The 'Rutgers Inventory of Machine-Readable Texts in the Humanities': Cataloging and Access

Article excerpt

The Rutgers Inventory of Machine-Readable Texts in the Huamities was established in 1983 as a reference tool to help avoid duplication of effort for scholars and teachers in the humanities who want to use electronic texts in their work. The Inventory catalogers follow AACR2 and use the MARC format to provide bibliographic information about texts in all fields of the humanities, in any language, anywhere in the world, through the RLIN data-base. This article describes the information in the Inventory and some unresolved issues in relation to bibliographic control of electronic texts in the humanities.

Since 1949, when Father Busa in Italy first started using a computer for work on Thomas Aquinas' writings, interest in computers as a tool for humanities research has been growing slowly but steadily. As more and more humanities scholars began working with computers, they soon found that the preparation of electronic versions of theie primary source material was a tedious and painstaking task, and they began looking for existing electronic texts. Since there was not a single source of information about texts that had been converted to electronic format, or about the people who worked with electronic texts, information could only be obtained by word of mouth, through writing letters, or by asking around. Soon people found that they were duplicating effort, and it became clear that there was a need for a more reliable and accessible source of information about the existence and availability of electronic texts.

In the early eighties Marianne Gaunt at Rutgers University Libraries initiated the establishment of an online inventory of such texts, with financial support from the Council on Library Resources and the Mellon Foundation. In 1983, the first catalog record of the Rutgers Inventory of Machine-Readable Texts in the Humanities was created on RLIN, the online union catalog of the Research Libraries Group (RLG). RLIN was selected to hold the records because the materials were needed by scholars in research institutions. RLG was also involved in the adaptation of the MARC database format to hold this type of material.

In 1991, work on the Inventory became one of the main activities of the newly established Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (CETH), with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This article describes the Rutgers Inventory of Machine-Readable Texts in the Humanities and the kind of information that is included in the Inventory records. It discusses how standard cataloging rules prescribe the information that must be included in a bibliographic description of a text, ways in which these rules are enhanced for the Inventory, and the use of MARC fields for extensive notes and for access points. The next section covers RLIN and the new Eureka user interface and presents some examples of Inventory records. The final section addresses some of the unresolved issues involved in bibliographic control of and better access to electronic texts.

Introduction to the Inventory

The Inventory is international in scope and covers all humanities areas: religion, literature, language, music, history, art, and philosophy. Primary source materials in these areas include literary works, historical documents, manuscripts, papyri, inscriptions, and transcriptions of speech and dictionaries and may be in any natural language. The words "electronic text" in this article refer to a transcription of this type of material into computer-readable form, character by character, including whatever additional information is needed to make the text useful.

An electronic text may be in one of two forms. One, often called a plain text or ASCII file, can be displayed, printed, or otherwise manipulated by whatever software an individual chooses to use or write. ASCII files can be easily copied, transmitted around the network, and updated and amended. …