September 14, 2005

REMINDER: Digital Library Lecture Series begins on Thursday, 9/15

On Thursday, September 15, 1:30-3:30 PM, we are launching the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Kelvin Smith Library with the first of a year-long series of digital library lectures. The first lecturer is John Unsworth, Dean of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he holds appointments as professor in GSLIS, in the department of English, and on the library faculty. From 1993-2003, he served as the first Director of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, and as a faculty member in the English Department, at the University of Virginia. In 1990 at North Carolina State University, he co-founded the first peer-reviewed electronic journal in the humanities, Postmodern Culture. Prof. Unsworth's lecture title is "The value of digitization for libraries and humanities scholarship."

The lecture will take place in the Dampeer Room of Kelvin Smith Library and is free and open to all.

For further information about the KSL Digital Library Lecture Series visit

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May 11, 2005

Samuel Johnson's Dictionary Celebrates 250 Years

Here is an interesting article in The New Republic about Samuel Johnson's great Dictionary of the English Language, which is this year celebrating the two hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of its publication. The article's author, Ilan Stavans, is a Mexican immigrant and non-native English speaker; his comments on Doctor Johnson's magnum opus are fascinating.

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April 22, 2005

An Interesting Article About the Problems of Digitizing

I am currently pushing on my colleagues at the library a very interesting article by Richard Preston that appeared in the April 11, 2005, issue of The New Yorker about the digitization of "The Hunt of the Unicorn" tapestries from about 1500 that hang in The Cloisters, the branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that displays medieval art.

In the process of restoring the tapestries, the museum decided to digitize them, both front and back, so that there would be a permanent digital record preserved in case a catastrophe caused the destruction of the artifacts themselves. The museum hired very reputable consultants and photographers to make very high resolution images of the tapestries. The images were made in segments, with the idea that they could be "stitched together" into a seamless single image using Adobe Photoshop software. But when the museum staff tried to do so, they found that the images were far too large (filling more than two hundred data CDs) and complex to manage.

The museum then turned to two mathematician brothers, Gregory and David Chudnovsky. The brothers are number theorists and built their own supercomputer out of mail order parts. Their previous claim to fame had been to using their homemade supercomputer to calculate the humber pi to beyond two billion decimal places. The brothers thought that assembling the images would be a piece of cake.

But when they made their first attempt, it failed, and the Chudnovskys had no idea why. Upon further investigation about the process used to digitize the tapestries, it was discovered that they had changed shape very subtly while lying on the conservation lab floor being photographed. The Chudnovskys realized that they were working with an image of a three-dimensional structure. This required the brothers that they would need to recalculate every pixel of every image in order to make the image of the tapestries and to correct for subtle differences in color that had occurred during digitization. It was a series of computations, taking three months with their supercomputer, comparable to that of DNA sequencing. After the computations were completed, the final assembly of the first image took twenty-four hours of supercomputer time.

At the end of the article, Richard Preston, the author, describes revisiting the restored and re-hung tapestries at The Cloisters. Despite the phenomenal technological feats that had been used to create the digital image, the real things were still vastly superior, "full of velvety pools and shimmering surfaces, alive with color and detail. ... In comparison, the digital images, good and accurate as they were, had seemed flat. They had not captured the translucent landscape of the Unicorn tapestries."

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March 23, 2005

Stanley Sadie, musical scholar and editor of the New Grove, dies

Today's New York Times reports that Stanley Sadie, British musicologist and editor died on Monday, March 21, in London at the age of 74. Although he had a wide-ranging career as a music history scholar, Sadie will be most remembered as the general editor of the last two editions of the monumental New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. (The Case community has free access to the online version of New Grove from campus network computers or using VPN. This access is provided by the Kulas Music Library, a branch of KSL, and the Cleveland Institute of Music Library.)

As the New Grove's editor Stanley Sadie presided over the transition of this authoritative source from first a 20-volume set (in its 1980 edition) to 29 printed volumes and a constantly updated online version in 2001. He also knew the gold mine of data he was presiding over and expanded the the New Grove's range of activity to a large number of separately-published composer and musical topic monographs, by many of the leading scholars of the day. He also established more in-depth special dictionaries (one for opera; others for musical instruments and American music).

Stanley Sadie's final two books will be published in May and December this year.

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March 07, 2005

English Accents at the British Library

Yesterday NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday program featured a story about the British Library's collection of digitized audio recordings following the transformations of English accents over the twentieth century. This is an excellent example of how a digital library can enhance scholarship and entertain as well. Scroll down the page and listen to the sample of the lady from Yorkshire describing baking bread.

The BL's dialect web site introduction describes it as follows:

All languages change over time and vary according to place and social domain, as is perfectly illustrated by these extracts taken from two large audio resources held in the British Library Sound Archive: the Survey of English Dialects and the Millennium Memory Bank. Together, they provide a fascinating overview of spoken English during the second half of the 20th century. Its rich diversity documents both continuity and change, offering many insights into local history and the fabric of social and working lives.

The NPR feature is here.

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