Duncan Pemberton and David Nichols provide an overview of the DEBORA (Digital Access to Books of the Renaissance) project, part of the Telematics for Libraries programme. The project aims to investigate the costs involved in the "chain of production" during the creation of electronic versions of rare 16th century books. The project's scope allows for exploration into the construction of an interactive document delivery system based on the Java2 software platform that allows collaborative functionality (to support groups of users) to be added to the client. Extensive usability trials will be undertaken looking at the presentation of digitised books to a cross-section of history scholars (being the intended end users of the system).
The DEBORA (Digital accEss to BOoks of the RenAissance) Project  is funded by the EU Telematics for Libraries programme (project no. 5608) . The aim is to provide public access to rare 16th Century literary resources, currently inaccessible for reasons of preservation, and in doing so to:
To fulfil these general aims the project consists of a number of interconnected threads of work:
The digitised document collection will consist of a number of specially selected 16th Century books chosen to appeal to a wide-ranging and diverse audience. Due to the need for conservation, the original printed works are normally only available for consultation to a small number of experts. Having electronic versions of books available that were often previously physically stored in separate countries throughout Europe aids availability whilst also greatly increasing reader access to such important and sometimes under-utilised resources. The DEBORA project therefore brings these valuable documents to a wider audience through Internet based technologies. As a side effect we can also provide supplementary "value added functionality" to aid user work processes during document access.
At Lancaster we are primarily involved in the specification and production of a demonstration application (called the access client) that facilitates electronic document access. Along with our project partners, who oversee the scanning process and document storage server, the technical side of the project aims to produce a feature rich, fully functional and scaleable digital library solution. Eventually the final prototype will be deployed in a number of user trials at the various DEBORA library test sites.
Previously, without electronic intervention, such a scenario would be impossible to achieve due to the fragile nature of the documents, and the expense and inconvenience of travel to the libraries where these documents are stored. The delicate nature of the source material poses many problems for the digitisation process itself. Our project partners will examine these production issues and methods in detail. Their work will therefore involve looking into OCR technologies, image extraction and page enhancement technologies, whilst optimising the digitisation process to make it feasible to automate the procedure so that a large number of works can be rapidly and cost effectively produced. Of course the wider the appeal of the corpus the increased interest from potential users, therefore our project partners have undertaken a careful selection process to maximise potential user group interest in the project. The selected corpus of works from our partner libraries includes:
Digital library (DL) software should contain all the services that are provided in traditional libraries. In addition to these services a DL should also provide greater convenience to the user. This means fully exploiting the advantages brought about through using digital technology. We can enhance the users' experience of the digital library providing services that traditionally are not easily possible from paper based media. For example, image enhancement, and page zoom (magnification) to examine fine-detail, etc. It remains to be seen to what extent the target system users (i.e. historians) will accept electronic versions of documents.
The client access application will contain a number of CSCW features that are fully integrated into the viewing software to expand the useful functionality available to the user. Such functionality will be incorporated into the reading section of the tool with the basic aim of simplifying the user's work processes involved in accessing, and searching information contained in the digital library. We therefore aim to prototype some novel cooperative work functionality  designed to enhance the experience of reading renaissance documents in an on-line scenario. This work builds on the work previously done at Lancaster on the Ariadne project  and .
We also note that uncontrolled addition of functionality can lead to an overhead on the usability of software. We therefore intend to apply a rapid multi-iteration prototyping based software process to the client's development. This will help to ensure that we achieve the fine balance between functionality and ease of use by targeting and tailoring functionality to specific user requirements, and requests.
|Figure 1: An Early Pre-Release Prototype Of The DEBORA Client Application
(Note: click on image to view enlarged copy)
Included in the software (an early version of which can be seen in Figure 1) will be a rich number of annotation tools. For example, annotation areas can be added to pages with "ToolTip" [footnote 1] based annotation displays within the DEBORA client page viewer. This allows users to quickly view their annotations without having to leave the page that they are currently studying. We also aim to make these annotation methods as non-invasive on the page as possible to avoid interfering in the user's view of the page contents. Highlighting tools are also available to mark documents for further reference. Document annotations, and bookmarks may be shared with others or kept private depending upon their intended use and scope. In a DL users can initiate the addition of content in a variety of different ways and with different audiences . Within DEBORA we intend to use the client software to explore the issues surrounding annotation in DLs.
Furthermore, we intend to introduce tools that will allow the documents to be studied in fine detail without loss of image quality. Prototype image display preference controls are therefore available to allow the user to set their preferred contrast and brightness of the displayed image. A dynamic filter is available for image sharpening to improve crispness at extreme magnification factors. These controls can also help to correct badly scanned images.
The features of the DEBORA client application fall into a number of distinct categories of functionality:
This functionality has been built into a single MDI [footnote 2] style user interface that allows easy access to all client features in an intuitive manner for reasonably competent computer users. As the software is built in Java  the client binary is also functional without change across many computing platforms. The functionality of the client is summarised in detail in the following section.
The DEBORA client will therefore look at a number of key technology areas including:
Wherever possible we intend to make use of defined standards during the building of the associated software system. This can be initially seen in our adoption of Z39.50 for search, query-response and document retrieval. Our French project partners at the University of Lyon are currently investigating the extension of the MARC  metadata standard to accommodate the requirements of cataloguing books of the 16th Century.
DEBORA is co-ordinated from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Sciences de L'information et des Bibliothèques (ENSSIB) in Lyon, France. The partners involved in the DEBORA project reflect the international nature of creating such a digital library system. The DEBORA client software will be evaluated across a number of international test sites. Feedback from the initial user trails will help to evolve the prototype to meet user requirements. Consequently the functionality outlined in this article will evolve alongside our greater understanding of user needs.
Details of the project partners and test sites are available on the DEBORA web site at Lancaster .
The DEBORA project aims to make rare 16th century books available to a wide range of users. By constructing the software and implementing a defined production chain for digital documents we aim to examine the time and cost constraints, and hence the feasibility of such an approach for constructing a large rare document digital library. The use of cutting-edge software and imaging technology will be investigated to back up the digital library construction process. User trials for novel CSCW based functionality will help improve and evaluate the software provided for the system.
If you have any comments on this article, please contact the editors (firstname.lastname@example.org), or the report authors (email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org).
Duncan Pemberton and David Nichols
Cooperative Systems Engineering Group
Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Duncan Pemberton, Research Associate on the DEBORA project in the Department of Computing at Lancaster University, U.K., responsible for technical software development of the DEBORA Java client, and server integration.
Dr. David Nichols, Research associate & teaching fellow, working on the DEBORA project in the Computing Department, Lancaster University.
For citation purposes:
Pemberton, D. and Nichols, D., "DEBORA - Digital Access to Books of the Renaissance", Exploit Interactive, issue 3, October 1999.
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