Kolb-Proust Archive for Research

By Caroline Szylowicz

WESS Newsletter

Fall 1997, Vol. 21, no. 1

Association of College & Research Libraries
©American Library Association

The Kolb-Proust Archive for Research was established in 1993 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library to offer a panorama of French culture at the turn-of-the-century, by making available to the public, both on site and on line, the research tools gathered over 50 years by the late Professor Philip Kolb for his edition of the correspondence of Marcel Proust (1970-1993, Paris, Plon). These resources will be of help not only to Proust specialists, but to any scholar interested in the period spanned by Proust's lifetime (1871-1922).

The Collections

Currently located in Professor Kolb's former study1, the Archive houses a collection of books (Proust's works, memoirs, biographies), directories, newspapers and journals gathered by Kolb, as well as over 400 folders containing biographical documents (birth, death, marriage certificates), newspaper clippings, reading notes, bibliographical notes, and photocopies and transcriptions of letters from and to Proust, sorted by correspondent. However, the heart of the Kolb-Proust Archive is composed of several cardfiles in which Philip Kolb recorded elements of information, as he found them in the letters of Proust and in all the books and newspapers used to date2 and to annotate the correspondence. These 40,000 3x5 handwritten index cards and slips of paper are divided into the following categories:

The data in these various cardfiles have been systematically cross referenced by Philip Kolb; providing access through multiple criteria, and making the structure of the set similar to a database on paper.

The Virtual Archive

The cardfiles are currently being digitized, as a means to preserve the contents of the rapidly deteriorating cards as well as to make the contents available on line. We are using SGML (Standard Generalized Mark-up Language) to encode the data. This powerful language allows us to keep the contents of each card as a whole, instead of dividing it in the various defined fields of a regular database, and to take full advantage of hypertext technology.

A first type of tag is designed to mark the physical structure of each document and make it readable through an SGML viewer. A second type of tag, which can be customized, is used to encode any significant element of information, such as a name, a date, a title, a place. Used together with specific codes called attributes, these tags allow the retrieval of any element in any form in the text, once it has been marked. This technique makes it possible, for example, to search the cards for persons known under different names: women whose name and title change once they marry, or writers and journalists who use pseudonyms. Marcel Proust himself appears in various documents as Marcel, Proust, M.P., as Loup, Buncht (nicknames), or as Laurence, Dominique, Horatio... (pen names). Each occurrence of any of these names can be marked with a tag to define the nature of the data, followed by the , which always represents Marcel Proust in our system. Other codes allow the user to distinguish between Proust as the author or the recipient of a letter, or as the author of a novel or of an article. This type of detailed encoding can be applied to any type of information in our database. Hypertext links can also be inserted, to offer more points of access to documents.

All the cardfiles will ultimately be available for consultation over the World Wide Web, together with the full text of the published correspondence of Proust (approximately 5,000 letters)3, and the images of those letters whose originals are still accessible. The bibliography of works by and about Proust is already available on our website and will be followed in 1998 by the first segment of the chronology. We offer two ways to access our digitized documents in order to compensate for the lack of search capabilities in the current versions of SGML viewers.

1 - With a Web browser such as Netscape or Mosaic, a user can initiate a search through a form on our website, as with any other database. The results of the request are converted by our server into HTML (common browsers cannot interpret SGML codes) and presented as a list of short notices (title, author, date) with a link toward the full text of each entry.

2 - With both a Web browser and an SGML viewer4, a user can choose to use the search form or to browse directly the SGML files. This second method is useful when dealing with chronologically-ordered documents whose dates can often only be guessed, such as the correspondence or the file of letters.

The digitization of Professor Kolb's cardfiles is the first stage in the development of the Kolb-Proust Archive. We decipher, transcribe and expand Kolb's notes with our own notes5 in order to render them as clear as possible to the users, but it is not always possible for us to verify the accuracy of each entry, because the sources are sometimes unknown or unreliable. This is a reason why we wish to interact with our users as much as possible, and we encourage them to let us know whenever they find inaccuracies or discrepancies in our files, and to share their views with us if they disagree with some of the information provided, so that we can update and improve the contents of our database. In the future, we hope to update and expand our virtual Archive by adding new sets of digitized letters and texts related to our field.

To contact us:

The Kolb-Proust Archive for Research
413 Main Library
1408 West Gregory Drive
Urbana, IL 61801
e-mail: kpa@uiuc.edu
http://www.library.uiuc.edu/kolbp (also accessible through the WESS website)


1 We hope to move the Archive to larger quarters in the near future, in order to provide some workspace for visitors.
2 Marcel Proust only rarely dated his letters.
3 Negotiations are currently underway with the French publisher Plon and the Proust estate.
4 Currently, PanoramaFree and PanoramaPro, from the Softquad Company, are the only SGML viewers available. There is no version for Macintosh yet. All necessary information to acquire, download and install Panorama can be found on the Softquad homepage (www.softquad.com) or through our website.
5 Annotations added by the staff of the Archive are signed and kept separated from Kolb's original notes.

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