New Technology or Old?
Many current technology and digital library projects use the new technology as an access mechanism to deliver the old technology. These projects rest on the assumption that the typical scholarly product is an article or monograph and that it will be read in a sequential fashion as indeed we have done for hundreds of years, ever since these products began to be produced on paper and be bound into physical artifacts such as books. The difference is that instead of going only to the library or bookstore to obtain the object, we access it over the network-and then almost certainly have to print a copy of it in order to read it. Of course there is a tremendous savings of time for those who have instant access to the network, can find the material they are looking for easily, and have high-speed printers. I want to argue here that delivering the old technology via the new is only a transitory phase and that it must not be viewed as an end in itself. Before we embark on the large-scale compilation of electronic information, we must consider how future scholars might use this information and what are the best ways of ensuring that the information will last beyond the current technology.
The old (print) technology developed into a sophisticated model over a long period of time. Books consist of pages bound up in sequential fashion, delivering the text in a single linear sequence. Page numbers and running heads are used for identification purposes. Books also often include other organizational aids, such as tables of contents and back-of-the-book indexes, which are conventionally placed at the beginning and end of the book respectively. Footnotes, bibliographies, illustrations, and so forth, provide additional methods of cross-referencing. A title page provides a convention for identifying the book and its author and publication details. The length of a book is often determined by publishers' costs or requirements rather than by what the author really wants to say about the subject. Journal articles exhibit similar characteristics, also being designed for reproduction on pieces of paper. Furthermore, the ease of reading printed books and journals is determined by their typography, which is designed to help the reader by reinforcing what the author wants to say. Conventions of typography (headings, italic, bold, etc.) make things stand out on the page.
When we put information into electronic form, we find that we can do many more things with it than we can with a printed book. We can still read it, though not as well as we can read a printed book. The real advantage of the electronic medium is that we can search and manipulate the information in many different ways. We are no longer dependent on the back-of-the-book index to find things within the text, but can search for any word or phrase using retrieval software. We no longer need the whole book to look up one paragraph but can just access the piece of information we need. We can also access several different pieces of infor-
mation at the same time and make links between them. We can find a bibliographic reference and go immediately to the place to which it points. We can merge different representations of the same material into a coherent whole and we can count instances of features within the information. We can thus begin to think of the material we want as "information objects."
To reinforce the arguments I am making here, I call electronic images of printed pages "dead text" and use the term "live text" for searchable representations of text. For dead text we can use only those retrieval tools that were designed for finding printed items, and even then this information must be added as searchable live text, usually in the form of bibliographic references or tables of contents. Of course most of the dead text produced over the past fifteen or so years began its life as live text in the form of word-processed documents. The obvious question is, how can the utility of that live text be retained and not lost forever?