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Home > Tamil Language & Literature > Project Madurai > Dr.K.Kalyanasundaram (Project Leader) on Second Anniversary of Project Madurai - Pongal Day 2000

 

Dr.K.Kalyanasundaram (Project Leader) on Second Anniversary of Project Madurai - Pongal Day 2000:

Tomorrow is the Pongal Day. Anaivarukkum enatu iniya Pongal nalvAztukkaL. This weekend also marks the 2nd Anniversary for Project Madurai. On this joyous occasion I would like to express my sincere appreciation and gratitude to fellow Promads for all their encouragement and support during these two years.

Two years ago we started with a core nucleus of 25 volunteers who wanted to give a field-try to the idea of building a public access digital archive devoted to Tamil literary works. Since then this group has grown five-fold to about 125 volunteers coming from four corners of the world. In the first year we released 18 Etext files and another 28 during this 2nd year.

Our efforts have shown that it is possible for like-minded souls to work together for a common cause.

We have a long way to go. Building a comprehensive Digital Library devoted to Tamil Literary works is like building a Temple. It is a mega effort requiring active participation by a large community over a significant period of time. Madurai Temple for example was not built by a handful on a single day or week. A Temple is not simply putting together a number of bricks as a wall and filling it with graffiti. So also good digital libraries are not built simply a bunch of folks typing madly literary works on a computer.

We do need lots of manual workers to build the complex. But the building needs careful planning, analysis and execution with close technical scrutiny at all times. A Temple construction needs experts familiar with Agama rules in designing the complex and skillful stapathis to make the idols. We also need Tamil scholars and experts to guide us (guardians and trustees).

I could go on and on. But I am sure the message should be clear. It is our collective effort for our own use, for the benefit of our children and for the benefit of our community that we are all proud of. I appeal to each one of you to constantly keep this in mind and try to help us in whatever we can. Of course it is purely a voluntary effort. But at least occasionally everybody should chip in a bit.

Time of anniversary is also a time for reflection on where we are and where we should be with respect to our target goals and how best we can achieve our goals effectively. Herein I would like to indicate some areas where we should expand. Please free to comment on how best we can achieve these goals.

Search Engines

A digital library is not simply a collection of Etext files. The utility of these Etexts are best achieved with search engines to find out if a given work is available or not and also possible word search for the Etexts that we have along the lines of IITS of Univ. of Cologne, Germany. We could have the search engines that work either on a standard "romanized transliteration scheme" or directly on the Tamil Script. Search engines already exist for dealing with romanized texts.

As our Etexts are TSCII-based, we need to have TSCII-based search engine. One of our Promads Mr. Sivaraj once built one such search engine. Software professionals in the PM ring could dig into this and see if we can implement one Tamil search engine for PM Etexts. The files could be readily "indexed" by adding additional standardised headers and adding line numbers (at the beginning of the lines). Search engine results could be a listing of the line with their line numbers along with indication of the file number. This topic needs to be discussed in detail.

Formatted Texts

Formatted Texts have several advantages. Librarians prefer web-versions that are SGML based (or at least carry style-sheets as per recent HTML specifications) for ready inclusion in METABASES (term being used to refer to databases of digital archives). Now that we do have a TSCII-to-unicode text convertor, we can experiment putting out sample SGML pages with Text in Unicode. Here again, folks with expertise in Unicode and SGML can help us.

We do have several Promads who have successfully demonstrated preparation of pdf (portable document format of Adobe) files of formatted texts as in printed books. One key advantage of pdf files is that they can be read (& printed locally) on all computers for which Acrobat Reader is availble without the need to have the fonts installed.

Here again there are two areas where we could expand. With the release of the technical specifications for pdf files by Adobe, there are now third-party softwares (even sharewares) that can be used to prepare pdf files. For wider and easy distribution of Etexts, it would be very useful to have some dedicated shareware/freeware softwares that can handle Tamil scripts. (Other than Adobe's own, expensive Acrobat, none of the third-party softwares work with Tamil.) Promads who have the tools can prepare pdf files of of Etexts that we have released already and make them available to the Cyber Tamil community at large.

Source Library of Tamil Books

A major stumbling block for preparation of Etexts of ancient literary works is lack of a printed copy of the work with the volunteers willing to do the text input. Several times I posted on the need to have our own source library to fall back. Last year during my visit to Chennai, I spent three days going around the bookshops. I collected about 40 books that can be used for Etext preparation and they are now with Dr. Kumar Mallikarjunan at Virginia, USA for use by North-America based volunteers.

I appeal to all Promads who visit Chennai to spare some time to get more books and mail them to us. (For overseas residents, the cost of these books is very, very nominal, few dollars each). We need to have a constant supply of source books. We need to make use of each and every volunteer who is willing to do the text input - tedious yet very important building block of the effort. Promads who have good personal collections of Tamil books can also help us in lending books for Etext prep. Every one of our Promad is a very responsible individual who can be trusted to handle the book with care.

Distribution of Etexts in CD-ROMs

Our Etexts collections are still symbolic and too small to fill even 10% of the storage capacity of a standard CD-ROM. Yet, CD-ROM is a powerful medium for distribution of Etexts particularly to individuals who have difficulties in accessing the files on the Internet and also to Tamil Research Centers and Libraries where the collections can be put on local access by every visitor to the library. Latter point is important for many Tamil research centers in India/Tamilnadu and possibly in other developing countries around the world...

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