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In the early days of machine-assisted textual analysis, there was little question of the provenance of the text: users created them for themselves. This was probably done by direct keyboarding, the texts then marked up to make them processable by computer, and the format for this mark-up was likely invented on the spot to solve immediate problems. This format was as likely to unintelligible to its creators (shortly) as to their colleagues (immediately). The software necessary to perform the analysis was also likely written by the individual user or by friendly programmers or systems folks cajoled into performing the needed task, and, as a result, the texts were unlikely ever to be used by others. These were, on the whole, single user systems par excellence, and librarians, if they were aware of such activities at all, were likely to recoil in horror at the thought of processing, storing, or making such electronic files available to others.
In more recent times, beginning about seven years ago, we have seen a marked increase in the number of electronic texts available. They can be found both commercially and as a result of the work of text centers, text archives, projects such as the Gutenberg project (discounting the question of provenance for the moment), and of dedicated scholars and researchers. The form of delivery has also begun to shift from diskettes towards CD-ROM and tape, and libraries are distinctly more active in smoothing the way to make such resources more widely available to their constituencies: both the textual resources themselves and the ancillary hard- and software necessary to use them. The growing importance and number of "electronic text centers" demonstrates this forcefully.
Many of us have also recognized that as electronic texts become ever more a part of the standard electronic resources made available by libraries to their users, e. g. the library catalog, specialized indexes, citation files and other electronic data, the existing network infrastructure can be used in a similar manner to leverage the availability and accessibility of electronic texts in a campus-wide environment. Unfortunately, since there are few places where such electronic texts have been networked for a long time, the general awareness of what's involved at both the production and delivery end is not high, even on campuses that are fairly advanced technologically.
This presentation is meant to give a fairly basic view of the realities of creating and managing a network-based electronic text service. Much of it is taken from Stanford's experience in delivering such services for the last eight years, and in maintaining a modest 'production environment' for the creation of electronic texts. The presentation follows more along the lines of a check-list than a formal discourse, but the intent throughout is to point out the pleasures and pitfalls of providing such services.
Last Updated: July 3, 1995