ACCESS | Asia 's Newspaper on Electronic Information Product & Service
June 2003 No.45  
  In this issue
Cataloguers, you have not been forgotten 
 
Fisherman have one. So do travellers. Pursuers of lost causes have one. And now, for the very first time, cataloguers have a patron saint. It is thought she was born in what is now the Czech Republic and that her weary soul was laid to rest in 762 A.D. She liked architecture and was an influential member of her convent. She might have sung madrigals but she certainly didn't dance the tango. Her name is St. Minutia. The only image of her known to exist is here.
 
 
Asian databases thrill Aardvark users 
 
Aardvark curators hope that is indeed the case since they have been scouring the internet to link Asian databases to the Aardvark website. And what a garden of riches awaits the discerning librarian and researcher. More than 400 Asian databases can be reached via Aardvark and they cover all subjects imaginable. Best of all, most of them are free. Want to link your web page to Aardvark? Get there from here.
 
Count yourselves lucky 
 
We can all point fingers at out governments. We can grumble about their policies and the latest rise in income taxes. But we don't go to prison for voicing our opinions. Which is what has happened to 10 Cuban librarians recently sentenced to a total of 196 years in prison. Their crime? They offered uncensored reading material to the public. Throw your support behind the Friends of Cuban Libraries who campaign on behalf of Cuban librarians. This outrage is reported here.
 
The STM market is broken 
 
That's the belief of Prof. Mark McCabe, an economist for 7 years at the U.S. Department of Justice where he investigated the mergers and acquisitions of publishing companies. Often at the request of librarians who see the consolidation of the STM publishing industry as a threat to their library budgets. In this interview, McCabe explains the STM publishing industry and the reactions of librarians to it. What you want to read is here.
 
Sex, love, marriage and other assorted controversies
 
Think about anything which divides opinion - like the war on Iraq - and you'll be thinking new Resource Center from Gale! The Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center tackles 170 controversial social issues in an online environment. Don't be shocked when we tell you that abortion, animal rights, gun control, homosexuality, narcotics control and poverty, are on the agenda. The Resource Center is designed for high school students and undergraduates to debate the controversies we all live with. More here.
 
Fab Asian pix from the British Library
 
Why is it that some of the best databases and information services about Asia originate thousands of miles away? It can't just be that former colonial masters carried away all the best manuscripts and paintings. A new service from the British Library, Images Online, offers glorious digitised pictures from their collections and many of them are from Asia. See a sample in full colour here.
 
Asian databases from the National Archives 
 
What would we do without America? Their freedom of information act and willingness to share information with the rest of the world, has arguably made their libraries and websites the best places in the world for research material on Asia. Take for example the Vietnam War. It affected the entire region yet very little data from Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore or China, is on the web. So we must thank the National Archives & Records Administration for its free, online databases on the Vietnam and Korean wars. More here.
 
Skulduggery at NISO 
 
It's just not cricket. NISO, the standards agency for the information community, learned in April that a company linked to an NISO Voting Member, had filed patents which fit the description of the OpenURL standard which was released as a draft, also in April. Cats amongst the pigeons? You bet! The story so far is here.
 
Another merger of publishers upsets librarians 
 
American librarians are up in arms about the latest publisher merger. BertelsmannSpringer is to be sold to investment company Cinven and Candover who by the way, bought Kluwer Academic in January 2003. Library groups have petitioned the U.S. Justice Department to block the purchase. You'd like to add your voice? More details,  here.
 
Meetings and Exhibitions more... 
Strong Asia content in Alexander Street Press databases  
 
 
If you think that Alexander Street Press databases have a classy ring to them, you'd be right. The core of the company, who were senior managers in Chadwyck-Healey's north America operation, brought with them years of experience conceptualising, creating and selling the unique and slightly rarefied C-H catalogue of products. It's pretty much a case of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' because the Alexander Street databases offer masses of full text published and unpublished documents, spectacular indexing, academic credibility and primary source material to tickle the terminals of professors and students everywhere. ACCESS, wanting to know more about the Alexander Street Press 'tickle factor', recently met its President, Stephen Rhind-Tutt, and began by asking: 
 
  Where did the name Alexander Street come from?
 
When we started the company, we decided to stay away from the dot-com-type names that were so popular. We wanted a name that reflects our commitment to tradition - traditional elements of publishing and traditional librarianship. We decided on the place where we met to found the company: our first company address, 38 Alexander Street.
 
  What was the biggest hurdle in getting the company started?
 
The big step was simply deciding to do it! Did the library world really need another publishing company? But once we realized that we could bring something entirely new to electronic publishing, we were on our way. There were a lot of companies digitising print and microform collections and calling them 'new' products. The technology was at the centre. We wanted to put librarianship back at the centre. How would people need to ask questions of the material? How could technology play a supporting role, allowing the content to deliver answers that otherwise remain hidden? Once we understood that path forward, the decision to start the company was easy.
 
  How long did it take to get up and running?
 
Amazingly, the company took off like a shot. We announced our first product at ALA in Chicago in July 2000, and several librarians placed orders on the spot. The support was phenomenal. People knew the quality of what we'd produced in the past [Chadwyck-Healey] and trusted us. Our mission - our story about Semantic IndexingTM - resonated with librarians immediately They were talking about Alexander Street Press at collection development and special interest meetings right there at the conference. Our company seemed to be instantly and enthusiastically launched.
 
  How do you get ideas for what to publish?
 
In two words: customer collaboration. Customers provide us with ideas, and they help us decide which ideas are worth going forward. They help us shape products too. For example, Early Encounters in North America: Peoples, Cultures, and the Environment was originally conceived as a collection about explorers and settlers. Alice Schreyer, a librarian at the University of Chicago, suggested that this wasn't a useful project. In her words, "We don't need another database of dead, old, white men." Instead, she pointed to the need for cross-cultural materials, especially about Native Americans. Customers also pointed out that the material we'd gathered was rich in environmental history, geographical data, cross-cultural information, and prints and images. We shifted emphasis and focused on indexing the material so that it could yield new research. We expanded the bibliography and revised the indexing specification. Later, customers persuaded us to redesign the product to include whole, downloadable books.
 
  Once published, is a collection static? Put another way, will your editorial staff add to collections as and when data is discovered?
 
We set a target size for each product and build as quickly as we can to target. In the case of North American Women's Letters and Diaries, for example, the original target was 100,000 pages. Later we decided to increase the target to 150,000 pages. After we reach target, we deliver the archival copy of the database to the customer who has bought perpetual rights. For most collections, additional information will be added to the website over time as we identify quality content, but at a much slower rate. 
 
  Several publishers have collections similar in nature to yours. Chadwyck-Healey and Gale come to mind. In what ways would you say yours are superior?
 
Our collections are distinguished several ways. Alexander Street collections don't contain just published material. Black Drama, for example, has more than 400 previously unpublished plays - works that researchers will never see anywhere else, given to us by the playwrights themselves in most instances. Our collections are not electronic reprints of old bibliographies or microfilm collections. They are developed to answer a need in a given subject area, with materials drawn from every possible source and format - archives, private collections, museums, book dealers, microform, print, image collections, oral histories, rare and unpublished material, and content licensed from literally hundreds of estates, agents, and publishers. In some cases a collection is close to 100 percent in copyright.
 
We apply our Semantic IndexingTM to each collection. The content is engineered to answer questions at a wholly different level from anything before now. For example, every letter in our collections of women's letters and diaries is indexed to provide more than 80 different search fields. For the first time, scholars can see, with one or two clicks in British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries, all letters written by single women, born in England in the 1920s, who travelled to Japan and wrote on the subject of religion. Researchers using American Film Scripts Online can quickly find all scenes of violence in which children are the victims.
 
  Who does all that indexing?
 
Semantic IndexingTM isn't something that can be outsourced. We have a staff of in-house indexers, hired for their indexing skills and their subject knowledge. We train them to read every word on every page and index up to several hundred index fields for some products. It's important that someone knowledgeable is doing this kind of indexing! If the letter is referring to George and his troops marching up the river, it takes an historian to know that it should be indexed for George Washington and Potomac River. This is how we get the level of detail that our customers value in the collections.
 
 
*Stephen Rhind-Tutt, President, Alexander Street Press
 
  Who and where do you consider Alexander Street's prime market to be?
 
Our collections are aimed at academic libraries. We began with a collection of interest to the North American market, but subsequent projects have appeal in other parts of the world. Black Drama, for example, includes plays from 17 countries, including Australia, Africa, Europe and South America. Our forthcoming Oral History Index will cover English language oral histories from around the globe. American Film Scripts Online seems to be of interest everywhere. Asian American Drama has appeal in the Asian world. British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries interests people in former British colonies, and there is also a great deal of travel writing in there that has broad appeal.
 
  Do you provide MARC records? How are they structured - individual movie scripts for example? Are MARC records as important as they once were?
 
We see MARC records as an essential tool. We want customers to find their way into our databases and to specific content via the OPAC. As more and more electronic resources are developed, the OPAC will provide a 'plain vanilla' way of accessing them. The level of MARC records varies by collection. For American Film Scripts Online, the record will point to the script; and similarly for Black Drama, to the play. For North American Women's Letters and Diaries, access is to the author level, because in a sense we've created new publications for the women. For example, we've gathered together all the correspondence of Gertrude Stein from many sources, so the MARC record will be for 'the letters of Gertrude Stein' as published by Alexander Street Press. When users click the 856 field, they will link to the stable URL in the database that lists all of Stein's letters. And by the way, we will provide free MARC records to our customers. This service is being put together right now and will roll out shortly.
 
  Any librarians on your staff?
 
Yes, of course. Our Vice President of Production holds an MLS degree, and many of our editors are librarians. We match editors and indexers to the projects they're working on. The editors for the drama and film collections have master's degrees in theatre arts, for example. A number of librarians are experts in the development of controlled vocabularies. Librarians sit on our editorial boards. We visit more than 100 libraries a year. As mentioned earlier, we regard librarians as essential partners. Personally, I've been developing products for libraries for more than fifteen years with companies like Gale, SilverPlatter, and Chadwyck-Healey. Our mission statement promises 'to bring the best of librarianship and technology' to our products. 
 
  Which of your collections has a strong Asian content?
 
Asian American Drama is the strongest. Oral History Index will also have a substantive Asian and Australian component. North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral Histories is especially attentive to the stories of Asians who have immigrated to America. So far, the bibliography has 9,000 pages of writings drawn from 54 works. We have an advisor to the project dedicated to identifying Asian material. North American Women's Letters and Diaries and British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries contain many travel dairies detailing observations and experiences in Asia.
 
  Are you open to publishing collections from Asia, for example, antiquarian accounts of Asian travels and cultures by colonial bureaucrats and intrepid explorers?
 
Yes! We would love to hear from any librarians who would like to co-publish a collection in this area.
 
  What will the company be doing 3 years from now?
 
We will continue to build strength in our core areas - gender, diversity, and ethnic studies, history, literature, film, and drama - through the large collections that launched the company. We'll continue to offer these collections through either one-time purchase of perpetual rights or through annual subscriptions. We'll also be producing more products that are subscriptions such as Oral History Index and Women and Social Movements, which are small and affordable subscription projects. Our great strength in academic libraries will continue, and our databases will also be part of public school curricula. We'll have a very strong international presence, already begun today through the efforts of iGroup and our other distributors around the world.
 
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