Dreaming about What We Wish We Could Have

By Morgan, Eric Lease | Computers in Libraries, November 1998 | Go to article overview

Dreaming about What We Wish We Could Have


Morgan, Eric Lease, Computers in Libraries


Eric Lease Morgan works in the Department for Digital Library Initiatives of the North Carolina State University Libraries in Raleigh. His e-mail address is eric_morgan@ncsu.edu and his home page is at http://www.lib.ncsu.edulstaff/morgan.

Here's the key to the cast of characters featured in this month's column:

Mr. Serials: the name for a systematic process I created for collecting, archiving, storing, and indexing electronic serials early in my career

Larry: a pseudonym for St. Lawrence (Laurence), the patron saint of librarians who, as legend has it, while being burned on a gridiron told his executioners to turn him over since he had been cooked on one side

Mr. D.: Melvil Dewey

Mr. R.: S. R. Ranganathan

Alcuin: an early librarian and advisor to Charlemagne

Recently, during one of those national conferences, I got together with a number of my old library friends over dinner. And, I'll admit: We ended up talking shop. Conversation turned to speculation on what we could do if only we had this, that, or the other thing.

Mr. Serials, who was still stuck on the issues of access vs. ownership, copyright, and scholarly communication, wanted a better network spider for collecting electronic journals. "I need a better tool for collecting network-based data. It has to be able to penetrate basic authentication. It has to be able to mirror remote sites locally. It has to be able to extract identifying pieces of information about the remote documents like author, title, subjects, and dates effectively. I want to be able to create metadata describing these sites in any format I desire. If we don't use tools like this to collect and archive electronic serials, then scholarly information will only be available to the people who have the money.

Larry piped up and said: "We've all heard this before, Serials. You're like a broken record or a single-song musician. Sing a different tune and get used to the fact that information costs money, especially in an information economy."

Mr. D. thought a massive, portable storage medium would be a good thing for every librarian's desktop. "The network is nice, but I don't trust it," he explained. "We need to archive much of this stuff. It comes and it goes, never to be seen again. True, not all of it is worth saving, but who am Ito say what is good and what is not? If I only had something that could store massive amounts of information and then be given away ... I would create archives of literature. American and English literature as well as Western philosophy texts. I would then put some sort of search engine on the medium to make it more accessible."

"What's so special about that?" I asked.

"For one thing," he continued, "I, in consultation with individual faculty, would be able to create customized collections of these texts and consequently save loads of time for the readers who wouldn't have to find the texts for themselves. Isn't that right, Mr. R?"

Mr. R., who was perpetually off in his own world, perked up. "Oh yes. Most certainly." Then, wagging his finger, he added, "After all, that's what I always say. 'Save the time of the reader."'

Larry, who was recuperating from severe bums, then interjected, 'These things sound like textbooks or anthologies, only made for individuals and not necessarily mass markets."

"Yes, that's right," said Mr. D. "By the way, Larry' Mr. D. said sarcastically, "your roast beef looks very well done on one side but not the other. Don't you think you should turn it over and start eating?"

We all laughed knowingly, but Larry just gave Mr. D. the evil eye and continued. "That search engine of yours would probably need to be improved. I myself desire a better indexer/search engine combination. First of all, the indexer would need to be completely incorporated with a thesaurus. This thesaurus would include known controlled-vocabulary terms as well as the vocabulary of the user for whom the index was created. …

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