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University News Office
University of Virginia
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA LIBRARY EXPLORES INTERNET FUTURE OF RARE BOOKS
Aug. 30 -- The economics of electronic versions of rare books is the
subject of a two-year study being undertaken by the University of
Virginia Library. Sponsored by a $400,000 grant from The Andrew W.
Mellon Foundation, the project will compare usage and costs between
electronic texts and original printed editions of rare early American
As part of the study, 582 first editions of the most important novels
and short stories will be digitized and put on the World Wide Web.
Called the Electronic Archive of Early American Fiction, the online
collection will include books published between 1775 and 1850. The books
chosen for the project range from the earliest American novels, such as
Susanna Rowson's "Charlotte" (1791), through James Fenimore Cooper's
"The Last of the Mohicans," Edgar Allan Poe's "Tales of the Grotesque
and Arabesque," and Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Scarlet Letter." All the
texts will be taken from rare first editions in the Barrett Collection
and other collections in the Library's Special Collections Department.
"This project is an exciting opportunity to investigate how rare
materials can be distributed widely through new computer technology,"
said Karin Wittenborg, University Librarian. "We are delighted that
the Mellon Foundation will provide funding for the project."
Wittenborg added that a major goal of the project will be to determine
if rare research materials can be made available at a reasonable cost
on the Web. "Until now, if you wanted to see the first edition of
Poe's "Tales," you had to travel to one of a few libraries that had
copies, and even then the copies are so fragile that they can't be
handled very much. The copies on the World Wide Web will make it
possible for researchers around the world to see accurate
reproductions and searchable texts of these wonderful records of
Wittenborg said that an important part of the project will be an
evaluation phase in 1998. Teachers and students will be asked to
compare factors like ease of use of original rare books and of the
electronic versions of them.
Two versions of each text will be made available for the project on the
Internet, according to David Seaman, Coordinator of the Electronic Text
Center in the Library. "We plan to have color computer images of each
page of each of the 582 volumes--125,000 pages altogether," he said.
"More importantly, there will be searchable texts. Look up a word like
'liberty,' and you will get a list of quotations showing how authors
in the early Republic were using that word." The E-Text Center will
add these texts to some 15,000 other electronic books that it makes
available on the World Wide Web.
Because most of the books to be used in the project are fragile, the
computer images of each page will be prepared in the Special Collections
Digital Center in the Library. The coordinator of that center, Edward
Gaynor, pointed out that a specially adapted camera is used to take
digital images. The $35,000 camera was purchased through an earlier
grant from the Gwathmey Trust. Gaynor noted that the images produced by
the digital camera result in high quality reproductions of rare book
pages on a computer monitor.
The 582 volumes in the project are taken from two standard
bibliographies: Wright's "American Fiction 1774-1850" and the
"Bibliography of American Literature "(BAL). Included in the selection
will be all first editions by 82 authors, including Melville, Hawthorne,
Cooper, Poe, Washington Irving, Longfellow, and William Cullen Bryant.
Michael Winship, Professor of English at the University of Texas and
editor of BAL, commented, "This project will make available for use by
scholars and students the electronic texts of an extensive and important
group of early American novels. Furthermore, it demonstrates once again
the commitment of the U.Va. libraries to preserving and documenting our
literary heritage and to creating and promoting rigorously prepared
For further information contact: David Seaman, [log in to unmask],
(804) 924-3230, or see http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/eaf/