University of Michigan, TCP (Text Creation Partnership)
Char would have been disappointed by this talk, since he really didn't do a good job using Vader as a motif or trope.
He opened by discussing the typical binary dichotomy one finds in libraries/academia: open access is good, licensed is bad. In his opinion, the commercially published model is flawed and doomed since it is not sustainable. Similarly, grant-funded open access projects are doomed. Glorious, but doomed. TCP strives to find a middle ground, where vendors work together with academic institutions to create the underlying textual objects in their products, such as EEBO, ECCO, Evans, etc.
He notes that universities that participate in TCP own the text, and it becomes in practice public domain. Eventually, they will or may distribute these beyond their campuses (this is where my skeptical gland began to inflame). TCP also works with scholars in ways that vendors cannot, and he finds that to be an essential role of projects such as the TCP.
His conclusions were as follows:
- No scholarly project will ever match the size of a commercial database
- No commercial database will ever have the scholarly input of an institutional project
- Commercial databases serve their purpose well
- Sustainability requires
- Range of material
- Standardized workflows
- Willingness to accept compromises
- Stomach for expensive undertakings
- Non-traditional collaboration
It's hard to quibble with most of these, but I think many people at Access would disagree with his first point. The irony resulting from the fact that his talk was adjacent to an update on the AlouetteCanada project, which has no commercial partner yet aims to be a massive and unprecedented archive of Canadiana and Canadian history, was quite rich. A common thread in many talks at Access is building large, sustainable archives that depend on a community of scholars and IT professionals.
For me, the weak spots in his argument come when he mentions products such as EEBO, ECCO, and Evans. Sure, we have EEBO, as do many, but it costs chump change compared to ECCO, and Gale has other products in development that may make ECCO look like a bargain rack tool. The fact is that products like this are financially accessible for, at best, 5% of the institutions in North America. If you're in that 5%, as is Michigan, it's high times. But for the other 95%, we just fall further and further behind in terms of giving our users the same advantages they find at a Michigan or Stanford.
Moreover, when he points out that the works generated by TCP go into the public domain and that the TCP partners may eventually choose to show those to the world, I have to question if this is really the case. Why would a school that can afford ECCO invest effort and money into creating an interface and tool for texts they can already access via the commercial product? Where's the motivation? Sure, they could just put the texts out there and let the 95% develop a product, but really, that's yet to be shown to be viable.
Surprisingly, his talk elicited no questions from the audience. I would have posed mine, but I expected a lot of questions so kept my hand down. Then they called time, and that was that. From conversations I had later that day, many in the audience shared my concerns.