Indiana University       Research & Creative Activity       January 2001 • Volume XXIII, Number 3

Hoagy. The Beatles. Monet. Isabella Bird. U.S. Steel ... Immerse yourself in Indiana University's Digital Library Program.

An Alternative Access

by William Rozycki

Hoagy Carmichael is one of the great names in twentieth-century American music. A native Hoosier, Carmichael was the composer of “Star Dust” and many other famous tunes. Because Bloomington, Ind., was Hoagy’s hometown, and because the IU graduate bequeathed his personal collection to IU Bloomington’s Archives of Traditional Music, the IUB campus is the first place a researcher might turn to study Carmichael and his music.

Indeed, the Archives of Traditional Music holds a significant collection of Carmichael sound recordings as well as lyric sheets and scrapbooks. The University Archives contains photographs, letters, and press clippings chronicling Carmichael’s relationship with IU. The Lilly Library has sheet music and Carmichael’s personal correspondence. Until last year, researchers in twentieth-century popular music might spend days on the IUB campus working through these archives. Now, thanks to a project of the university’s Digital Library Program (DLP), all these artifacts come together on one Web site to make the digitized Hoagy Carmichael Collection.

Hundreds of images, such as these publicity shots, are available as part of the online Hoagy Carmichael Collection, a project of Indiana University's Digital Library Program.

The Hoagy Carmichael Collection site is designed for use by specialists and the general public. It offers streaming audio, scanned sheet music, photographs, scrapbooks, and images of Carmichael’s personal effects. (“Streaming” means that audio and video information traveling over the computer network plays as soon as it arrives at your computer, rather than first having to be downloaded onto the computer’s hard disk.) The technology allows remote visitors to the site to choose among Carmichael’s compositions, listen to recordings, and view the corresponding sheet music.

The Carmichael site illustrates some of the considerable advantages of digitization: simultaneous access to multiple users; the ability to browse all the holdings rapidly; access (either on the Web or through local networks) away from the physical location of the holdings. It also allows contextual materials to be viewed together (even when the original holdings are in physically separate archives), and it reduces wear and tear on physical artifacts such as rare books, manuscripts, or letters.

“The Carmichael collection,” says Kristine Brancolini, director of IU’s DLP, “is representative of the projects we choose for inclusion. It draws on holdings that are especially strong here at IU, the technology is appropriate and enhances access, and the collection is of great interest to researchers and the public.” Brancolini points out that not every project meets these criteria. “Due to the high cost of digitization and the constraints of copyright, we have to choose our projects very carefully,” she says.

Kristine Brancolini, directcor of IU's Digital Library Program, looks over items from the Hoagy Carmichael Collection, many of which have been digitized and made available through the Web.

The DLP provides administrative and technical leadership for digitized projects throughout the IU system and is a collaboration of the IU Libraries, the office of the Vice President for Information Technology, and the School of Library and Information Science.“DLP is an umbrella administrative structure that encompasses all the campuses of the university,” Brancolini explains. “The program aims to provide and maintain a wide range of networked resources for scholars and students at IU and elsewhere.”

So far, about a dozen specialized collections have been placed online. Other projects in the planning stages include digitizing a film periodicals index and popular dance sheet music. Each project requires separate funding, usually with grants from outside sources. And each has its own legal and technical challenges.

Project teams must find or develop the digital technology best suited for a project’s needs. When scanning text from another language—as with the Russian-language serials index Letopis’ zhurnal’nikh statei, for example—the challenges are especially great. For that project, the pages of the publication are scanned by an outside vendor and delivered as image files to the DLP, where the image files are processed with optical character recognition software, converting them to text files. Then the text is proofread by fluent speakers of Russian to ensure scanning accuracy. Next, the file is coded to allow users to search the article citations by keyword. When all this is done, the document can be put up on the World Wide Web. The goal of this intensive project is to make twenty years of the index accessible on the Web within three years’ time.

Another constraint on digital collections is copyright. For text, only works in the public domain or whose copyright holders grant permission for public dissemination can be digitized and distributed freely. Nowadays, some new texts come in traditional printed versions and digitized versions. A library purchase of the digitized form bypasses the cost of digitization for a digital project, but public dissemination may still be constrained. Often, due to licensing restrictions, the digitized materials can be circulated within the library’s local network, but not mounted on the World Wide Web.

Music presents particular copyright problems. VARIATIONS, IU’s showcase networked digital audio project, can be accessed only from computers in the William and Gayle Cook Music Library. It is not available on the Web or in dorm rooms precisely to avoid the copyright issues that the Napster case and MP3 (a popular compressed format) have brought to the forefront—the unauthorized copying of high-quality sound files. In the case of the Carmichael collection, the family heirs to Hoagy’s copyrights have allowed the recordings to be streamed for electronic transmission, and the DLP is relying on streaming technology to discourage theft.

“Streaming allows visitors to listen to the sound recordings without copying the file,” Brancolini explains.

Inaugurated in the late fall of 1997, the DLP is clearly on track in its stated goal of integrating a variety of technologies and digital media into the university’s learning environment. Given the range of new technologies that accompany the program, project librarians and other specialists end up learning, then teaching, cutting-edge technologies. This side benefit promotes another aim of the program—to maintain the university’s position among premier digital library initiators. As a member of the national Digital Library Federation, IU strives to make its own digital projects compatible with national and international digital programs.

“By sharing institutional knowledge and resources, we hope to contribute to international research on issues of digital technology,” Brancolini says.

If digital libraries offer so many advantages in convenience and access, will the university someday be entirely digitized? Might the library go entirely online and cease to exist as a physical collection of books and other holdings? Not likely.

In fact, Brancolini points out, currently only a tiny portion of library holdings is digitized. “There’s just not enough money available to digitize every holding—even if copyright issues were to disappear,” she says. Brancolini pauses for a moment, thinking about the path of future technology. Then she offers her vision of the future.

“Digital offerings enhance the library,” she says. “But libraries perform other functions, like offering access to collection experts and providing a social learning environment. Libraries won’t become obsolete—they’ll continue to house and offer their physical holdings, with digital collections as an alternate form of access."

For more information:

Digital Library Program

Digital Library Federation

Kristine Brancolini Home Page

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