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Volume 56 / Humanities

ELECTRONIC RESOURCES


PETER T. JOHNSON, Bibliographer for Latin America, Spain, and Portugal, Princeton University
FRANCISCO J. FONSECA, Assistant to the Bibliographer for Latin America, Spain, and Portugal, Princeton University


THE SECTION ON ELECTRONIC RESOURCES consists of two parts: the first covers electronically formatted sources accessible on CD-ROM or diskette, and the second part covers materials accessible through the Internet. Bibliographical, reference, and subject-specific titles appear in the two sections. Given the interdisciplinary nature of research, some social science works with content useful to the humanities and history are cited.

During the past three years, the volume of electronically formatted information being produced in Latin America grew tremendously; and perhaps more significantly, access to such information became more widespread throughout the region. Certainly the lowering of costs for cutting CDROMs and the growing access to computers throughout Latin America contributed to this trend. Recognition and acceptance of electronic resources in higher education, as well as in the workplace, suggest that the coming years will witness even greater quantities of electronic information. Most of these materials continue to be bibliographic and statistical databases in multimedia format. The digitization of full texts is still quite rare, largely due to the substantial costs of software, text preparation, and the scanning itself. The limited commercial market also influences the choice of materials to be made available. Currently, the majority of CD-ROMs and web sites that describe their materials as full text offer scanned page images; less expensive to produce, these images are also less useful as they do not allow keyword or fixed-field vocabulary searching. Latin American equivalents of JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org/) or the University of Michigan's Digital Library Project (http://www.si.umich.edu/UMDL/) have yet to be created.

Bibliographic resources emerged early on as favored materials to offer on CD-ROM or on diskette. This continues to be true, though libraries are increasingly providing on-line access to their public catalogs via the Internet. Specialized documentation centers operating in the public and private sectors also offer their catalogs or subject bibliographies in electronic format. Bookdealers in Spain, Argentina, Mexico, and the US have created their own databases, most of which provide a listing of in-print books and serials of interest to the academic world.

A notable trend in the world of electronic information is the increased access to full-text documents, first with single serial titles, and now with thematic collections of out-of print books, government documents, and pamphlets. The most important of these initiatives is DIGIBIS, Publicaciones Digitales from the Fundación Histórica Tavera in Spain (http://www.digibis.com/). Now focused on bringing to a broader readership the fundamental or "classic" texts that heretofore were found only in large research libraries, DIGIBIS offers nine series ranging from primary sources written in the colonial period to legal materials, along with works devoted to indigenous issues, thematic histories, and linguistics. This important advance in access to scarce texts offers images rather than full-text searchable capacity. Some limited indexing of contents does allow for more efficient searching.

Accounting for a small amount of the total output is the mixed media CD-ROM designed for didactic purposes, but with some utility for scholarly research. These works tend to offer limited bibliographic information, emphasize fragments of texts, or create their own secondary text to link together illustrated matter and sound recordings. These CD-ROMs occasionally provide access to photographic archives and motion picture clips that otherwise are extremely difficult to obtain. Judging from the range of such works currently on the market, far greater attention to scholarly interests is necessary before such products can be considered useful for more than introductory purposes.

Technological constraints are a continuing problem with all of these electronic materials. Often difficult to install, or operating with software now considered obsolete, CD-ROMs and diskettes all too frequently are not compatible with current technology. Built-in expiration dates also can be troublesome. Eventually such flaws in design and writing will diminish, but until then, information in this format, like other forms of publishing, offers a wide range of quality.


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