16. Introduction to Electronic Texts

David Seaman
(Evaluation of the RBS 1994 version of this course)

Taking advantage of Alderman Library's computer instruction facilities, this course will provide training in the conversion of printed records to electronic formats. The course will focus intensively on character-based SGML texts and the application of the Text Encoding Initiative Guidelines to text markup. Also examined will be image formats and strategies for making resources available on the Internet.

I. How useful were the pre-course readings?

2: They were relevant and provided helpful information about some aspects of the course, such as reading on OCR software evaluations. 3: Too much to find and read in the time available, but useful in making me more certain of the nature, scope, and depth of the material to be covered. 4: Very useful. I couldn't get all of them, even through ILL, but I was glad I had a chance to look them over before I came, and I plan to share them with others. They helped prepare me for the course. 5: Most were useful -- especially those on SGML, scanning, digital images. I am grateful for the opportunity to read before the course. The bibliography might have been reduced a bit in number. 9: Very useful. 10: Good introduction as well as future reference. 11: I didn't read any of them. 12: The reading list was very good, though I actually only looked at about half of the items before the start of the course. 13: They were quite useful, although I could not get through all of them. 15: Those I managed to read were helpful, and I plan to review the others carefully. 16: Very useful.

II. Did your instructor prepare properly and sufficiently to teach THIS course?

1: Yes. 2: Yes, DS seemed to have boundless energy and patience. I appreciate the additional work he took on during our breaks and in the evenings to make the work of the class go more smoothly. He is exceptionally bright and charming. 3: Yes. 4: Absolutely. Very well organized and carefully planned. 5: Yes -- instructor is very knowledgeable -- handouts were excellent/useful. I felt terribly rushed throughout the week, and perhaps it was because we attempted to do too much? See no. 7, below. 6: Yes. Instructor was also enthusiastic, energetic, and open to questions. 7: Very useful ... perhaps a bit ambitious. 8: This instructor was quite well prepared. He knew his subject thoroughly and was witty, engaging, and humorous. More consideration might have been given to the relationship between the content of this course and library cataloging issues. 9: Yes. 10: Yes! Equipment failure did not get in the way. He was able to continue with the class even though the network was down. 11: Absolutely, mostly by really knowing his subject. 12: Absolutely. 13: Yes! 14: Absolutely. 15: Yes. 16: Yes!

III. Was the intellectual level of the course content appropriate?

1: I thought so -- everyone seemed on board most of the time. Structuring the week around assembling a document was a very fine idea. 2-3: Yes. 4: Yes, it was exactly what I wanted, and a very good mixture of theoretical and practical, hands-on. 5: Yes, especially since the group seemed quite diverse in background -- and DS was receptive to open discussion/questions throughout. Our diverse backgrounds enhanced the experience. My mind was challenged and it felt wonderful! 6: Yes. 7: Very well prepared. 8: Yes. Despite a wide range of agendas and issues, the course was well pitched for this particular bunch of participants. 9: The expected background of partici- pants was more inexperienced than some of us were; I think these expectations should be stated, or courses designed for varying degrees of expertise, or courses divided into sections specifically for beginning/advanced so that the beginners could be brought up to speed. 10: Yes -- never got so technical that I became lost. 11: I'm not really sure what this means. At times the pace was too slow for me (especially the first couple of days); at times I was challenged. I think that with so many people of different levels of experience in the room, such things will occur. If you mean was it interesting, certainly, even though I knew a lot of the stuff already. 12: Yes. 13: Yes -- although it did at times seem to presume more familiarity with computing concepts than was the case. At those points, the instructor did a fine job of bringing us up to speed. 14-15: Yes. 16: Yes!

IV. If your course had field trips, were they effective?

4: Yes. 6: We didn't leave the classroom, but Michael Plunkett came to us. His comments and the discussion related to the issues he raised were useful to those of us in Special Collections. 7: Well matched for a large, diverse group. 11: N/A. We did go to the E-text Center. It was nice to see what they've got there, but I found that the information that DS gave us then was repeated in class the next day -- including the very same examples (ie, proximity search academic and village). I would have liked to see more of the capabilities of the equipment in the center. 14: E-text Center -- yes. 15: Yes -- though I would have liked a little more time in the E-text Center (as opposed to the classroom).

V. Did the actual course content correspond to its RBS brochure description and Expanded Course Description? Did the course in general meet your expectations?

1: Yes -- though the description itself might be more specific. 2-3: Yes. 4: Yes, the course fit the description quite well. It certainly met my expectations and then some. It was probably the most immediately useful course I've ever had. 5: Yes, most definitely -- perhaps a requirement of primary/basic word processing skills should be stressed. 6: Yes. 7: Yes, it matched the brochure description and certainly met my expectations. 8: Corresponded to the description and met my expectations, except for the rather clunky computers with which we had to work. 9: The course was excellent in this respect, although a section for systems people (some of us have to do everything ourselves) designed to help them with the mechanics of getting e-texts onto the net (ie, compiling hHp software) would have been beneficial). 10: I don't expect to be an SGML expert, but at least I now can converse with colleagues without sounding stupid. 11: Yes, pretty much. I expected to do a bit more independent/small group work (hands-on) and get ``talked at'' a bit less, but all the information was valuable and corresponded to the course description. 12: Yes on both counts. 13: Yes to the first. And the course exceeded my expectations of it. 14: Yes, though I'd hoped we could work on individual projects rather than UVa's Tennyson project. I sometimes felt we were collectively paying $8,000 for the privilege of doing someone else's scutwork! 15: Yes. 16: Yes. Yes.

VI. What did you like best about the course?

1: I liked DS, who has a clear head and an engaging presence. The topic was the main draw, of course. I come away from the E-text Center immensely impressed with what has been done here. What will be the sequel offered next year? 2: It was very pleasant to have this rather dry, dull computer technology/information presented via a project in the humanities. When I reached my limit with the computer language I could always refresh myself with Tennyson. 3: The enthusiasm, dedication, competence, and helpfulness of the in- structor. (I take ``people'' as much as or more than ``courses,'' and I was not disappointed.) 4: The hands- on work we did and the many practical suggestions and helps. The handouts and ftp-available things were terrific. I really appreciate all the effort and care the instructor put into this. 5: DS's presentations/hands- on work, opportunities to try various aspects of processing/developing electronic text. The opportunity to begin with a plain text and see it in electronic format on the WWW! DS's enthusiasm and commitment to making this a worthwhile, productive course for all of us. 6: The course covered a variety of subjects ranging from broad issues to technical processes. I appreciated the instructor's openness to questions and guidance on markup procedures. Handouts were also useful. 7: I appreciated the level of detail offered by DS, both through discussion, demonstrations, and example. The development of e-texts requires an appreciation of detail, especially with the application of SGML, and a clear understanding of text processes. DS's presentations, although they emphasized broader issues, helped me appreciate the complexity of the process. 8: The hands-on aspect was the best part. 9: I liked the energy and enthusiasm with which DS taught, and his willingness to get sidetracked (hyper-teaching?) with our many questions and comments. One morning the network was down, and he answered questions for almost three hours -- this was helpful. 10: A full week devoted to one topic. I'm spread so thin in my position that it's impossible to devote more than half a day at a time to anything. 11: The experience of tagging, working with HTML and MOSAIC, and learning from DS's complicated maneuvering in UNIX. I liked scanning, too. I would have liked to try all of the procedures myself (ie, parsing), but that might have been a bit much to expect since most people are not familiar with UNIX and would need a long time to get used to it. 12: DS was an excellent instructor. His knowledge and enthusiasm were evident throughout. Having the opportunity to participate in marking up a document with SGML tags, putting in the links to images and other documents, and then seeing the (nearly) completed document online via MOSAIC was a great learning experience -- and a lot of fun, to boot. 13: The opportunity for hands-on manipulation of all aspects of the e-text process. 14: DS's knowledge, enthusiasm, and humor. 15: Hands-on work (there could have been even more). Good interchange with the instructor. Avoidance of pressure on the less-informed. Stress on the point that the content will enable us to cope better with future activities as much as greatly increasing our current abilities. 16: The instructor was thoroughly organized, prepared, and articulate; there was a good mix of lecture and hands-on experience. The subject matter is timely and exciting and DS is appropriately enthusiastic about it.

VII. How could the course have been improved?

1: DS needs access to better machines to do this kind of work properly. The class could function with 16 students, though it would have been more pleasant with fewer. Given the interest in the subject, perhaps RBS could offer more (and more specialized) e-book sections next year. 2: The course attempted to cover so much. What I was primarily interested in was scanning text and images and SGML markup. Perhaps less time could have been spent on general internet information (gophers, Archie, Veronica) and more on when and how tag codes are chosen for documents. A little more practice at scanning and markup. Perhaps we could have moved more quickly with a smaller class. 3: Perhaps have a session on the structure and management of the Electronic Text Center with more detail on hardware, software, personnel, and their interrelationship. Perhaps have a session on software packages like WordCruncher, TACT, Collate. It seemed like a lot of SGML, but I can appreciate that we learned about structuring a collection rather than coding a single text. 4: Less system downtime. Better equipment in classroom. A visit to the IATH would have been good to illustrate some of the more advanced applications of electronic research/teaching in the humanities. 5: Expand the course to two weeks. I feel we just skimmed the surface of a field that is monumental in scope at this point in time -- there are so many of us who are beginners and more time would allow for more experiences (opportunities to learn/apply what DS presented). One week is simply too short! Please consider! 7: I'm hesitant to suggest homework, but I believe one homework assignment with a very practical theme might have been useful, eg, ``Develop a MOSAIC home page with links to...''. 8: The greatest problem with the course was the classroom itself. The computers were total 386 clunks that would not allow us to do what we needed; they were dreadfully slow; technical problems often shut down the entire class. It would have been helpful had we had a person besides the instructor to answer routine questions. At any rate, all the equipment in the classroom needs to be ripped out and replaced with new. 9: A systems person talking to us for an afternoon (not morning) about the mechanics of the whole process. We saw the creation of e-texts, but not the background software used to make them available. Also, the course was very specific to the hard- ware/software/purpose/materials at UVa. Although anything else would be impossible, some of this was a little confusing -- we'll have to sort it out ourselves. 10: Faster computers!! 11: I'm not entirely sure. One certain thing is to have someone on hand who knows something about hardware, because this electronic classroom is really buggy, and that's frustrating, especially considering how much money it cost to put together. I think also that the introductory lectures in the first couple of days could have been condensed a bit, but maybe I was just impatient because I already know how to use a gopher, etc. Maybe instead of suggesting a bunch of readings, you could have some exercises required before class begins, just simple stuff like logging into the UVa gopher (not even Veronica searches or anything), something like that, just to get people familiar with the internet services so that less time has to be spent on real basics. It seemed like the experience level difference between this class and DS's might not have been too different. I think it would be really cool to require ``Introduction to the Internet'' [RBS Course 26] as a prerequisite to this course and then make this one more advanced and faster-paced. The last parts of getting ``Elaine'' on-line were quite rushed and we didn't have time to learn to do them ourselves. I also (but this is my professional prejudice) would have relished a conversation about the uses of e-texts for pedagogy (and research). This class taught a lot about how to make an e-text, but little or nothing (except basic searches) about what to do with them. But obviously that's because librarians' priorities are with recording rather than analyzing data, and the professorial types were definitely in the minority. But I think DS could have told more anecdotes about what people come for when they come to an e-text center, which were interesting to me. Thanks, DS, it was fun. 13: List of items to be reviewed before coming to class (sent along with pre-course reading list?), eg, ``Review WordPerfect macro function,'' ``Get familiar with WordPerfect if you use another word processing program.'' Also, have it run for two weeks!! 14: Less taking over the screen, more individual hands-on work (of which there was plenty, but could have been more). 15: No real criticisms -- except that I would have liked more time in the Electronic Text Center. 16: 1) Make familiarity with the Internet a prerequisite so the class doesn't have to spend time on basic skills like FTP, gopher, etc. 2) Have a guest appearance by a library systems person who can put e-texts into a broader systems context and answer technical questions about matters that DS doesn't deal with.

VIII. Any final thoughts?

1: One great strength of RBS is the way it can bring diverse groups together around a common interest in books. Perhaps more thought could be given to how this might be worked into the program: mixing topics of general interest with those that are technical and specialized, in such a way that both kinds of sessions benefit from the proximity of the other. 3: Evolution will be such that it cannot be the same course. You cannot step into the same river twice; trust the teller, not the tale. See no. 6, above. 4: Even though I'm not a rare book librarian, I really enjoyed doing this in the context of Rare Book School. I met many new and interesting people and enjoyed the lectures and other rare book things going on around me. More would have been fine. The course was just wonderful. The instructor taught in a very approachable and understandable way (a rarity among those who teach about computers). I hope he'll continue to teach and to be so generous with his knowledge. 5: Highly recommended! May I please take it next year? Thank you to the entire staff for a great week -- I look forward to returning -- have you thought of a long weekend, topic focused fall or winter RBS retreat for those of us who need an RBS fix before next summer? 6: This was an excellent course that provided a good overview of electronic texts with a hands-on introduction to markup procedures and scanning. 7: Be sure to have one or more objectives upon finishing the course, and begin to work on them as soon as possible. 8: Good course, but unless the classroom equipment is upgraded, be ready for some frustration. 9: If you're planning an e-text project, this is a good way to get started. 10: Consider offering some scholarships to some of the beginning people in the profession (two-three years out of school). 13: One of the most valuable professional experiences in recent memory -- an absolute must. 14: Excellent introduction. I feel much more web-ready! (And I also have a better sense of what I don't know.) 15: One special reading (on tagging or something as central) might be assigned as highly recommended pre-course reading (for the exceptionally busy). 16: The course is excellent and highly recommended. It is best viewed as an introduction to the process of digitizing texts, a jumping-off point for further exploration into the details of actually implementing one's own project.

Number of respondents: 16


Leave          Tuition        Housing        Travel

Institution    Institution    Institution    Institution
gave me leave  paid tuition   paid housing   paid travel

88%            69%            32%            44%

I took vaca-   I paid tui-    I paid for my  I paid my own
tion time      tion myself    own housing    travel

0%             12%            56%            44%

N/A: self-     N/A: Self-     N/A: stayed    N/A: lived 
employed, re-  employed,      with friends   nearby
tired, or had  retired, or    or lived at
summers off    exchange       home

12%            19%            12%            12%

Three students (18%) were rare book librarians; two students each (13% each) were collection development librarians, general librarians with some rare book duties, general librarians with unspecified rare book duties, or teachers/professors; one student (6% each) was an area specialist with some rare book duties, a conservator/binder/preservation librarian, a corporate librarian, a full-time student or a rare book librarian/archivist/manuscript librarian.