Virtual Library Debuts on the Web

by Marie Felde

Carol Christ welcomed those assembled in the information center of Doe Library Jan. 31 to dedicate the new SunSITE World Wide Web digital library praising the "visionary" efforts of those involved in the project.

But the vice chancellor and expert in Victorian literature admitted she comes from "the world of the card catalog."

From the perspective of University Librarian Peter Lyman, they are one in the same. "We are in the catalog room" he said, as dozens of color monitors blinked back at him.

The digital library web site is a joint effort between the library and Sun Microsystems. It is an online library of digital texts and images as well as a support service for library, museum and archive developers.

Berkeley is one of more than 20 sites sponsored by Sun Microsys-tems at universities around the world. The Berkeley site is to be the central place for digital libraries to go for information and help in planning, creating and maintaining digital libraries.

"With the digital library," said Lyman, "it's a future we are inventing, not one we are buying.

"The digital library for me consists of people in this room talking to each other. We are collectively creating the library of the future."

To get a sense of what is already available, guests sat down at one of the work stations, clicked on the library home page and began browsing. Instead of scanning book spines, they clicked on titles, authors and subjects.

One could click on the Data Text Library, select Charles Dickens and dive into "Great Expectations."

The entire text of the Dickens' classic is there. So is the full text of "Little Women."

If reading Louisa May Alcott on a computer screen doesn't seem like much of an improvement, suppose you wanted to find a particular passage in the Koran. It's there, as is the Book of Mormon.

By clicking on the Library of Congress index, you can select "Thomas," which will give you up-to-date information on legislative action in Congress.

You can also look at images selected from Berkeley's own collection of maps and photos.

Roy Tennant, the site manager, is responsible for the material now online, "and it is already a remarkable collection," said Lyman.

The library used the dedication celebration to announce that through a partnership with Electronic Book Technologies, a large collection of digital library materials is now available.

It also announced the availability of scholarly journals and books on the Internet though the Scholarship from California on the Net (SCAN) project.

Expanding the library's vast collection of printed material into the digital realm is just part of the goal, said Lyman.

The new SunSITE also helps the library meet its second goal to "catalyze digital library development efforts by providing support to digital library developers worldwide."

The site will use Sun Microsystems' Java programming environment. This is expected to enable easy search and cataloging of online text and images.

Over the next few years, the amount of digital material on the site is expected to grow to more than a terabyte--that's a trillion bytes, a million megabytes or a thousand gigabytes. Berkeley and Sun will work together on making content available.


Copyright 1996, The Regents of the University of California.
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