digital library project

It is worthwhile to distinguish between the useful contributions made by large-scale digitization projects, sometimes referred to as digital library projects, and the more fine-grained, specialized work of an electronic scholarly edition. Each is valuable, though they have different procedures and purposes. The Wright American Fiction project can be taken as a representative digital library project. Such collections are typically vast. Wright American Fiction is a tremendous resource that makes freely available nearly 3,000 works of American fiction published from 1851 to 1875. This ambitious undertaking has been supported by a consortium of Big Ten schools plus the University of Chicago. As of September 2005 (the most recent update available) nearly half the texts were fully edited and encoded; the rest were unedited. “Fully edited” in this context means proofread and corrected (rather than remaining as texts created via optical character recognition (OCR) with a high number of errors). The “fully edited” texts also have SGML tagging that enables better navigation to chapter or other divisions within the fiction and links from the table of contents to these parts. Not surprisingly, Wright American Fiction lacks scholarly introductions, annotations, and collation of texts. Instead, the collection is made up of full-text presentations of the titles listed in Lyle Wright’s American Fiction 1851–1875: A Contribution Toward a Bibliography (1957; rev. 1965). The texts are presented as page images and transcriptions based on microfilm originally produced by a commercial firm, Primary Source Media. It is telling that the selection of texts for Wright American Fiction was determined by a pre-existing commercial venture and was not based on finding the best texts available or by creating a fresh “critical” edition. The latter option was no doubt a practical impossibility for a project of this scale. In contrast to Wright American Fiction’s acceptance of texts selected and reproduced by a third party, the editor of a scholarly edition would take the establishment of a suitable text to be a foundational undertaking. Moreover, as the MLA “Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions” indicate, any edition that purports to be scholarly will provide annotations and other glosses

(Price 2007, 439-440)

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