The Carrel™ [Draft 1.1 8 December 2004]
This is a proposal for global electronic organization and access to scientific or academic knowledge that is based on documents—i.e., manuscripts and print materials that form the foundations of new knowledge and the documents generated by scholars based those documents.
The first foundation of The Carrel™ is quality—first class access to first class sources of knowledge. The second is that it will be available globally at democratic prices.
Development of The Carrel™ involves the establishment of a research institute to develop an electronic 21st Century framework for knowledge sites to be called The Carrel™. Such work has reached advanced but still unsatisfactory stages in many fields, but particularly in literature, philosophy and philology.
The Carrel™ will serve research and knowledge maintenance needs in the fields of literature, history, law, music, sacred writings, and any other discipline that depends on historical documents, archives, and associated scholarship.
The Carrel™ will in effect, over time, represent and for most practical purposes replace what now makes up the documentary aspect of academic archives, libraries, print publishing, and print journals.
The thinking behind The Carrel™ is spelled out in From Gutenberg to Google: Electronic Representations of Literay Texts (Cambridge UP 2006). A pre-print version of Chapter four “An Electronic Infrastructure for Script Acts” (17,500 wds) describes the electronic dimensions of development.
Contact me: Peter L. Shillingsburg
A full-scale electronic knowledge site and scholarly edition should allow the user to answer quickly and easily questions about the work that might affect how it is used.
Web Browsers, regardless of the sophistication of their prioritising processes do not have a scholarly refereeing system to vouch for the quality of information or exclude disinformation in a search. Web Browsers are independent of concerted efforts to develop coherent bodies of knowledge, thus a search provides a disordered array of information sites (prioritised but not screened). They depend on a “cream rises” notion that is undermined by a counter “bread and circuses” notion. The boundaries are unprotected and unmarked.
The Carrel™ will resemble a library of libraries in which each user has a library carrel-like space, to be stocked from The Carrel™ with documents, references sources, and information that have passed scholarly refereeing barriers. The library of libraries will take a long time to build but will begin with specific scholarly knowledge sites created from existing material documents and existing scholarly investigations of specific coherent nodes of knowledge. Material in The Carrel™ will result from concerted efforts by academics to develop reliable and comprehensive knowledge sites. It will benefit from the current academic “crap detection” systems and add value of it own to The Carrel™ knowledge sites.
HDSA gives access to information, generated by and refereed by academics in a number of fields such as archaeology, literature, history, and music. LION gives similar access to literary materials, though the refereeing system is less developed. Although these systems allow word searches that cross many fields in order to identify files that might be of interest, it provides no linking within or between the materials in the accessed databases.
The Carrel™ is built from individual knowledge sites that combine comprehensive aggregations of materials and scholarship relative to a particular subject within a discipline, with extensive intra-site and extra-site linking, and an access portal that encourages inter-site linking and crossing.
The Carrel™ will be an electronic research library of special collections with global and comprehensive acquisitions goals and providing access to the fundamental documents and related scholarship for any given subject: Chaucer; Bosnian poetry; British Law; Beethoven’s music, etc.
The Carrel™ will give contain digitised images and texts of the documentary repositories unique to many different libraries, will associate scholarship relative to those documents from all reputable or refereed sources, and provide tools for analysing and synthesizing the knowledge supported by those documents.
Brick and mortar libraries will serve as access nodes to The Carrel™, offering its services to their users. Libraries will add their unique documentary items in standard electronic form to The Carrel™.
Electronic databases, such as Chadwyck Healey’s British Poetry, are based on the simple idea of making print texts available electronically. They combine the thinking of acquisition librarians and publishers. They may intend to enhance knowledge and scholarship by making texts available electronically, but they do not incorporate any notion of scholarship, research, or the production and management of academic knowledge. The fundamental unit for most databases is an existing published unit such as a journal’s print run, an author’s poetry, a country’s poetry, or the top ten books in a given field. Electronic databases often also reflect the naive idea that texts represent more than they actually do. Scholars know that documents represent one historical moment of production and that variant documents of the same material differ significantly. The British Poetry data base gives only one text of one version of each poem, with little or no information about what the source was or in what format or formats the work has appeared, as if that sufficed to represent the work.
The Carrel™, because it beings with the work and thinking of documentary and textual scholars, will represent every work in all significant forms and in association with the scholarship relevant to that work.
1. An Internet-based access point to academically refereed archives of historical and edited primary documents (digital images and ASCII texts) relative to a subject of interest, such as the manuscripts, diaries, notebooks, and novels of Nobokov; the laws of Lybia; the films of Fellinni; the letters of Lawrence; the music of Mozart; the myths of Apollo, etc.
2. Access to annotations, commentaries, textual histories, and bibliographies (eventually full texts of anything that has undergone some form of academic scrutiny and sanction).
3. Access to full texts of historical and critical commentaries from already published books and articles (as well as academically refereed original contributions to The Carrel™).
4. Access to associated pictures, drawings, paintings, and films.
5. An array of text and image analysing tools that users can apply to the archived texts to produce variants and parallel texts, stylistic analyses, linguistic analyses, bibliographical analyses, concordances, thematic analyses, etc.
6. A system of navigation that makes the access available at different levels of complexity, in order to appeal educationally to first time users and young users, but capable of being adjusted to give full access or specialized access to researchers.
7. An web of links within the knowledge site, associating variants, commentary, and contexts to appropriate points in the documentary material. Such webs form the basis for knowledge: the manuscripts and works of Goethe held in relation to themselves and other knowledge, for example.
8. All contained in an infrastructure of platform-independent multi-user, interactive (as appropriate) software suites.
In short, a knowledge site provides access to all “knowledge” now stored in manuscripts and print relative to a topic of interest in a field dependant on documents. Knowledge is here distinguished from enthusiastic amateur effusions by Tom, Dick and Harry about their love of Jane Austen or whatever. The key aspect is that the refereeing systems provided by academic expertise—be it in the role of publishers’ readers, journal vetters, fact checkers, scholarly editors, etc.—will be used to insure the quality of materials placed in The Carrel™.
If one were to put together the extraordinarily dexterous and beautiful presentations of electronic editions being done at IATH with Peter Robinson's extraordinarily complex combination of text collation and beauty of presentation for the Chaucer and other medieval projects at De Montfort Univeristy, and Paul Eggert's and Phil Berrie's collation and conversion tools, and authentication processes at the Australian Defence Force Academy, and Eric Lochard’s ARCANE authoring project involving an extensive array of charting, mapping, time-lining, and other types of verbal and graphic annotation and a panoply of output capabilities, and the comprehesive organization of materials and access planned by the HyperNeitzche project—in short, if one had comprehensive scholarly compliations of the documents of a knowledge area, beauty of presentation, imaging, collation on the fly, constant self-check for authenticity, writer's tools for annotational linking, multiple forms of output (to screen, to print, to XML, to WORD, to TeX, to PDF to others), sound, motion, decent speed, decent holding capacity, friendly user interface, quick navigation to any point (fewer than three clicks), and scholarly quality—and if one had these capabilities in authoring mode, augmenter's mode, and reader's mode, in a suite of programs with similar interfaces all workable on multiple platforms so that they were not too difficult to learn or to port from one set of equipment to another, and so that the tools developed for one archive could be easily adapted for use with another archive—then we would have something to crow about. We would also have something to write permanent how-to manuals about. Instead, what we have are hundreds of experiments.
1. The documentary and scholarly content of The Carrel™ will begin with the creation of specific “knowledge sites” designed to be subject specific and contain all the basic documents of that knowledge area, such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet; Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, Blackstone’s Law Commentary, Darwin’s Origin of Species, etc.
a. The fundamental unit of a knowledge site will not be what is available in the British Library or any other single great library; rather
b.the fundamental unit will be the specific area of knowledge as it is underpinned by documents everywhere in the world. For example, one knowledge site might contain all the manuscripts from papyri and medieval mss to all print editions, to the scholarly edition of Euripides’s Medea, with all scholia and commentary and scholarship reletive to Media and to adaptations of the play, with videos of films, images of art, borrowings and references in other literature.
2. The electronic infrastructure (tools, storage structures, navigation systems, etc.) that will enable access from one entry portal to multiple “knowledge sites” within The Carrel™ must be decided upon and developed first. Its components are already mostly known and available. The coordination of multiple electronic methods and technologies for representing documents must be achieved—probably in more than one way rather by an attempt to homogenize or standardize format. Significant advances on such systems have been developed by Peter Robinson (Anastasia), the HyperNietzche project (HYPER and HyperLearning), the Rossetti Archive and the Blake Archive (IATH), and others.
3. The added value provided through the linking of variants, commentary, and references to points in the primary documents, must be identified by scholars and created by technicians.
4. The analytical and synthesizing tools that will enable users to work with the documents and personalize their access and use of documents need to be developed in a way that anticipates the endless possibility of new or different tools to be added.
The Internet, taken as a whole, combines all that is of value on the web along with gaps and crap. Only the world’s best libraries approach the kind of access to knowledge offered in The Carrel™. Even the best libraries do not offer complete access to documentary materials for the study of any given subject. Libraries currently divide the available unique manuscripts and copies of print documents among themselves. No library has all the documents relevant to any knowledge area. Unique manuscripts and rare printed documents are shared among many libraries.
The Carrel™, by forming a knowledge site with materials form many libraries, will give access to documents now scattered in different libraries as a virtual and comprehensive special collection with global reach. It will add access to bibliographies of related scholarship and, over time, full texts of all the scholarship itself.
Over time The Carrel™ will be the research source of choice for all scholarship in document-dependant fields of knowledge—both for education and research. It will become the place of choice for publication of new scholarship.
Although to begin with, The Carrel™ will concentrate on documents and document related scholarship, there is no conceptual reason preventing a knowledge site from developing extensions for critic debate and pedagogical tutorials.
To make The Carrel™ happen a research unit must be created or organized to bring together with major players from the various areas of expertise that now create, control, monitor, or enable scholarship and the creation of knowledge along with the electronic technicians, programmers, and systems developers: Research scholars, academic publishers, academic librarians, and academic journal editors. A prime pool already exists of such persons who are frustrated by the limitations of their current capabilities and economic underpinnings. Serious and established scholars from document dependant fields (literature, law, music, history, art, sacred texts, philosophy) will ensure that content is comprehensive and accurate and that the knowledge site is designed and constructed to serve best the needs of students and scholars in each field. In each of these fields there is a sub-field of textual scholars whose primary concern is the preservation, transcription, editing, annotating, and dissemination of the field’s basic documents. They are needed to give shape to The Carrel™’s resources and uses. Technicians, programmers, and systems developers will implement the ideals of The Carrel™.
1. A major technology partner, preferably one in the business of detecting, identifying, prioritising, and disseminating knowledge—e.g., Google, Elzevir, Microsoft?
2. A major library already the repository of significant documentary materials in a large variety of potential “knowledge sites”—i.e., The British Library and or The Library of Congress and or Bibliothéque Nationale?
3. A consortium of textual and documentary scholars from relevant fields of knowledge: literary, musical, historical, legal, philosophical, etc.
4. A consortium of consultants from academic book and journal publishing.
Academic book publishing, while currently languishing, represents billions of dollars annually. The products are usually far more expensive than they are worth—annually hundreds of monographs are published, purchased by libraries, and read by a handful of people. Print runs as low as 300 or even less for scholarly books ensure that the handful who read the books are selected from those with access to the 250 libraries worldwide that buy and shelve the books. Generally speaking, the basic documents of knowledge: manuscripts, first editions, scholarly editions are the most expensive materials a library needs.
Academic journals spring up like weeds and drop like flies. The stable journals depend upon university or foundation subsidies or are associated with societies whose membership dues underwrite the journals. Journals devoted to the finding, maintenance, transcription, and study of original documents work in the same way and suffer from the same limitations. Their systems of encouraging and refereeing documentary scholarship will be available to The Carrel™, which in fact may replace them.
Libraries everywhere are subsidized by governments, foundations, and societies serving as friends of the library. Yet no library has enough acquisition money for its needs. The Carrel™ will give all libraries consortium power for access to basic documents and associated scholarship—hugely enhancing access from every participating library while reducing each library’s need to acquire duplicate hard copies. Library acquisition funds can be focused on acquiring uncollected unique materials.
The Carrel™ access software will be given free to every library that agrees to pay a use-fee on a per-significant-hit basis up to an agreed total annual license fee. If no patron uses The Carrel™ no charge will be passed to that library.
As The Carrel™ grows to give the best access to knowledge in various fields, it can begin generating revenue by miniscule charges per significant user hit. Education and research represent millions of people. The Carrel™ will eventually make knowledge in its implemented areas more comprehensive and more widely accessible than in any other method or from any other source and, by comparison with archived print books; it will become the most convenient source for scholars and students to use; and it will be the cheapest way for libraries to provide access to knowledge. If The Carrel™ displaces books and journals as the repositories of new scholarship, publishing and libraries could return to what they do best: preserve, maintain, and disseminate unique physical materials and basic texts as artefacts.
Where The Carrel™ includes copyrighted materials and materials for which permission fees are required, the button or URL for that material will be displayed with a pale blue background indicating that use involves a royalty payment. The Carrel™ owners, not the user, will pay-per-significant-use fees to repositories and copyright holders for such hits, for the duration of copyright or for as long as the repository holds the unique materials or requires use fees. The miniscule use-fees paid to the owners of The Carrel™ will also cover these costs.
Start up costs will be enormous and must cover funding The Carrel™ research unit for about five years of infrastructure development, funding knowledge-content and linking development for The Carrel™ and, subsequently, funding Carrel maintenance. These processes will never end. However, as soon as The Carrel™ is established as the venue of choice for scholarship, first in specific knowledge areas and eventually in all knowledge areas, the energy that now goes into print scholarship will all be diverted to The Carrel™, whose owners will no longer bear all the burden of development. In fact already funding agencies all over the world are supporting—or rather undersupporting—start-up projects of this sort. That means that the refereeing systems of academic presses, journals, and university departments will become the defacto collaborators and guarantors for the integrity of The Carrel™—and they will do it for the price and the reasons they do now: for free because it is what they do.
Scholars from each relevant field
research assistants (post docs; grad students)
consultants from libraries and publishing
Maintenance and continued development costs
coordinating staff to serve the millions of contributors that will develop from academic institutions the world over
Goals: Give every cooperating
participating library free access to The Carrel™ for one year; keep
hits, develop a per/hit pricing system and a pay as you use, with a cap
high use libraries. Keep price per hit
very low and take over the world of fundamental, documentary, academic
Fully functioning Carrel infrastructure
fully functioning knowledge sites
Enough publicity to encourage every existing scholarly editing project in the world to want to contribute to The Carrel™
Liaisons developed with potential research grant sources to develop additional knowledge sites:
NEH, NHPRC, Ford, Rockefeller, Mellon, and equivalent bodies in every nation.
Give every cooperating / participating library free access to The Carrel™ for one year; keep records of hits, develop a per/hit pricing system and a pay as you use, with a cap for high use libraries. Keep price per hit very low and take over the world of fundamental, documentary, academic knowledge.
 Institue for Advance Technology in the Humanities: www.iath.virginia.edu/
 See Èric-Olivier Lochard, Dominique Taurisson: “The World According to Arcane”. An Operating Instrumental Paradigm for Scholarly Editions Perspectives of Scholarly Editing / Perspektiven der Textedition, ed. Bodo Plachta and H.T.M. van Vliet (Berlin: Weidler Buchverlag, 2002), pp. 151-162. There are dozens more projects that I do not mean to neglect here. I selected these because I'm sufficiently familiar with them to know that each offers a desirable capability that is absent from the each of the others. My surmise is that most truly sophisticated experiments in electronic editing provides some unique capability not available elsewhere.