Afro-American Sources in Virginia.
A Guide to Manuscripts

Michael Plunkett, Editor
University Press of Virginia
© 1995 by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia
Conditions of Use

Foreword to the Electronic Version

1) Michael Plunkett

When I was first contacted about the possibility of publishing Afro-American Sources as an electronic work, my reaction was negative. What I remember most about my work on the book was the enjoyment of visiting many institutions and examining outstanding collections, with the aid of a grant that enabled me to devote my total energy to the project. I could not imagine expanding the work without the luxury of such uninterrupted time. But then I considered the flexibility inherent in an electronic work. It is never static. It becomes kinetic, always available for additions. The more I deliberated, the more advantages became apparent. This work would require close involvement with the University Press and the Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia Library. We would have to work together to examine this new process and our cooperation would establish a framework for future electronic publications.

Another benefit was the inclusion of images, prohibited in the print edition for reasons of cost. Most significantly, the work would be available to a wider and constantly expanding audience. Once I was convinced of the efficacy of an electronic edition, the obvious place to begin adding new entries was with my own institution, the University of Virginia. I surveyed our holdings since 1990 and added twenty new entries. With the assistance of the University Press, I updated addresses and added phone and fax numbers and e-mail addresses to those institutions that responded to a request for such information. Finally the most enjoyable part was selecting the images and then helping David Seaman, Director of the Electronic Text Center, to scan them.

The next obvious step is to update all the repositories and add new collections and institutions. This depends, of course, mainly on others submitting the information. It is my hope and the hope of the University Press of Virginia and the Electronic Text Center that we can periodically update this work and truly never finish it.

Michael Plunkett

2) David Seaman

This guide is a joint collaboration between Michael Plunkett, The University Press of Virginia, and the University of Virginia's Electronic Text Center. It was undertaken both as an opportunity to provide an expanded version of Michael's book and as a training exercise for a Press ambitious to get to grips with a new publishing medium. While we still do not have the "pay per use" charging mechanisms in place that will make Internet publishing a commercial venture of the sort we would like, the Director of the University Press realised clearly that the time had come in late 1993 to tackle the production and distribution issues of the new medium.

The labor of producing the Guide was divided between the participants, each drawing on his or her own strengths. The print text of the first edition was scanned in at the Electronic Text Center by members of the Press, who in the process learned something about scanning technology. The newly created electronic files were delivered to Michael Plunkett, who made his additions and revisions. After some editorial work and proofing at the Press they were returned to the Electronic Text Center where the WordPerfect files were converted to Standard Generalised Markup Language (hereafter SGML) encoding, following the Text Encoding Initiative Guidelines (hereafter TEI), and parsed.

The level of SGML markup is not exhaustive, and much was done by automatic means, principally a series of "search and replace" routines in WordPerfect and SED that turned proprietary markup and implicit patterns of spacial layout into explicit SGML tags. The resulting TEI document allows us both to have a browsing copy on the World Wide Web, by converting the TEI tags automatically to HTML, and also to provide a searchable document that contains database categories and sectional divisions. The Web "forms" interface to this searchable database was designed by Jeff Herrin, in the University of Virginia Library's Systems Office. The search software is PAT, from OpenText, the same tool we use for all our on- line full-text databases at the University of Virginia.

The final stage of the production was to scan a set of digital images of some of the items in the University of Virginia section of the Guide. Michael Plunkett and I digitized various manuscripts and photographs, creating TIFF format images at 300 dpi. From these archival TIFF copies, JPEG files were made for use on-line. A text description and cataloging record was added into the binary code of these image files, for reasons of data control and attribution, according to a practise popularized by the Electronic Text Center. Finally, I needed only to write the main Web page for the book and connect the various parts together, drawing on the design expertise of Janet Anderson from the University Press.

This project has been a good example of collaboration between publishers and libraries, information managers and scholars, each drawing on his or her particular skills and each learning from the other.

Since the Guide has been on-line, it has garnered considerable attention and use; most constructively, perhaps, was the new submission that was sent in from the Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg, Va. After reading about the Guide in a Virginia newspaper -- being the first full University Press publication on the Internet generated several press features -- they contacted Michael Plunkett with the details of five collections in their library that were pertinent to the subject of the Guide, and we were able to add them as a new section the same day.

For this type of work, it would be desirable in the future for the various institutions featured in it to take responsibility for their sections and run them from their own Internet servers, with images of selected items provided in the same manner that we have done for the University of Virginia section. That would be truly to take advantage of the possibilities of the medium, and help ensure that the Guide keeps current.

David Seaman
Electronic Text Center
University of Virginia

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