The Digital Latin Library (DLL) will be a site on the Internet where people with varying levels of interest and expertise in Latin can find, read, discuss, study, teach, edit, and annotate Latin texts of all eras, whether for personal use or for open-access, peer-reviewed publication by one of the three learned societies affiliated with the project: the American Philological Association (APA), the Medieval Academy of America (MAA), and the Renaissance Society of America (RSA). Similar to a traditional public research library, the DLL will have a catalog, a variety of collections of texts and reference materials, and working space for both individuals and groups. Unlike a research library, it will also provide tools to facilitate the creation and publication of open, born-digital critical editions and other scholarly and pedagogical resources that take full advantage of powerful technologies and techniques such as Linked Open Data (LOD), information visualization, and visual data analysis, opening up new possibilities for the communication of scholarly ideas.
In the last year, with the support of a planning grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (AWMF), members of the APA, the MAA, and the RSA explored the possibility of creating a resource that would usher in a renaissance in scholarly editing and communication in all fields concerned with the Latin language. The group determined that it is not just feasible, but highly desirable to pursue an implementation grant to build a virtual, ubiquitous, sustainable, working space for scholars and readers of Latin texts.
The recent launch of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) has demonstrated the power of Linked Open Data in making information from disparate sources available through a single point of access. Instead of keeping copies of documents and files on its own servers, the DPLA provides ready access to collections in hundreds of other libraries all at the same time. Because those institutions already use commonly accepted standards for their data and metadata, the DPLA can harvest that information and make it available in a single, uniform interface.
The DLL aims to do for Latin what the DPLA has done for materials in public libraries across the United States: provide a single point of access to all Latin texts on the Internet, along with resources and a place for reading and working with them. A major challenge for the DLL is that the Latin projects already in existence do not have much in common other than that they are on the Internet. That is why the DLL working group devoted a significant amount of our planning phase to discussing and developing a metadata standard for describing authors and works in a way that addresses the unique challenges of ancient resources such as fragmentary texts, spurious works, florilegia, myriad anonymous authors, and the intricate relationships between manuscripts.
Since existing catalogs or catalogs in development (e.g., the Perseus Catalog, the Classical Works Knowledge Base) of Latin literature stop at the eighth century CE, a mission of the DLL will be to expand and extend the coverage to authors and texts through the middle ages and into the Renaissance. To that end, the DLL team will spearhead the effort to promote adoption of LOD and a common metadata standard on other sites so that we can approach our admittedly asymptotic goal of providing a single point of access to all Latin texts in existence.
But the DLL will be more than just a virtual card catalog; it will be a library in every sense of the word, with resources and support for the production of new scholarship and educational materials. Once users find the texts they want to read, they will be able either to visit the site that hosts it or, if the text is openly available and in a compatible format, to import it into a working space for use with the resources of the DLL. A number of interfaces will facilitate activities such as reading and annotating texts, either privately or in open collaboration with other users; textual analysis with grammatical, lexical, and search tools; visual analysis with highly interactive data navigation and dissection tools; and collaborative learning and scholarship.
The Library of Digital Latin Texts. Although some patrons will use the DLL’s space for private study or teaching, others will use it to produce new critical editions and submit them for publication to one or more of the learned societies affiliated with this project. These editions, published together as The Library of Digital Latin Texts, will gradually become not only the centerpiece of the DLL, but standard editions for scholarly use, since they will provide much more information about texts and their transmission than traditional print editions can. The Library of Digital Latin Texts will also provide a reliable model for peer-reviewed publication in the era of Open Access.
The Library of Digital Latin Texts is in many ways the boldest part of this entire project, since it will reimagine the critical edition for the digital age. The editorial techniques established over centuries of practice and scholarly debate will not be swept aside; rather, The Library of Digital Latin Texts will provide an outlet for realizing the full potential of those techniques, long hampered by the constraints of traditional print publication.
Until recently, none of the Latin texts available online had a critical apparatus, which meant they were of limited use to scholars. There are two main reasons for the absence of the critical apparatus: copyright protect and technical difficulty in displaying the information. To date, the sites that have presented an apparatus with their texts have more or less reproduced the format of a printed edition, leaving editorial information abbreviated and removed to the bottom or side of the page. In the case of a printed edition, this format makes economic sense: publishers are reluctant to sacrifice room on the page for something that only specialists will understand.
Free of those constraints, editions published in The Library of Digital Latin Texts will have an enhanced critical apparatus capable of far more than listing variants and conjectures. Editors will be able to explain in situ their arguments for or against certain readings, calling upon all of the resources of the web (e.g., descriptions and/or images of the manuscript in question) for support. Scholarly discussion of the editor’s decisions can occur in real time, instead of according to the timetables of the diverse outlets that publish textual notes and reviews. Because the entries will be in human- and machine-readable form (i.e., according to the standards of the Resource Description Framework), they will be readable and queryable by both humans and machines, which means that even the sophisticated word-searches that we have been able to perform with existing tools will pale by comparison, since the robust techniques of data analysis will finally become available to scholars of Latin texts. As more editions are added to The Library of Digital Latin Texts, its capabilities will increase, as will the possibilities for new avenues of research.
The commitment of the APA, MAA, and RSA to vet proposals for new editions and to provide peer review and editorial oversight through their respective research and publications divisions is the most exciting component of the project’s sustainability. In the past, organizations such as the APA entered into partnerships with commercial presses to print, bind, market, and distribute their scholarly resources. Such partnerships often involved the author and/or the author’s home institution paying subvention fees or other expenses associated with commercial ventures. The DLL eliminates those expenses. Scholars will produce editions and submit them to the appropriate learned society for review. The learned society will decide whether or not an edition is worthy of publication. Those deemed worthy will be published under the aegis of the learned society on the DLL in an openly accessible form, under a Creative Commons license. The entire process will preserve the time-honored elements of scholarly publication: independent scholarship, peer review, endorsement by an editorial board, and the widest distribution possible.
Samuel J. Huskey
APA Information Architect and DLL Project Director