A few months ago, I bemoaned the blizzard of photocopies settling in file drawers, piling up in odd corners, and drifting across the floor. The situation, I gathered, called not for a snowblower, but for a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500. Flash forward to last week, when two important things arrived: a new computer (the old one, already marked for replacement, developed Worrying Symptoms of Imminent BSOD) and the aforementioned scanner. Thanks to eBay, the scanner did not produce other Worrying Symptoms--namely, Worrying Symptoms of Imminent Pocketbook Meltdown.
So, I've been scanning. This involves pushing one illuminated button, helpfully marked "Scan." (You can't expect academics to pick up on such things by themselves.) Well, that and removing staples. Some thoughts:
Speed. The scanner is as fast as advertised. I've scanned at least one hundred and fifty articles--in other words, nearly one thousand pages--since Friday, without being chained to my desk.
Curse you, humidity! As anyone who has cussed out their department photocopier knows all too well, humidity does aggravating things to paper, which in turn does aggravating things to the automatic feeder mechanism. The ScanSnap is equally suspect to humidity-induced discombobulation.
Got creases? The scanner handles creased, battered, bumped, and otherwise bolluxed paper with reasonable equanimity.
Direct line. It's good that the scanner handles creased etc. paper well, because if you don't perfectly align the document in the feeder, Paper Jams of Rage occur. And then your uncreased paper will be, well, creased.
Size. I've found that the scanner can handle pages of different size within the same document, although I gather from reviews that not everyone has had that experience.
Mark TWAIN. Or, rather, the lack thereof. As several people on the Amazon page point out, there's no TWAIN driver, which means that you can't just add newly scanned pages to an old PDF. This will be cause for irritation if you want to update old files with new scans. However, there's a workaround for documents that run over fifty pages.
Got IFilter? If you're running Windows 7 (*waves*), you can't search PDFs via the Windows search box, even if you have the right TIFF setting. (You can work around this by searching directly in Acrobat.) This may cause a great disturbance in the Force. It doesn't help that Adobe Acrobat does not yet have a Windows 7 filter in place, for reasons that are clear...to nobody, really. After I bewailed this discovery on Facebook, a friend pointed me in the direction of Foxit, which does have the Windows 7 filter. Available for free, no less.
One of the interesting questions raised by GoogleBooks has to do with what we might call scan recycling: POD publishers who just rip GoogleBooks scans, turn them into cheap paperbacks, and sell them. (Or, alternately, turn them into e-Books and sell them.) A colleague of mine told me today that some of the nineteenth-century German periodicals he had been consulting on GoogleBooks had vanished, only to be replaced by links to POD versions...which are now purportedly "copyrighted," even though the only thing the publisher has done is reprint the scan. For obvious reasons, this was a cause for concern, so I decided to see what was going on in my neck of the woods. I went looking for The Bulwark, and got these results:
Even after dickering around slightly with the search terms, I was only able to pull up five volumes of the journal, and only one of those five volumes was available in full text. The other four are inaccessible POD copies. But wait! Where are all the other copies of The Bulwark--like the ones in my library?
I was relieved to see that they were still all present and accounted for. Yet they don't appear in a general search. For example, a general search brings up only the POD copy of volumes one and two. However, going to the "About this Book" page of the single full-text search result and clicking on "other editions" brings up...you guessed it...the full text of those same volumes. This is not what I would call an efficient search protocol. I had similar results with the Christian Remembrancer: a general search pulled up only the POD of volume fifty-three, but fooling around with the "other editions" on one of the full-text results brought up a full view copy. (Looking at "other editions" of a POD version, incidentally, yielded only more POD "editions.") In both cases, the only way to pull up the full-text version in a general search was to specify the volume number in the search box (e.g., "'christian remembrancer' volume 53"). This limits the usefulness of GoogleBooks' search results for anyone trying to get a sense of what's actually available in the collection--how many people will know there's a volume fifty-three of the Christian Remembrancer?
Talk about fortuitous coincidences: Julia Gergits' "Created in Their Image" (IHE) appeared just one day after James McWilliams' "Technology and Tenure" (the NYT Freakonomics blog). Gergits examines how working at a regional comprehensive affects one's professional profile, especially when it comes to research and publishing; McWilliams suggests that, given the rise of electronic resources, perhaps it's time to intensify tenure requirements for the non-science types. Noting that his access to a specialized database had turned up all sorts of "obscure references," McWilliams comments that "while I think there are many downsides to relying too heavily,
or exclusively, on this form of research, there’s no doubt that it
allows the engaged scholar to pursue questions in a much more
streamlined (and inexpensive) manner." Ergo, he cautiously argues, "I think there’s a case to be made that a university’s tenure demands should keep pace with technological advances." Of course, McWilliams also admits in passing that his access to said specialized database wasn't quite legit: he "gained access through the account of a close friend who works at an institution with ivy on the walls."
This argument, when taken alongside Gergits' (quite good) essay, reinforces my suspicions that the New Golden Age of Electronic Research, far from subverting, transgressing, or doing any of those other popular verbs to the boundaries between Those Folks at R1s and Those Folks at Other Places, may well shore them up. My library does not subscribe to any of the major primary text databases in my field. Nor, at present, does it subscribe to all of the bibliographical resources I need to use, like the most recent incarnation of the RHS bibliography. (Needless to say, there was dancing in the streets when we at least managed to get our hands on Project Muse.) This could be because, well--let's just make a random guess, shall we?--we don't have the money to do this. (Actually, that's not a random guess: I used to be the department's library coordinator, and I know we don't have the money.) There is only one Ph.D. granting institution in the area, the University of Rochester, so if we're desperate, we can trek over there--although, in fact, they don't have that many subscription-only databases, either (my early modernist colleagues can get their hands on EEBO, at least). In other words, unless something is available online for free, I have no easy way of getting my hands on it. (Of course, I could always--wait for it--travel. Which kind of does in the savings, there.) If we're thinking about possible discrepancies between a scholar's profile at My Sort of Place and a potential job at a R1, then "let's hike publishing requirements!" only accelerates the discrepancies in question.
In and of itself, that's not an argument against McWilliams' position. However, as Gergits points out, R1s and comprehensives are already split when it comes to the very definition of scholarship. For example, as she notes, textbooks, which "garner little respect on the national academic market, count as
scholarship at YSU: they require research and careful writing, and they
can have a huge impact on the field through guiding and directing
students." (In the past, I've pointed out that there's much more freedom at a comprehensive like mine to write whatever actually interests you, which is how I've come to specialize in authors nobody else has ever read. The flip side: people ask me why on earth I'm writing about such things.) Obviously, schools with more $ will fund more research that involves spending $--I'm not railing at this state of affairs. But I am railing at attempts to discuss the New Golden Age of Electronic Research in ways that do not acknowledge how localized that Age is currently proving to be. Yes, we have more free stuff; we also have lots more stuff that only a few, relatively well-funded colleges can purchase. Somehow, I don't think piggy-backing on somebody else's account is going to be the approved wave of the future.
While reading Geoff Nunberg's...ah...crisp assessment of the current state of GoogleBooks metadata--with which I thoroughly agree--I discovered Hathi Trust Digital Library, which "was conceived as a collaboration of the thirteen universities of the Committee on
Institutional Cooperation and the University of California system to
establish a repository for these universities to archive and share
their digitized collections." Unfortunately, searching across texts (currently described as "experimental") is limited to OOC works. Right now, quite a lot of OOC works are limited to search-only; a quick test using "tale reformation" as the keywords turned up unviewable editions of very OOC novels like From Dawn to Dark in Italy. I'm spying some familiar problems with the metadata--Tales of the Persecuted, an undated collection published in Philadelphia, turns up with a date of 1800 (which is clearly wrong). And, as in GoogleBooks, there are orphaned volumes (e.g., Catherine Sinclair's triple-decker Cross Purposes). In books identified as search-only, the results indicate that there was a hit...but not what the hit was. Which, I have to say, is even less useful than GoogleBooks' much-loathed "snippet view." That being said, I prefer the screen layout. Books can be viewed as PDFs, text (somewhat cleaner than GoogleBooks' or the Internet Archive's plain text), or images.
It would be nice if the catalog search function would let users search by library.
It's too early to say much about the content, although there should be an incredible resource here once everything is uploaded and made available.
It's been several years since I've actually written something about Anglo-Jewish authors, and I would like to remedy that in Expensive Book. Needless to say, the first line of attack is Google Books (a.k.a. the primary mechanism for reducing the "expensive" in Expensive Book). And here's where the vagaries of Google Books' source libraries start to make things interesting. There are quite a few nineteenth-century Anglo-Jewish periodicals out there--but, except for random volumes of publications like the Hebrew Review, they don't crop up in Google Books. No sign, for example, of The Voice of Jacob, later theAnglo-Jewish Magazine. (One wouldn't expect The Jewish Chronicle, a newspaper, to show up). What appears instead?
The Children's Jewish Advocate
The Friend of Israel
The Hebrew Christian Witness: An Anglo-Judaean-Christian Magazine
The Hebrew Christian Witness and Prophetic Investigator
The Jewish Expositor and Friend of Israel
The Jewish Herald and Record of Christian Effort for the Spiritual Good of God's Ancient People
Jewish Missionary Intelligence
The Scattered Nation and Jewish Christian Magazine
The Star of Jacob
The Voice of Israel
Guess what all of these periodicals have in common! These are either magazines targeting evangelicals who specialize in missions to Jews, or Jews who have converted to Christianity. Strictly speaking, I'm excited that these are available, because such periodicals are also exceptionally difficult to find (not least because the ones targeted at "Hebrew Christians" tended not to last very long...). However, that doesn't get around the fact that they aren't periodicals published by and for observant Jews, whether liberal or orthodox. Google Books does much better, not surprisingly, with nineteenth-century Jewish periodicals from the United States. If I were asking students to work with Anglo-Jewish texts for research projects, I would have to do a lot of hand-holding to get them to differentiate between periodicals directed at Jews and periodicals directed at converts--especially because several of the titles are not self-explanatory. (The Friend of Israel? The Voice of Israel? Magazines with Hebrew and English titles?)
Obviously, the gaps have nothing to do with Google, and everything to do with the historical priorities of the libraries that own the books. Now, if Yeshiva University1 (or another Jewish college with a strong collection) would just sign on...
1 Yeshiva owns the nearest available copy of Charlotte Montefiore's Caleb Asher, one of the very few examples of a nineteenth-century Anglo-Jewish novel in the controversial mode, so I imagine that I will be trekking there relatively soon. Needless to say, Caleb Asher hasn't been made available in Google Books. (Neither has Anna Clay Beecher's Gwendolen, the "sequel" to Daniel Deronda, which I'd also like to read.)
I'm usually one of the last people on the block to adopt anything vaguely resembling new techology (cell phones, TiVOs, you name it...), but the grim thought of lugging all eight pounds of my desktop-replacement laptop onto a plane yet again prompted me to spend some ready cash on an Acer Aspire One. (Those eight pounds don't sound like much...until you try running for your connection at O'Hare.) Not coincidentally, this blog post is doubling as a test of the computer's internet connection/keyboard/screen. Thoughts so far:
The keyboard has a substantial feel to it, much better than the Asus EEE PC. The smaller size isn't too much of a problem, but I've purchased a full-size flexible keyboard in order to take care of word-processing business.
That being said, this trackpad is as annoying as everyone else has reported, especially because it's very easy to accidentally, well, track. I see a mini mouse somewhere in my very immediate future.
The screen, while small, has beautiful resolution; reading it is no problem. One does have to scroll a bit more. Still, this isn't going to be anyone's idea of a fulltime computer.
Boot time was very fast, at least as fast as my Inspiron. Download times on my DSL connection have also been fast, but I haven't tried the WiFi yet.
The audio is clear but tinny.
My goodness, this computer fits in my purse. (We're talking a normal purse, not Brenda Leigh Johnson's magical black purse from The Closer.)
Overall, this computer should do what I want it to do: serve as a notetaker when I'm hanging out in the Rare Books Room or as the Handy Internet Connection when I'm trekking around. I'm pleased.
In an article at Library Journal (via), Mark J. Ludwig and Margaret R. Wells praise Google Books for its ability to provide both full-text searching and content, noting that "while users do
need to watch out for the Google Books “doughnut hole,” i.e., the gap
between scanned material out of copyright and new born-digital books
fresh from publishers, materials in Google Books are far more visible
and accessible than those in the local catalog and our collections."
Quite understandably, they're concerned about Google Books' likely effect on a) smaller college libraries and b) the dissemination of academic monographs in general. But both this article and Merrilee Proffitt's useful response (which raises the question of copyright law) ignore the by-now thoroughly dead horse (in fact, I'm starting to think that it's a zombie, ready to munch on academic brains) that I've been beating for some time: Google Books is digitizing books badly. The scans can be blurry, distorted, or chopped in half--and scanning problems affect the search function. There are books missing their first page. There are books missing their last page. There are books missing random chunks of pages. There are books with pages in the wrong order. There are inconsistencies (are triple-deckers scanned as one volume? As three?). And, of course, there is the sheer and utter uselessness of snippet view. (I just suffered through yet another snippet view that landed me in the margin. You know, the blank space on the page.) From an academic POV, this lack of interest in anything resembling quality control is not a minor glitch or superficial inconvenience.
As I've said on more than one occasion, I'm completely enamored with the idea of Google Books, and I have found all sorts of potentially wonderful material by using it. But far too much of that potentially wonderful material remains just that--potentially wonderful.
One of the justifications for that infernal invention known as "snippet view" is that it allows researchers to identify a source and ILL it later. A relatively rare periodical, The Edinburgh Christian Instructor, happens to have a long book review that I would like to see. For reasons unbeknownst to me, the volume is available in snippet view only (despite being rather out of copyright, to say the least). After many valiant attempts at finding the beginning and end of the review, I made a (semi-) educated guess and, crossing my fingers, my toes, and my cats' toes, sent it off to our ILL office. Alas, my semi-educated guess may not have been educated enough, because...apparently, nobody can find either the right volume or the right page. Or what I think is the right volume or the right page, because, you know, I can't determine that from what GB has made available. I suppose I could always trek to Yale or to the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary...
As always, I have no objections in theory to GoogleBooks, which ought to be a terrific resource for academics in my underfunded situation. At times, it is a terrific resource. But the sloppy execution is very, very frustrating, and actively undermines GB's scholarly usefulness.