From Library Journal today: Across the Reference Universe. An interview with Eric Calaluca, founder of Reference Universe, an Austin, Texas-based developer of library products that interconnect the indices in paper and online reference books. Says Calaluca:
In a nutshell, it aggregates article titles and complete back-of-the-book indexes to both electronic and print subject encyclopedias into a single online resource. The program also matches search results to each library’s own collection. It’s a very simple, powerful way to unlock the content of each library’s own specialized reference works. But there’s a basic financial, return-on-investment benefit for libraries here as well.
Why does this jangle the spurs of my inner library geek? Check out my ZD Net posting, Books: Entering the Age of Glosses, of a while back about the potential value in indexing services that link across editions—this is a solid step in the direction we need to go, so that readers can navigate between texts as they seek to understand what they are reading. This kind of thinking will only come from the librarian/academic world, until publishers recognize the value of “deep linking” to individual index items within their books—that is, right to the page and relevant quotation.
Here’s the relevant section of the ZD piece for your consideration, but there is more to it than this—it’s a short section of the book I’m working on:
Cross-referencing of information in books, though it sounds like the dry purview of librarians and indexers, is the foundation of the conversation that is literature. Writers make literal references to other works in the main text, footnotes, endnotes, indices and bibliographies. Without a master copy of a work against which electronic copies that might be arranged in thousands of different layouts based on the size of the screen or application window in which it is displayed, e-books become unreferenceable. They also defy the primary benefit of networked computing, the ability to hyperlink, to make logical connections between texts that can be navigated. Because the e-book exists alongside the printed book, and will for the foreseeable future, such referenceability needs to extend from digital to analog versions so that all literary, scientific and professional annotations can be followed across formats. Cryptography can be of help here, too.
But where the cryptographic tricks become magical is in the potential for layering different versions of books or different “glosses” created by previous readers one atop the other, for use and comparison by readers. Imagine, for example, being able to select annotations to Joyce’s Ulysses made by a leading Joyce scholar or, in my ideal scenario, Joyce’s own notes or those of another author deeply influenced by Joyce: being able to juggle the different notes, bookmarks, highlights and hyperlinks provided by multiple commentators is the facility cryptographic tools bring to a text, because they identify each “layer” of the book, keep them in a manageable order, and, in conversations, even lets the reader engage securely, privately, even anonymously with other readers over the network from within the pages they are reading—regardless of how the pages are reflowed from one device to another.