The Digital Library

Berkeley Magazine, Fall 1998

If you haven't been to the University Library lately, you may be in for a virtual shock.

Long gone are most of the card catalogs, replaced instead by computer terminals that house MELVYL and GLADIS -- online catalogs that search library holdings more thoroughly and efficiently.

Without leaving UC Berkeley, you now can locate books on other UC campuses. In addition to GLADIS's listings of nearly all of Berkeley's eight million volumes, MELVYL lists approximately 14 million library holdings at some 100 UC libraries.

As of last year, the catalogs are available via the World Wide Web and have all the power and flexibility of the Internet.

But the biggest change is the new library being built -- a digital library that can only be visited via computer.

Little by little, UC libraries are converting significant parts of their collections -- original manuscripts, photographs, sound recordings, maps and other primary source materials -- to digital format.

"Berkeley's digital library will result in a bigger, stronger, more accessible library for Cal -- and for the rest of the world," said David Farrell, Berkeley's associate university archivist.

And in early 1999, the UC's California Digital Library is scheduled to be formally unveiled. A collaborative library for the digital libraries forming on all nine campuses, it will offer widespread and equal access to the library treasures of the UC system. Berkeley is a major contributor to this project.

A leader at encoding and managing digital content, Berkeley already has put online 25,000 of its 2.5 million pictorial images. Other projects completed include the diary of a Donner Party survivor and the Bancroft Library's collection of the letters, manuscripts and out-of-print publications of Jack London.

"You could look at them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from your sabbatical in Florence," said Farrell. "There is an advantage to seeing the real thing, but one can start one's research online and get organized."

A digital library also helps preserve fragile, aging books, documents and photographs, he added.

In addition to putting its own collections online, Berkeley also has acquired commercial products, often in concert with the California Digital Library and the other campuses. Examples are an online version of Encyclopedia Britannica, which is regularly updated by Britannica's owners, and full text editions of journals that, in print, have subscription rates too pricey for many professors.

"When we only had Britannica on the shelf," said Farrell, "it was only available when the library was open. And even then, would it be there when you got there? What if the page you needed was ripped out?"

Critics of the library question the expense and usefulness of these digital products.

"But statistics show they're heavily used," said Farrell, "and cost per use is low. The Britannica is used by more people more often online than the print version, and Berkeley students and faculty are getting a current product.

And virtually everyone could be reading that product at the same time."

In truth, between three percent and five percent of the University Library's total collections budget for 1998-99 is designated for Berkeley's digital collections.

"This is quite a modest investment," said Farrell.

"Berkeley's research community needs first-class traditional resources and first-class digital resources," he added. "You can't choose one child over another."

Chancellor Berdahl agreed.

"It's not a matter of either/or," he said. "It's a matter of both/and."

Visit the University Library's website at to access the online catalogs, view library holdings and read about upcoming digitization projects.

by Gretchen Kell

Beat poetry

The Beat Generation brought poetry back to the streets.

see also:

Passion by the Cup

High Stakes

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Copyright 1998, Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.
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