WHY I AM GOING ON STRIKE
When I got into the bibliography business, over a decade ago, text-posting was a new thing. Sites posting texts (both html transcripts and photographic reproductions) were first being established, it was a period of initial experimentation, so it was very understandable that each site went its own way according to its managers’ ideas of how such a site ought to be operated, and that every site manager felt free to behave as a law unto himself. The situation was a kind of free-wheeling, “Wild West” one, with no agreed-upon standards or conventions. Eleven years later, the number of text-posting sites, many sponsored by well-established libraries and other institutions, has multiplied and the number of available texts has increased, both to astronomic levels, and the availability of a large number of texts in electronic form has become an important feature of contemporary literary culture. But, to my astonishment, the degree of chaos and anarchy has scarcely decreased. While I can name a number of sites which are superbly managed in the best tradition of librarianship, many others fall short of these standards, sometimes to a jaw-dropping degree. I am going to mention some gross offenses against good practice, all of which militate against users’ interests, and these will no doubt strike some readers as impossibly exaggerated, but I could easily document the reality of each and every one of them. And if you rely on posted texts for your work, gentle reader, I can also assure you that your interests are affected by the failure of posting sites to observe good standards. So this is a subject about which you should care. Although your primary reaction should, of course, be a feelingof great gratitude towards anybody who makes texts freely available to you, when you perceive that you are being victimized by shoddy practices, and that your work is being impeded by them, you should not hesitate to make your displeasure known.
What malfeasances do I have in mind? In the first place, when one begins to visit text-posting sites, it quickly becomes evident that there is nothing remotely like uniformity in their structure and design. Nearly all of them are, to some degree, different and some are downright idiosyncratic. The result is that when one visits a new site, one is confronted with the necessity of figuring out how to navigate it and find what one wants (and this sometimes involves an exasperating waste of time), since some are considerably more “user friendly” than others. I am not urging any rigorous standardization of design, but in my work I have visited hundreds of such sites, and the varying degrees to which site designers adhere to good ergonomic principles is very striking. Some sites are a joy to work with, and one immediately feels at home. In the case of others, one has the feeling of being constantly engaged in a duel of wits with the site designer (and sometimes coming out the loser). Clearly, it would be in readers’ interests if sites developed some kind of norms or guidelines regarding design and structure. It is my suspicion, by the way, that some sites are designed, and some important policy decisions made about their management, by low-level technicians with inadequate supervision by professional librarians. If I am right, this is a sure-fire formula for disastrous results. As a general rule, every text-posting site requires “hands-on” supervision by a senior librarian.
The single most important design principle involves informing the reader of what holdings the site makes available. Although some site managers appear to think that a Search function is by itself sufficient, some means for browsing the site’s holdings is no less vital a necessity than is a catalogue for a traditional library. Ideally, there should be two browsable lists, one of authors and the other of titles. And the availability of this browsing feature needs to be prominently advertised on the welcome page rather than stashed away in some obscure corner of the site, so that it is immediately accessible to the viewer. It is extremely frustrating to imagine that the people who maintain text sites lacking this feature probably maintain some sort of running list of their holdings for internal management purposes, but that it has not entered their heads that they need to share this information with the rest of the world. The absence of any kind of browsing or catalogue feature goes particularly far towards diminishing the usefulness of sites, which contain a huge number of offerings: the larger the number, the more important browsing becomes (imagine the Library of Alexandria without Callimachus’ catalogue, and you’ll have some idea of the condition of Google Books and The Internet Archive).
It is also necessary for site managers to grasp this seemingly self-evident point: as soon as they begin to post texts, people are actually going to read them and use them, and to manage their material in such a way as to respect this fact, making sure that readers are helped rather than hindered. They also need to understand that, when they post texts, they are making certain tacit commitments to their readers, which they are henceforth obliged to honor, and that they can reasonably be accused of unethical conduct if they fail to honor them.. And this immediately brings me to the subject of URLs.
The key word in the preceding paragraph is “permanent.” Whether they realize this nor not, as soon as they assign a URL to a text, the managers of a site enter into a solemn relation of trust with their visitors. It is a strange thing that librarians who would not dream of tampering with, say, the shelfmarks of their manuscript collections (which in some cases have remained undisturbed for centuries), are capable of making arbitrary and capricious changes in the URLs of their electronic postings, although changes in the latter wreak no less damage than are the former. The very best sites advertise the addresses of their postings as PURL’s (Permanent URL’s), thereby issuing an iron-clad guarantee to visitors that they will remain unchanged. Such sites ought to set the standard for the profession as a whole. When this principle is violated, an important relation of trust with readers is violated. For this I guarantee: as soon as a URL is posted, it will be used, and readers need be able to rely on its continuing validity.
The concept of permanence, of course, goes deeper. Posting a text involves an implicit solemn promise to the reader that the text will stay posted. But on some sites texts can mysteriously disappear without any acknowledgement of their removal. Even entire sites vanish without explanation. Some text-sites are maintained by private individuals, as labors of love. One feels great gratitude and respect for the individuals who maintain such sites, but at the same time one cannot help cringing at how short-lived they are, in all likelihood, destined to be. To speak very much about the issue of the long-term archiving of electronic material would take me too far off-subject, so suffice it to say that as no site is very likely to enjoy great longevity if it does not have institutional sponsorship. And once an institution sets up or sponsors a text-posting site, it is, in effect, assuming a responsibility to keep it available on a long-term basis. But I can name a couple of very valuable institution-sponsored sites that suddenly disappeared, to the appreciable detriment of scholarship.
I am highly conscious that, although I am a professional scholar I am a very amateur librarian who has no business dictating rules to the professionals. But I would be so bold as to insist to librarians that the electronic reproduction of texts, both in html format and as photographic reproductions, has become such an important function performed by modern libraries that the present “Wild West” situation needs to come to an end. Detailed industry-wide uniformity of structure and design may not be necessary or even desirable, but general standards of good procedure and some kind of code of ethical behavior need to be developed and observed by site managers, so that the greatest good can be derived from them, with the least possible harm inflicted. And, clearly, this development needs to be a collective effort. Electronic postings, surely, deserve to be treated with the same systematic care and respect that is shown towards physical holdings as a matter of course. Not being a member of the librarian profession, I have no idea whether the management of text sites is yet formally regarded as a branch of library science, and taught (or even thought about) in the schools that provide instruction in that discipline. If not, it should be, and I respectfully suggest that it is high time that librarians begin talking to each other to develop a set of professional standards and ethics, for the better maintenance of such sites and to guarantee the good progress of the scholarship that depends on them. This will entail the development of some kind of “shame culture” in which errant site managers can be reformed as the result of their peers’ disapproval. But the development and observations of such standards is not the exclusive business of librarians. It is the right and responsibility of every scholar who relies on posted texts, and also of the general reading public, to insist that sound managerial practices be developed and followed.
This brings me to my own situation. The dawning realization that the situation I encountered eleven years ago has not fundamentally changed entails a concomitant awareness that I cannot continue working with this bibliography. I was operating according to the assumption that a bibliographical record that was true when created would, over time, remain true, and could be represented as such to readers. Although in the past some relatively minor exceptions to this principle did occur, which I corrected as best I could, I believed that as a general rule it was valid. The fact that, by an act which I regard as a severe breach of faith with its readers, the Gallica site of the Bibliothèque Nationale has changed its URLs, thereby obviating the validity of several thousand entries in the present bibliography, has dramatically brought home to me the fact that, when it comes to maintaining text-posting sites, even the world’s premiere libraries cannot be trusted to adhere to fundamental principles of good library science. And trust between libraries, readers, and bibliographers is what it is all about. In the absence of such trust, therefore, continued effort on maintaining this bibliography would clearly be a waste of effort better spent on other projects. I am therefore going “on strike” and will not invest any more time and effort in this bibliography until the situation has materially improved.
AN ANALYTIC BIBLIOGRAPHY OF ON-LINE NEO-LATIN TEXTS
DANA F. SUTTON
The University of California, Irvine
The enormous profusion of literary texts posted on the World Wide Web will no doubt strike future historians as remarkable and important. But this profusion brings with it an urgent need for many specialized on-line bibliographies. The present one is an analytic bibliography of Latin texts written during the Renaissance and later that are freely available to the general public on the Web (texts posted in access-restricted sites, and Web sites offering electronic texts and digitized photograpic reproductions for sale are not included). Only original sites on which texts are posted are listed here, and not mirror sites.
This page was first posted January 1, 1999 and most recently revised March 16, 2009 . The reader may be interested to know that it currently contains 29,750 records. I urge all those who are able to suggest additions or corrections to this bibliography, as well as those who post new texts on the Web, to inform me by e-mail, so that this bibliography can be kept accurate and up to date. I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all the individuals who have supplied me with corrections and new information (I extend especial thanks to Klaus Graf and Tommy Tyrberg, who are both responsible for the addition of many hundreds of bibliographical items to this list).
A few further Neo-Latin on-line texts contained in various lists of such items compiled by others are not included here because an invalid URL address is provided. Over the passage of time, of course, some of the URL addresses given here may be changed or broken. If you become aware of such difficulties, I would be grateful to have them drawn to my attention.
NOTE: in addition to standard abbreviations, in this bibliography the special abbreviation dpr (“digitized photographic reproduction”) is employed; unless otherwise specified, the file in question is in PDF format.
NOTE: Access to post-1864 items on the Google Books and University of Michigan University Library sites appear to be blocked for residents of at least some non-US nations.
NOTE: Two sources of texts listed here, La Biblioteca Virtual de Andalucia, and the Universitat de Valéncia Biblioteca Digital, appear to be in the process of rebuilding their sites, and a number of texts previously posted by them are not currently available. These have therefore been at least temporarily withdrawn from this bibliography, but I would hope that they will eventually be posted once more.
It has been drawn to my attention that the Gallica site of the Bibltiothèque Nationale has, without warning, changed the URLs of its holdings to a new system. The nearly 4000 links to their holdings listed in this bibliography are therefore invalid. At the moment I have no idea of how to cope with this situation, since the new URL scheme is not such that it can be updated in this bibliography by a simple global search-and-replace operation: it appears that each URL would have to be updated manually, which I am unwilling to do. This is, in my opinion, a grave violation of basic principles of library science (no less than if the Bibltiothèque Nationale were to alter the shelfmarks of their physical holdings in an equally arbitrary way), and represents a betrayal of the trust of scholars who use their online material. I request that all affected users of this site join me in contacting the Gallica site to protest this decision in the strongest possible terms, using your professional title, if you have one. They may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org