May 4, 2005

Library's high-tech step into scholarly publishing

Sacramento State's University Library is about to enter the business of scholarly publishing. But rather than create books to fill library shelves, this press will publish "digitally" via the World Wide Web, a faster, more cost-effective way to disseminate academic resources to a worldwide audience. The press is the first of its kind within the CSU system.

Using off-the-shelf technology-cameras, scanners and computers, as well as software designed for archives and museums-one of the press's first projects will be to publish selections from the Tsakopoulos Hellenic Collection, an archive of rare Greek documents and artifacts that was donated to the Library by Sacramento developer and philanthropist Angelo Tsakopoulos. His gift included funding to enable the Library to create the digital press.

The collection represents the kinds of challenges the press was established to meet. Its documents and artifacts are significant to the comparatively small community of Hellenic scholars located throughout the world, a niche audience that doesn't always draw the attention of commercial scholarly publishers.

Freed from the physical and economic constraints of printing on paper, the press can make more of the collection available to scholars, while enabling them to search, download, e-mail and link to virtually any part of it-simple to do on a computer but much more difficult when information is only available in print.

The press is the brainchild of University Library Dean Terry Webb, who first envisioned creating a library-based digital press in 1995 while working at the University of Hawaii. Webb hoped to digitally publish a professor's collection of rare, never-before-published underground literature from the People's Republic of China of the late 1960s and 70s. Like the Tsakopoulos collection, the material had an academic audience that was too small and decentralized to merit commercial publication.

That project ultimately stalled, but not Webb's vision. When Webb came to work at Sacramento State in 2003, President Alexander Gonzalez liked his idea well enough to encourage him to submit a proposal for creating a digital press. Last fall the project was approved and the press was on its way. One of its next projects will be publication of that Chinese underground literature collection.

Thanks to cheaper computer technology and more widespread Internet use, digital presses are becoming more common, but Webb knows of few that are affiliated with a university library.

"Most of what libraries are doing is creating collections and posting new information on Web pages," Webb explains. "What's new about our academic press is that we're making a conscious effort to be selective and find the best resources to publish that support the curriculum at Sac State." Digital publication of the Tsakopoulos collection is expected to provide a valuable academic resource for Sacramento State's new Hellenic Studies Program.

Webb believes the press represents a step toward the transformation of libraries from information middlemen to information providers. "Libraries are very well-equipped to get into digital publishing, given librarians' familiarity with content and knowledge of digital equipment," Webb explains. "For our digital press, we plan to develop editorial boards to help us determine what publications would be good to produce and point us to worthwhile materials. We're not subject experts or editors, but we know how to organize information and we know important information when we see it. We can capitalize on that."


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