VICTORIA UNIVERSITY has set up a centre to turn New Zealand literature into easily searchable electronic documents.
Director Elizabeth Styron was appointed on December 1 and the centre's first two employees started last week. Ms Styron came to New Zealand last year on a Fulbright fellowship, after being an assistant director of Virginia University's ground breaking Electronic Text Centre. Last year, 3.3 million texts were downloaded from the centre's website, at http://etext.lib.virginia.edu, with material available ranging from the complete works of Shakespeare to early American literature and children's stories.
The Virginia centre has attracted a wide range of users outside the academic community, Ms Styron says, and brought significant funding into the university's humanities departments. Graduate students have picked up "a very marketable skill" and possess an edge in the job market, she says.
Victoria's centre will probably have six or seven staff by the end of the year, with the first texts online at www.nzetc.org from the middle of next month.
School of English, Film and Theatre senior lecturer Paul Millar says the initial aim was for the centre to be self-funding within three years, but this should happen by the end of next year.
The centre's primary goal will be to create a searchable electronic archive of New Zealand texts, starting with writing by and about Katherine Mansfield, then explorer James Cook.
Between 60 and 100 novel length texts should be processed this year.
Ms Styron says the second aim will be to train people in the skills necessary to make searchable electronic texts, and then to serve as a point of reference for anyone interested in the area.
Documents can be sent to the centre already in electronic form, or the texts are scanned to create images of each page. The images are sent away to be keyed in twice, for accuracy; Ms Styron says manual typing gives better accuracy than using software to turn images into text.
If the original text has illustrations, these will be included with the electronic text. Viewers will be able to choose not to look at images or view them as low resolution, so that those on low bandwidth connections are not disadvantaged.
Workers at the centre take the electronic text, which is in the standard ascii format, and insert SGML metadata tags to define chapters, pages, or act and, scene divisions.
Ms Styron says this process is automated "to a degree", with workers writing program scripts to speed up tag placement. But finished texts need to be checked by human eyes.
She would like to see the guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative Consortium, used by the University of Virginia, become the standard for electronic text in New Zealand.
Researchers can comb electronic texts in detail, and, for example, are able to find all instances of a particular word in a chapter heading.
Equipment in the centre include four PCs, three flat-bed scanners, and an iMac.
Dr Millar says capital expenditure was about $25,000, though the main expense will be on-going labour costs. Software costs have been minimised through Virginia agreeing to share its Open Text search software with the centre.
Other universities, presses, libraries, government departments, and archive holders could be interested in digitising their texts, he says.
The centre already has a list of projects proposed by outside organisations, and is keen to collaborate and share expertise.
Some New Zealand texts have already been put into electronic format in Australia. "If we don't do it, then it will be done elsewhere."
Having primary sources online will create more interest in the study of New Zealand writing overseas, Dr Millar says, through making it easily available. Often print runs of New Zealand books are small and many titles are out of print.
The concept of the centre was proposed by the School of English, Film and Theatre, with the support of Victoria's commercial arm, Victoria Link.
It will form part of a creative cluster that includes Victoria University Press, Bill Manhire's International Institute of Modern Letters, the Stout Research Centre, and the New Zealand Dictionary Centre.
source : infotech 04/02/2002