for the university as a whole); the choices made over which material to digitise; and a discussion of the technology selected (and / or rejected) for the project.
Following a proposal by Susan Lake, of Oxford University's Theology Faculty Library, for a medium-scale digitisation project (circa 8000 pages of text), the HCDT was asked to carry out a pilot project (for c.700 pages of text). To maximise the benefits of digitisation, the material digitised comprises out-of-print monographs, off-prints of high-demand chapters in books, and articles in journals - all from core Theology reading lists.
The objectives of the full project are: to enhance the Teaching and Research capabilities of the Theology Faculty, to relieve space and staff pressures within the faculty Library, and to provide enhanced forms of learning.
It is anticipated that the main use of the online texts, will be simply for students to print them out and use them at their leisure. However, the texts will also be searchable, not just the bibliographic information (as in the online library catalogue), but the texts themselves, making resource discovery much easier. Moreover, since there is no practical limit to the number of copies of a text in circulation, no student or researcher will be denied access because that text is "out".
Whilst many of the books to be digitised will no doubt be retained in the main part of the Theology Faculty Library, it is hoped that digitisation will allow much of the other paper material (mainly old runs of journals) to be moved elsewhere, freeing up space for new acquisitions.
Perhaps most importantly, the project can also be seen as a case study for digital library projects in a wider context within Oxford, particularly in the light of the aims of the study 'Scoping the Future of Oxford's Digital Collections' which aims, amongst other things to:
document, analyse and evaluate Oxford's current digitization activities, as a basis for assessing the effectiveness of the various methodologies used;
investigate the possibilities for building on the existing project-based work and for migrating it into viable services for library users;
Thus is can be seen that, despite the initial modest objectives of the HCDT pilot, the project may be quite influential. It explores some of the issues of the main study on a small scale, and investigates factors not just from a library professional's perspective, but also from IT skills, academic, and funding perspectives.
In order to make the HCDT's pilot project of some practical use for teaching (as well as establishing the foundations of the full project), it was suggested by Jeremy Duff who teaches within the Theology faculty that the project should concentrate on the reading list for one paper. The paper chosen, Mark, was picked for a number of reasons.
most first-years take the Mark paper, therefore there is a high demand for these texts
there is a well-defined core to the paper, making it possible to isolate key texts
most college tutors have responsibility for some students taking Mark, leading to a wide impact within the faculty
Jeremy Duff teaches Mark, and is prepared to take responsibility for coordinating the academic parts of the project
From a technical point of view, the project is concerned with the following issues:
Digitisation and optical character recognition of the texts concerned
Evaluation of the pros and cons of a variety of delivery and indexing systems; XML\SGML; Adobe Acrobat; non-proprietary image systems, etc.
Implementation, testing, and final evaluation (based on feedback from its use in teaching) of one such system for the pilot project
Support for Classical Greek (and to a lesser extent Hebrew) character sets over the World Wide Web, for example through the use of Dynamic Font technology
Integration with the University wide online library catalog, OLIS
Conclusion and Impact
It can be seen that the project is a partnership between the HCDT, the Theology Faculty Library, and Theology Faculty academics, each party contributing their own expertise and resources.
The pilot system will be used by first-year undergraduates during the 1999 Michaelmas term. The project will report back on its technical and other findings, and so feed into other similar projects as well as the Scoping the Future survey which may be considered by other faculties.
HCDT: the Future
The most crucial issue which is under current consideration is the future operation of the HCDT and the closely connected issue of its future funding. These issues have already been hotly debated and are still far from being resolved. The Committee for Computing in the Arts has indicated that it strongly believes the HCDT should continue to be funded centrally by the University, so that the Team can continue to select projects on a merit basis rather than with financial backing. However, is it appropriate that expert development services should be provided to academics without any financial contribution being made by that project or individual? Are we genuinely carrying out collaborative activities with benefits for each partner, or is one partner providing a service for another? These issues not only impact upon the services within Oxford but have implications for the future of humanities computing in a wider sphere, and as such will be given careful consideration.
Detailed reports about the Humanities Computing Development Team projects, and links to test versions of the project resources are available from <http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/hcdt/>
The Dearing Report, or the Report of the Commission Enquiring into the State of UK Higher Education, was produced by a UK government initiative and published in1998.
Information about the Scoping Oxford's Digital Collections study is available from <http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/scoping> or by contacting Stuart Lee at the University of Oxford.
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June 9, 1999 - June 13, 1999
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