Evaluating Multimedia Library Materials: Clues from Hand-Printed Books and Art History

By Nicholls, Paul; Ridley, Jacquline | Computers in Libraries, April 1997 | Go to article overview

Evaluating Multimedia Library Materials: Clues from Hand-Printed Books and Art History


Nicholls, Paul, Ridley, Jacquline, Computers in Libraries


Digital multimedia materials enter or reside in the library in several formats -- on CD-ROM, via the World Wide Web, perhaps on 12-inch laserdiscs, and in locally maintained databases on hard disk. Additional multimedia in the form of traditional audiovisual materials such as film, video, and audiotapes is also present, but lacks some essential characteristics of the new digital materials, such as efficient interleaving of media and, especially, interactivity. They are also on their way out! Digital materials will primarily form the resources of the future (apart from archival print collections, and who knows how well it will be possible to preserve those?).

A Perspective on Evaluation

from the Print World

In his report The HPB (Hand Printed Books) Project: Phase II, William Cameron, late dean of the graduate school of library and information science at the University of Western Ontario, makes a useful observation about the evaluation of printed books (Cameron, 1970). The analytical bibliographer and the literary critic, he says, have quite different views on this subject. The first deals essentially with "a piece of meat" and the second with a presentation of ideas or literary expression. For the first, the physical form is primary; for the second, the intellectual content.

Nevertheless, there is no fundamental controversy. The analytical bibliographer has the physical tools (much like the coroner, your favorite detective on TV, or some DNA expert in the courtroom) to advise decisively whether Shakespeare meant to say "too solid" or "too sullied" flesh, and to determine what was going on with those typewritten records during the Nixon era. The literati take it from there once the text is determined, and then interpret it.

What's this got to do with CD-ROM and the Web? Well, we would say that things don't change as much as they might appear to. CD-ROM and the Web still involve texts (even if they are now multimedia ones) embodied in a physical format, and they still need interpretation and evaluation.

Hierarchy of

Analysis and Evaluation

We suggest that all published materials, whether in print or in electronic format, are subject to a hierarchy of analytical and critical examination levels. Dr. Cameron would hold that there are three such levels: identification, description, and analysis. He would also hold that, within each of the three levels, there are two distinct but complementary ways to look at the information product: as an object, considering its physical nature, and as a "work," considering its intellectual content. Figure 1 illustrates the framework, with specific reference to printed books. There are two primary interests, represented on the "x" axis (bottom): physical character of the book (left side), and intellectual content (right side) of the book. Lots of librarians may not have paid much attention to the physical/analytical bibliographer with respect to print materials in the past, but with present electronic materials, physical aspects such as format and system requirements cannot be ignored.

Between the physical and intellectual poles, scholars and librarians (or anyone else) will have different degrees of interest, represented by the "y" axis. Specifically, these are Dr. Cameron's three examination levels mentioned above: identification, description and analysis of the book/CD-ROM/Web site. So, at the level of identification, the bibliographer will want to refer to "the quarto of 1490 gathered in eights with the Dolphin watermark, the Aldus imprint, and the Italian laid paper from the factory in Milano" (a totally fictitious example), while the librarian or literary critic will want to refer to "that big authoritative Oxford edition of Shakespeare with the blue cover that is on the back shelf," "Melville's Moby Dick," or some specific LC, DDC, or shelflist number. There is actually not too much divergence at the level of mere identification.

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