Etext no more

The Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia Library, better known to myself and other alumni of the center as Etext, has gone the way of all flesh, kind of. The center’s page announces that its online contents are being migrated to the Digital Collections center of the Library, and that its functions will continue to be performed by the Scholars’ Lab.

It is, I suppose, inevitable. Once cutting edge, now the phrase “electronic text” sounds quaint. And fifteen years on, its original mission—to digitize content, to assist faculty and students with the use of computers in literary scholarship—has become mainstream. But there is something sad about its disappearance. It was there that I learned how to use the Web—we used an SGML compliant doctype for our texts that as I joined the Center were just in the process of being translated to HTML, since Mosaic had just come out. I learned about NeXT there, and Windows, and digitized a few texts along the way. In fact, I was also exposed to Starbucks there for the first time, as one of the staffers brought home some coffee (hi, Peter and Kelly!) from them in the days before their ubiquity.

More than anything, I think I was exposed to a conviction there that ubiquity of searchable access to cultural artifacts could change the world. I think that if I had encountered this attitude sooner, I might not have gone into consulting and the whole arc of my career would be different.

So, a virtual moment of silence for Etext. It served well. And here’s hoping that the appallingly slow performance on the Digital Collections site this morning is just a hiccup.