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Volume 56 / Humanities

ELECTRONIC RESOURCES


PETER T. JOHNSON, Bibliographer for Latin America, Spain, and Portugal, Princeton University
MOLLY MOLLOY, Assistant Professor, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces
FRANCISCO J. FONSECA, Assistant to the Bibliographer for Latin America, Spain, and Portugal, Princeton University


THIS SECTION OFFERS a highly selective listing of electronic resources available on CD-ROM, diskette, or through the Internet. Materials included here cover the humanities; some are exclusively Latin American in content, while others have significant portions devoted to Latin America. Consultation of HLAS 54, pp. 3-22, and HLAS 55, pp. 1-12, will yield additional citations appropriate for many humanities topics. Given the dynamic qualities involved in developing and marketing electronic resources, researchers are advised to identify different strategies for keeping abreast of the various forms in which electronic information appears. Increasingly, such resources receive notice in scholarly and professional journals and many are also displayed in "live" interactive demonstrations at national and international conferences. In addition, libraries customarily provide links on their Internet home pages to various electronic resources, some of which are accessible only through a password due to licensing agreement restrictions. The Research Libraries Information Network or RLIN's subscription-based electronic resources file (Machine-Readable Data File or MDF) reveals many general as well as highly specialized resources, an indication of the continuing electronic publishing boom. As new resources are developed, many are made available at the better-funded university and research libraries.

By providing ready access to vast amounts of information, the development of electronic resources is rapidly changing research possibilities. As with print information, identifying and searching appropriate resources requires knowledge and tenacity because of the considerable range of quality and user friendliness demonstrated by these products. Developing and maintaining basic searching skills is indispensable as software changes, data is reconfigured, and availability and access methods evolve. Above all, the ability to mediate between print and electronic resources remains paramount, for not all materials of current or historical importance are accessible exclusively from electronic resources. Furthermore, economic realities suggest that certain areas of the humanities, including most of its important texts, will not be electronically available for many years to come. This is not to diminish the valuable contributions that the electronic resources cited below have made and continue to make to Latin American area research. Indeed, these resources signal the creative strength and vigor of many countries' public and private sectors, all working to provide improved access to information, thereby enhancing research prospects. [PTJ and FF]


CD-ROM AND DISKETTE RESOURCES

For inclusion in this subsection, a title must provide qualitatively important material as well as easy access from initial installation through actual use. Some titles reviewed achieved the first standard, but proved nearly impossible to install or use because of product or software design defects; these titles the contributing editors chose to exclude. The process of reviewing titles for over a year revealed certain patterns worth remembering as these formats gain increasing application. Specialized databases extend broadly across the humanities. At one level are national book publisher association trade lists formatted into a kind of Books in Print. Book dealers also are beginning to offer access to their bibliographic files; these generally are more complete than the publishers' trade listings because they include government documents and non-commercial imprints. While originally intended as marketing tools for books and serials, these products may provide annotations and other information about the publisher or author, while their selectivity and scholarly focus provide added value.

Libraries' general and specialized catalogs are increasingly being placed on CD-ROMs and often are concurrently accessible through the Internet. Because of the need to acquire updated CD-ROMs to maintain currency with new accessions, bibliographic databases of this type are best used through the Internet whenever available. Among the more specialized databases appearing are those providing access to dissertations and theses, special collections, and library holdings for a specific time period, such as the Epistolario (item bi 98003846), which contains the Nicolás Guillén epistolary in the Fondos de la Biblioteca Fernando Ortiz.

Serials in different configurations now figure commonly among the bibliographic materials available on CD-ROMs and diskettes. Ranging from the complete texts of an entire collection of a serial title, to just indexes for one or more serials, resources of this kind can be expected to multiply rapidly in the coming years. As more serial titles become accessible electronically, either through online services or as single stand-alone databases, greater use of these resources will occur, provided that search engines are appropriate and user instructions uncomplicated. Nonetheless, for a variety of economic and technological reasons, the digitization of many major Latin American humanities titles, regardless of whether or not they are still actively being published, will not occur for some time.

Increasingly, electronic resources are taking advantage of the ability to combine images and written text, as does Cultura cubana from Cuba's Biblioteca Nacional José Martí (item bi 98003841). Useful for didactic purposes as well as for research, such databases advance access to scarce or unique resources while contextualizing them through provision of bibliographies and explanatory texts. Such resources allow the creation of interactive works based upon the combination of moving images, sound clips, text, and user-controlled, non-linear navigation.

Researchers should be aware that access to electronic resources held by libraries other than one's own can be difficult, in part because many interlibrary loan departments do not handle such materials due to licensing agreement restrictions. The problem of accessing and/or sharing electronic resources is sometimes compounded by incompatible system requirements and/or peculiar installation procedures. Difficulties such as these led us to request assistance from our colleagues at several different institutions so that we might have a more representative sampling of current electronic materials. We are grateful to Paul Bary of Tulane University, Nicolás Rossi of Libros Argentinos, Mark. L. Grover of Brigham Young University, and Katherine D. McCann of the Library of Congress for their assistance in reviewing materials that were unavailable to us at the Princeton University Library. In such cases, we have included the reviewer's initials at the end of the annotation. [PTJ and FF]


INTERNET RESOURCES

I first began to compile lists of Latin American Internet resources in 1993. In the intervening 5 years, the quantity of information products and modes of access have exploded. Recent surveys suggest that the number of Internet hosts increases by about 50% per year.(ENDNOTE 1) It is tricky to compile valid Internet statistics, but the effort to count "hosts" and estimate the actual number of users based on that figure has been taking place since the early 1980s, so there is at least some consistency in the process. Network Wizards defines a "host" as a computer system connected to the Internet, either full or part-time, via direct or dialup connections. Yet a single host may also provide Internet access to a large number of individual users.(ENDNOTE 2) Given its structure, it is best to describe Internet growth in terms of trends, rather than absolute numbers.

As in most of the world, in Latin America the Internet evolved from a restricted academic/research network subsidized by universities, governments, and international agencies, to a broad-based network open to businesses as well as to individuals able to afford access through a commercial provider. The Jan. 1998 Network Wizards Domain Survey, which attempts to discover every host on the Internet by doing a complete search of the Domain Name System, reports about 29.7 million hosts worldwide; the commercial sector (the ".com" domain) outnumbers all others, with 8.2 million hosts. According to the International Telecommunications Union, the US and Canada account for about 66% of the world's Internet users while Latin America and the Caribbean account for only about 1 percent.(ENDNOTE 3) Nonetheless, Latin America has shown some of the fastest rates of Internet growth since 1994. In fact, by the end of 1996, nearly all Latin American and Caribbean countries had established Internet connections.

The tremendous expansion of Internet access in Latin America provides new opportunities for south-north and south-south information transfers, although it will take time for this new communication potential to be realized. Yet Internet enthusiasts, especially those from technical and business fields, are often unaware of the huge gaps in economics and education that must be bridged in order to integrate networking into peoples' everyday lives. Even in the privileged world of North American academia, many scholars in the humanities and social sciences do not have access to the equipment, software, and specialized training required to become full participants in the "Internet culture." This situation is even more acute in Latin America, where there are greater economic disparities between public and private educational sectors. Furthermore, as researchers in the region overcome technological obstacles to electronic information access and networking, the human and organizational difficulties of working in a new kind of information culture become apparent. Language is another important factor that currently hinders full Internet participation and development in Latin America: English is by far the dominant language on the Internet, and non-English-speakers may question whether the net has anything to offer them. This situation can change, but it will require that Internet users in Latin America create their own unique information resources rather than simply adopt the commercial products offered by North American and European companies.

Many pioneering networking efforts by NGOs and others in the non-profit sector in Latin America have been fueled by international development and research funds and outside expertise. To make access a reality for significant numbers of people in the region, governments must make major commitments to the development of their telecommunications infrastructure. This is currently happening through privatization, rather than public-sector investment, and the benefits of Internet development are thus accruing to the business classes, but not to those in the public-education, labor, or grassroots sectors. As commercial use of the Internet expands, it becomes harder to maintain the proportion of online space available to educational, non-profit, local, and independent information providers, especially in less-developed regions such as Latin America. To date, the Internet has done little to alleviate basic economic inequalities in Latin America or elsewhere and this situation will doubtless continue into the near future.

When I began using the Internet in 1990, I found that it could provide access to certain information not readily available from traditional published sources. For Latin Americanists, the Internet now serves as a welcome tool to access current and detailed information from the region. Since 1995, it has been possible to read current news from major media in many Latin American countries. Even before traditional published sources appeared on the Internet, scholars, activists, journalists, and others were creating and disseminating unique information from and about the region to the rest of the world. As established bibliographic, reference, and news sources create online sites, the potential for information exchange grows exponentially. For example, although both HLAS and the Hispanic American Periodicals Index (HAPI) have been accessible online and/or on CD-ROM (items bi 98003851 and bi 98003849) for several years, their advent onto the World Wide Web (items bi 98003626 and bi 98003627) has the potential to greatly expand access for Latin American researchers. As the Internet becomes more available to academics in Latin America, bibliographic research tools like HLAS and HAPI will be used for the first time by many in the region. In my recent experience providing Internet training to Latin American academics, I learned that many of the region's researchers are unaware of the kinds of research databases and bibliographic tools traditionally available in US academic libraries. Latin American scholars are often surprised to find that their articles and books are cited in databases such as HAPI and HLAS, and that their books are more likely to be held by US libraries than by those of their own regional universities.

The primary value of the Internet has been and still is communication. The Internet is a "network of networks" of people keeping each other informed of events and sharing information to solve problems, to publicize situations requiring action, and to facilitate the creation of new knowledge. The Internet can create communities of affinity without geographic limitations by providing the space and the means whereby vast amounts of current information can be accessed and manipulated quickly across great distances. The Internet can provide gigabytes of information on the latest hot story, but its value as an archival resource for future researchers remains more potential than real. The current challenge for librarians and scholars is to assist in the evolution of the Internet from a communications tool into a functioning virtual library.

Since the advent of the World Wide Web, the hypertext capabilities of the Internet have made it possible for each person to chart an individual path through the available information, "jumping" electronically to the highlighted connections that make sense to them for a particular inquiry. Nevertheless, the web has not lived up to its popular image as a virtual library. The Internet does not (yet?) provide the kind of controlled subject access and the bibliographic or inventory control that exists in a research library. In the past three years, however, the combined effect of automated search engines and human-organized subject guides and indexes have made it much easier to find specific information on the Internet. Another recent and significant development for academic researchers is the availability of bibliographic, statistical, and full-text databases via the web. Many high-quality information products - the Handbook of Latin American Studies is a prime example - now exist in multiple formats (print, CD-ROM, and web) and are accessible to large numbers of users outside of major research libraries in the US and Europe.

The sites described below represent a very selective list of Internet resources of use to Latin American humanities researchers. I often use the modern English fable of the "Blind Men and the Elephant" as a metaphor for the Internet.(ENDNOTE 4) Each person who ventures onto the Internet with an information need will have a unique experience colored by how he approaches the Internet, where he happens to look, and/or by what previous knowledge and experience he brings to the search. Each person will thus form an individual and incomplete perception of the Internet. My selections of sites for this article are informed by years of experience as an academic librarian and my own curiosity about the development of the Internet as a research tool. The following are some questions I considered when choosing Internet resources to highlight for Latin American humanities researchers: 1) Is it functional? Does it do what it says it does? Do I use it? Does it work for me? Have others reported successfully using the resource? 2) Is it unique? Does it provide information not available elsewhere, or does it compile and present the information in a way that makes it uniquely useful? 3) Is it representative? I have tried to include at least one Internet resource representing each of the major subject areas covered in the HLAS humanities volume.

I have organized the Internet resources reviewed below into the following categories: 1) Directories and Organizational Sites; 2) Database Sites; and 3) Subject Specific Sites. These categories are not mutually exclusive and because of the hypertext nature of the web, almost all sites provide links to other sites. Directories and Organizational Sites exist for the main purpose of organizing and providing links to large numbers of other Internet sites in particular subject areas. Some of these sites have already been described in previous issues of HLAS, but my focus here will be to highlight their value to humanities scholars. Also, the sheer volume of Internet information, especially web-based resources, has increased dramatically in the past 2 years, so these sites include many new links and features. I have selected the directory sites with the most academic content, but there are also many commercial Latin American directories available, such as Directorio GlobalNet [http://www.dirglobal.net/] and Mundo Latino [http://www.mundolatino.org]. An extensive list of Latin American directories and search engines can be found on the University of Texas at Austin's LANIC Search page [http://www.lanic.utexas.edu/world/search/].

The resources listed under Database Sites provide access to organized, electronically searchable bodies of data useful for Latin American humanities research. They may provide full-text articles, statistical information, or bibliographic citations. Most academic libraries have access to scholarly humanities databases that include significant Latin American content. The Modern Language Association's MLA Bibliography, for example, includes bibliographic citations to materials in linguistics, literary criticism, folklore, theatre and related subjects, and is now available in print, CD-ROM (item bi 98003852) and on the web via OCLC's Firstsearch. When discussing "web resources," it is important to distinguish between public domain databases, which do not charge for access, and proprietary databases, which require subscription fees and provide Internet access via passwords or some other validation process. For more Internet-accessible databases, see the "Databases" section of my guide to "Internet Resources for Latin America" (item bi 98003584, or see http://lib.nmsu.edu/subject/bord/laguia/index.html#data). In the section below on Subject-Specific Sites I have included Internet resources grouped according to the subject areas covered in the humanities volumes of the HLAS: Art, History, Literature, Music, and Philosophy. Although I cannot claim that these are the best, and they are certainly not the only sites on the Internet for these topics, I have included them as representative samples of the kinds of information available on the Internet of potential use to humanities researchers.

I will offer the reader a general caveat regarding the search for and use of Internet resources. Each researcher should be curious and willing to spend some time exploring and critically evaluating what they find. New resources appear daily. Many are the work of individual scholars and may be buried in the departmental pages of a university or research center but have extraordinary value to others working in the same field, while others may be heavily promoted in directories and indexes but offer only very superficial treatment of a topic. In some cases, Internet sites might be most valuable as primary research materials, for example, the texts of Zapatista Communiques, 1994-1998, archived on the Ya Basta! website [http://www.ezln.org/].

The Internet information included here is accurate as of Feb. 1998. Although the site's stability was a consideration for its inclusion, the mercurial nature of the Internet guarantees that addresses may change, sites may disappear or move, and new sites will continue to be added. [MM]


NOTES:

1. Glave, James. "Dramatic Internet Growth Continues," in Wired News [online], Feb 16, 1998, http://www.wired.com/news/news/technology/story/10323.html.

2. For more information on how Internet growth is measured, see Network Wizards Internet Domain Survey, http://www.nw.com/zone/WWW/top.html; and, Press, Larry. "Tracking the Global Diffusion of the Internet," in Association for Computing Machinery. Communications of the ACM, Vol. 40, No. 11, Nov. 1997, pp. 11-17. A Latin American source for Internet statistics is Nodos y Servidores WWW de América Latina y el Caribe, compiled by the Costa Rican National Research Network, http://www.cr/latstat/.

3. Capdevila, Gustavo. "Liberalization of Information Sector Excludes South," in Inter Press Service, Sept. 30, 1997 [retrieved online via Global NewsBank, Feb. 26, 1998].

4. See "Groping for Our Piece of the Elephant: Latin American Information on the Internet," in Technology, the Environment, and Social Change: Papers of the 38th Annual Meeting of the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM), edited by Pat Noble. Albuquerque: SALALM Secretariat, 1995, pp. 193-209.


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