Founded in 1987, the Electronic Text Service was the country's first library department devoted exclusively to the collection and use of full-text materials in electronic (i.e., machine-readable) format focusing on the humanities and history. Although it has since been joined by a number of such centers at other institutions, it continues to aspire to a leadership role within the broader library community. As such, it seeks to build a collection reflecting as fully as possible the range of resources and tools available in this field even though not all of its collections have immediate user groups.
The specific role of the ETS within Columbia Libraries has evolved over time. Recently, for example, it was decided that while the ETS will remain interested in the acquisition and provision of ColumbiaNet full-text resources used for reading purposes, e.g., CIC Net Journals or electronic reserves, ETS, itself, will focus instead on the acquisition and delivery of full-text resources designed for research and analysis. ETS services range from helping researchers with simple reference searches for individual words and phrases to dissertation-length literary studies, from the production of concordances and lexicographic material to the creation of textual databases using in-house scanning and markup tools. Because of the machine-mediated character of its resources, service and training are equally critical components of its mission.
Humanities faculty and students (English and Comparative Literature, Classics, and other language and literature departments, History, Philosophy, and Religion) and researchers from a number of related interdisciplinary programs and institutes (e.g. Medieval Studies, or Women's Studies) are the main users of the ETS. Groups with clearly defined corpora of source material -- notably Classics, Medieval studies, Religion, and Philosophy have used the collection the most. Researchers from the Architecture, Fine Arts, Music, and East Asian Languages & Cultures departments generally look to their own departmental libraries to fulfill their electronic text needs. Graduate students and the faculty have up to now been the major users of the ETS because of the linguistic expertise and the relatively sophisticated point of view required for textual research. This is likely to change, however, as the English language holdings of the ETS increase, as instructors gain a greater sense of the potential of electronic teaching tools, and as ETS resources are delivered over the campus network. With these changes it is projected that undergraduate students will begin to use ETS resources to a much higher degree than in the past.
The ETS has its own budget to purchase both serial and non-serial databases. While funds from other libraries are occasionally used to purchase or jointly purchase databases, the basic policy is for ongoing acquisitions to be supported by funds allocated to the ETS.