Electronic Text Service

A. Purpose and Program Description

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.

B. General Selection Guidelines (see classed analysis for detailed statement)

Overall, the ETS already has and continues to build a research level electronic text collection in most areas of the humanities whose focus is the text, and not images or sounds, which are left to the attention of the other Columbia Libraries established to meet the needs of those patrons.

ETS actively collects the following types of materials:

  • individual electronic texts or collections of electronic texts, which may or may not come bundled with software for searching and analysis;
  • a few specialized bibliographic tools, primarily of value to individuals involved in close textual research;
  • a variety of text-analysis software packages that may be used with texts in the ETS collection or with a personally-produced electronic text or texts;
  • a variety of multimedia and hyper textual reference, teaching, and research tools;
  • a selection of personal bibliographic software packages.

C. Specific Delimitations

  1. Breadth of Coverage. As a pioneer institution, the ETS has sought to acquire as broad as possible a selection of the full-text resources available for the fields and programs it serves. Coverage, however, has been uneven, reflecting the unevenness of publication over the range of humanistic fields. For example, while the ETS would like to acquire Slavic literary materials, since for all intents and purposes none have been produced, none are found in the collection.

  2. Languages Collected. Textual source materials in the original language are collected extensively. Translations are collected selectively.

  3. Academic Level. Academic research and teaching quality materials are collected extensively especially texts with good source documentation, a minimum of errors, and those which reflect the latest textual scholarship. Popular level materials are not been collected.

  4. Sources of Acquisition. The ETS in its early phases emphasized the collection of "published" materials -- ones produced for sale or lease by commercial and academic presses or by academic and scholarly institutions. Recently, however, it has begun selectively collecting public-domain privately produced texts, particularly those available from such reliable sources as the Oxford Text Archive. Eventually many of these texts will be marked up in-house for use on the campus network or microcomputer. Additionally, the ETS is preparing, through the acquisition of scanning equipment and OCR software, to work together with its patrons in the creation of textual resources for individual research and (where appropriate) for eventual inclusion in the ETS's collections.

  5. Hardware and Software. Since its inception, the great majority of ETS resources have tended to be stand-alone CD-ROM or floppy disk materials, accessible for on-site users only. Currently, however, with the acquisition of Pat/Lector software and the purchase of a number of magnetic-tape versions of and/or site licenses for some key software resources, the ETS is beginning to move toward network access to its resources, an arrangement which will enable users to use many ETS texts from remote locations. Patrons will still need to come to the ETS for training in the use of the software tools for their searching and/or to use some of the higher-end interfaces available for these resources.


While the ETS has as yet not entered into any formal cooperative agreements with other centers, increases in the amount of material now available and the lack of resources to buy it all point to the need for cooperation. Local and national alliances are being pursued.