By KRISTIN KNAUTH
Ancient China came to life in a dazzling digital display for about 200 attendees at "World Culture and Heritage in the Coming Digital Environment," a presentation by Ching-chih Chen in the Library's Mumford Room on April 4.
Dr. Chen, author and editor of 26 books and more than 100 articles, demonstrated her pioneering multimedia CD-ROM, "The First Emperor of China." Later the program shifted to the National Digital Library Visitors' Center, where Dr. Chen demonstrated the Global Digital Libraries project, a prototype World Wide Web homepage she has created to show the potential for national libraries, museums, archives and other information repositories to share their digital resources worldwide over the Internet.
The presentation was co-sponsored by the Library's Asian American Association and the National Digital Library Program.
"The First Emperor of China" is about Qin Shi Huang Di (emperor 221-206 B.C.), whose accomplishments included completing the Great Wall, unifying China and standardizing Chinese writing and laws.
In 1974 Qin Shi Huang Di became famous for another reason: Peasants digging a well in Xian Province discovered the first of 7,000 life-size terra cotta warriors and horses buried underground near the emperor's tomb. Remarkably, each figure was modeled after a real- life soldier, resulting in an astonishing array of facial characteristics, hairstyles, costumes and weapons.
"The First Emperor of China" consolidates a wealth of information about the Xian archaeological find into a multimedia CD-ROM , incorporating video footage of the excavation, photographs of the terra cotta figures, a bilingual English-Chinese soundtrack with commentary by experts in Chinese history and archaeology; textual commentary; an "Image Index" that links the photographs to explanatory essays and reference tools including maps; a timeline; a bibliography; and a glossary with Chinese characters.
The disk was chosen as one of the 50 best CD-ROMs for 1994 by MacUser magazine. An interactive videodisk version won the Cindy Award of the Association for Visual Communicators in 1992.
Begun in 1983 with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the project initially "had no product in mind," said Dr. Chen. "By the end of research and development - because the content was so good and the technology had evolved to where we could do what we wanted to - everybody wanted it" to become a commercially available product. Release of an interactive videodisk (by the Voyager Company) took seven more years, however, due in part to arduous negotiations with the Chinese government for permission to take the project beyond the research and development stage.
"I had a bigger purpose than only creating a product," explained Dr. Chen. "It was a demonstration to show the progression from interactive videodisk to multimedia CD, and then connect that to the worldwide cultural information network. It proves that there are really no boundaries to what you can accomplish with multimedia."
As rich as it is, "The First Emperor of China" is small in scope compared to Dr. Chen's current project: a Global Digital Library. Dr. Chen said she began thinking about this in 1987, when she organized a series of international conferences on new information technologies for libraries. "Because of those conferences I have over 2,500 libraries and information organizations in my personal network," she said.
Building on that network, as well as the expertise gained from "The First Emperor of China" project, she created a set of prototype "Global Digital Library" photo-CDs to show how the Internet might be used to link libraries and users all over the world. Attendees at the National Digital Library Visitors' Center event watched as Dr. Chen used the World Wide Web to hop among the digital resources of national libraries from the Library of Congress to those of Russia, Hungary and China. She showed how users can access the libraries' On-line Public Access Catalogs (OPACs) and download files via File Transfer Protocol.
Dr. Chen created the Global Digital Library photo-CDs, and plans to carry through the World Wide Web project, without external support, "because I wanted to show that with no money or sponsors you can do a lot of wonderful things; you can get people excited to do their own things," she said. "Multimedia can be affordable - even for libraries!"
She stressed the potential of a global digital library for preserving nations' cultural heritages on the Internet. Ultimately, such a netowrk would contain much more than library collections, she said: museums, archives and other cultural institutions could be represented, along with the work of independent scholars and experts.
"I am a strong advocate of going beyond the four walls of a library," she explained. "I advocate going beyond even traditional collected things and looking at all of history. A developing country, for example, may be poor economically but rich in its culture and heritage.
"One component very strong on the 'Emperor' disk," she continued, "is the interviews [it contains] with live experts. To me it is absolutely important to preserve that kind of knowledge - oral history - as well. Once a person is gone, we will not be able to capture them in action."
The Global Digital Library concept is still ahead of its time, Dr. Chen admitted. "But I like to say that, unlike artists, in the technology field you don't have to wait until you die to be recognized because it is moving so fast," she joked. She hopes to hold an informal meeting of national librarians later this year to discuss her prototype and invite them to make more of their institutions' resources available over the Internet.
"I'm going to make some conditions: if you want to be part of this project you have to contribute your library's information. What I really want now is to get more countries involved. After that, with the World Wide Web, it will never stop growing."
Dr. Chen is a professor and associate dean of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College in Boston, as well as director of more than 60 continuing education institutes relating to information technology, management and policy. She has won awards for her teaching. She is editor-in-chief of an international journal, Microcomputers for Information Management: Global Internetworking for Libraries. She is a candidate for president of the American Library Association.
Kristin Knauth is a free-lance writer working in the Public Affairs Office.