Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 0. Nr. August 1998

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Electronic Data Banks for Scholars of Literature*

Andrea Rosenauer (Vienna)

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the rapidly growing mass of information in the field of research (to be understood here as masses of data, text and graphics) increasingly obscured an overview of research activities and processes of knowledge acquisition in the individual disciplines. (Printed) bibliographies can no longer deal with the problem of expansion and differentiation in scientific inquiry in an adequate manner. Seeing such bibliographies as the reflection of the state of research in a discipline can only be done - even in the field of literary research - by those whose area is so small and specialized that they do not allow themselves to be disturbed by the simultaneous existence of thematic, epoch-based and personal bibliographies, publications of papers and reviews. To the bibliographies mentioned one should add interdisciplinary bibliographies like the International Bibliography of Journals and Newspapers, since the subject bibliographies "given the strictly established canon of standard journals and collected editions do not record certain articles relevant to the subject because these have appeared in journals of another subject."(1) An example of the opportunities the new media can afford as a tool to make literature accessible is the publication of Robert Musil's remains on CD-ROM. This storage medium made possible the publication of material, which in print would have filled up 20,000 pages, in a compact form and without gigantic costs. Only with electronic data processing was it possible to create from the work material of the writer a data base which would provide access to scholars of literature through two kinds of retrieval systems to a pool of information that can be used in a variety of ways. "Using a constructed system of reference, page codes that combined abbreviations and codes" Musil had wanted to create "a reference system" "that was supposed to pervade his entire work material and keep it ready for use in ever more comprehensive conceptual orders."(2) Walter Fanta’s idea of applying this technique to other representative authors and bringing them together in an on-line data bank to create an epoch data bank of modernity(3), has still not been realized.

At present one can electronically study the collection of the documentation centre for modern Austrian literature in the Literaturhaus. The literature data bank in particular is interesting as a model for possible data bank projects. The relational data bank of the documentation centre, created with the file maker on Apple/Macintosh, provides information on bibliographies and location of all works available in the Literaturhaus. The field "Enthält" [includes] provides access to articles appearing in collected editions and journals and therefore not as independent publications.(4)

At the Frankfurt and Leipzig book fairs in 1995 and 1996 respectively, the writers’ organisation IG Autorinnen Autoren (Literaturhaus, 1070 Vienna, Seidengasse 13) presented the CD-ROM demonstration version of the data bank of 20th century Austrian literature. This data bank presents 650 living authors and their first publications in all fields of literature (book, stage, sound and image).(5) The basis for the CD-ROM is the data bank of IG Autorinnen Autoren which at present includes 9,000 Austrian authors and translators as well as around 80,000 titles. The setting up of the data bank had begun about three years ago; it is accessible in the Vienna Literaturhaus on consultation with the IG.

The first results of the work on the data bank are available in the form of a catalogue lexikon in four volumes which lists 1,500 authors(6) and the CD-ROM mentioned above.

The CD-ROM data bank "like all traditional encyclopedias, includes biographical data and bibliography on the individual authors which can be utilized in schools, universities and academic research. It becomes particularly attractive because it pays special attention to texts which are not available in print and so it is more complete than most other literary reference works of this or a similar kind."(7)

It is planned to have both the data banks that have been developed in the Literaturhaus connected to the Internet with the purpose of providing an information link for people interested in Austrian literature and a direct communication channel to and from the writers.(8)

The attempt to put together in a CD-ROM data bank called SOPHIA(9) resources related to the humanities in electronic form is a step in the direction of establishing a data pool which brings together information from different institutions. The undoubtedly useful result, though full of shortcomings, shows that the humanities (or whatever they may call themselves) are at the very beginning of their way into the electronic age. Sophia is a mixed form of data bank types, probably because it is brings together 11 different European data banks. Along with other data it contains PHILIS - the philosophy data bank (Philosophy Institute of the Düsseldorf University), part of the Austrian Historical Bibliography (Klagenfurt University), the Hungarian Bibliography of Ethnography (the Bibliography of the Hungarian Museum of Ethnography, Budapest) and the International Bibliography on German Classicism (Anna Amalia Library, Weimar Classics Foundation). The review service on literary studies (Society for the Promotion of New Research Projects, Berlin) is a contributor with quite exhaustive book reviews(10). The British Library is another contributor with extracts from the Blaise data bank. Users of Sophia can also have access to data from Finland, Denmark and to a European Bibliography of Soviet and East European Studies.

One can search in the combined data bank for authors’ names with great success. However, the use of other search words still creates difficulties because the entries are made in the respective language of the information providers so that the entry of a search word in only one language cannot lead to a complete result. Another problem area is the heterogenous nature of the data.

Despite nice-sounding phrases such as "only a combined bibliographical data bank can cater to the educational needs of every Austrian for literature"(11), the bringing together of information on Austrian literature has still not advanced much. On 19th December 1994 a conference took place in the Research Institute "Brenner-Archiv" on the theme "Austrian literature archives in the system of academic libraries". Basing itself on the experience gained from the participation of the Brenner Archiv in the Austrian library system BIBOS, the conference aimed at initiating concerted action by the literature archives.(12) The conference ended with a call to found a working group which would articulate the problems and work out prospects for solution of a possible data system.

Now the Austrian Literature Archive in the National Library has called for a collaborative effort. Representatives of Austrian institutions, who work on the interpretation of literary remains, met at a "Meeting on the theme of collecting posthumous remains/cooperation of the Austrian literature archives"(13) called by Wendelin Schmidt-Dengler in his capacity as Director of the Austrian Literature Archive. Possibilities of coordination in the acquisition of literary remains were discussed just as much as the application of rules on the inclusion of autographs, the possibilities of introducing software and establishing a network of the Austrian literature archives. Since the understanding and the style of work of the participating institutes differ quite sharply, it remains to be seen within what time frame the user can be provided access to a data system of Austrian literature archives.

The Institute for Research and Promotion of Austrian and International Literary Processes is planning to collect data with the aim of working out a literary history based on a new definition of Austrian literature.(14) To achieve the part aim of preparing a select bibliography of Austrian authors, the data of the Institute and its partners has to be available on the World Wide Web and made accessible through a search engine. This form of bringing together data allows for diverse forms of entry and description, so that one can count on the realisation of the project with low costs of time and personnel and with a high acceptance by the participating institutions (worldwide).

Easy operation and transparency will be the decisive parameters for the quality of existing and desired data systems. Transparency can be achieved through references to the institutions which are participating and feeding in data and their criteria for selection. Easy operation cannot be guaranteed merely by user friendly surfaces. Thesauri, indexes and/or lists of search words are the precondition for researchers and those interested in getting the desired information without excessive research outlays.

 © Andrea Rosenauer (Vienna)
translated by Joanna King

(*) Published in: "Jura Soyfer. Internationale Zeitschrift fuer Kulturwissenschaften". Vienna, Vol. 5, No.4, p.14-16.

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(1) Hans Popst: Die bibliographische Situation im Bereich der Geisterswissenschaften. In: Rudolf Frankenberger und Alexandra Habermann (Eds.): Literaturversorgung in den Geisteswissenschaften. 75. Deutscher Bibliothekartag in Trier 1985. Frankfurt am Main 1986 (= Zeitschrift für Bibliothekswesen und Bibliographie [Sonderheft], 43, pp.286-295; here: p.286).

(2) Walter Fanta: Die Computer-Edition des Musil-Nachlasses. Baustein einer Epochendatenbank der Moderne. In: editio. Internationales Jahrbuch für Editionswissenschaft. 8/1994, pp.127-153; here: p.130.

(3) Ibid., p.138ff.

(4) The information refers to a test of the data bank on 8.10.1996.

(5) Comp. also with the following: Discussion with Susanne Rupprecht on 3.5.1996 as well as CD-ROM. Demonstrationsversion der Österreichischen Literaturdatenbank des 20. Jahrhunderts (Pressemappe). Vienna 1996.

(6) Katalog-Lexikon zur österreichischen Literatur des 20. Jahrhunderts. 4 Vols. Vienna 1995.

(7) CD-ROM. Demonstrationsversion der Österreichischen Literaturdatenbank des 20. Jahrhunderts. Op.cit., p.3.

(8) Comp. (Press documents) CD-ROM, p.4 as well as a discussion with Heinz Lunzer on 18.10.1996 supported extensively by an information paper prepared on 4.10.1996 by Heinz Lunzer "Dokumentationsstelle für neue österreichische Literatur und internet", which was provided to me as a discussion document.

(9) Sophia: Die CD-ROM der europäischen Geisteswissenschaften und Studien über Europa. CD-ROM, op.cit, Dataware Technologies, 1987, 1992.

(10) The 3 lucky strikes obtained during a search attempt for "Musil" have, for example, a print length of 8 pages.

(11) Gerhard Silvestri: Fünf Jahre BIBOS im Echtbetrieb im Bereich des Bundesministeriums für Unterricht, Kultur und Sport. In: 10 Jahre BIBOS, op.cit, pp..31-39; here: p.38.

(12) Österreichische Literaturarchive im Verbund wissenschaftlicher Bibliotheken. Conference on 19.12.1994 in the Research Institute "Brenner-Archiv" of the University of Innsbruck. The proceedings were handed over to me during a discussion with Anton Unterkircher and are scheduled for publication in the "Mitteilungen aus dem Brenner-Archiv".

(13) Meeting on the theme "Collecting posthumous remains/Cooperation of Austrian literature archives" on 29.11.1996 in the Austrian Literature Archive, in which the author participated as a representative of the Jura Soyfer Archive and the Institute for Research and Promotion of Austrian and International Literary Processes.

(14) Comp. Herbert Arlt: Zur Geschichte der Darstellung der österreichischen Literatur. In: Donald G. Daviau/Herbert Arlt (Eds.): Geschichte der österreichischen Literatur. St. Ingbert 1996. Herbert Arlt: Projekt: Österreichische Literaturgeschichte. To appear in: Stimulus (special issue on the meeting of the Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Germanistik in Innsbruck).

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