The Handbook of Latin American Studies:
Its Automated History and a Comparison of Available Formats

P. Sue Mundell, Assistant Editor, HLAS
Tracy North, Webmaster
Dolores Moyano Martin, Editor, HLAS

A paper written for SALALM's Annual Meeting (41st, New York City, June 1996)

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ ]

I. Background on the Print Edition

The Handbook of Latin American Studies is the oldest and most prestigious area studies bibliography in the world. Its continued existence and success is a testimony to the vision of its creator and first editor, historian Lewis Hanke, who, in the 1930s, launched a publication that continues to thrive in the 1990s.

Hanke was also the first Chief of the Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress, a division established in 1939 to serve as a center for the pursuit of studies in Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American culture. The division provides reference services to the US Congress, US government personnel, scholars, university students, and the general public. It also plays a major role in developing and maintaining the Library's preeminent collections of Hispanic materials as well as in preparing bibliographies, manuscript guides, and other aids and reference tools designed to assist users of these collections. Practically all universities whose curricula include Latin American studies programs subscribe to the Handbook which can be found in the libraries of such institutions in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Latin American universities which can afford it subscribe to the Handbook, and those who cannot usually receive it directly from the Library of Congress through our exchange program.

The print edition of the Handbook, an annual annotated bibliography of about 5,500 entries, includes evaluative annotations prepared by 130 scholars who donate their services to the Library. Volumes alternate annually between the humanities and social sciences. It is estimated that about 60 percent of Handbook entries consists of monographic citations; about 40 percent refers to serial articles culled from about 1,600 journals published worldwide as well as chapters from books and papers from published conference proceedings. Disciplines covered are: Anthropology (including Archaeology and Ethnology); Art; Economics; Electronic Resources (beginning in 1995); Geography; Government and Politics; International Relations; Literature; Music; Philosophy; and Sociology. Offprints of selected disciplines are available for purchase through the Latin American Studies Association. [1]

Return to the top of the page

II. HLAS Automation Project Brings Online Electronic Access

In the mid-1980s, the Library of Congress decided to test electronic typesetting of bibliographies using the Handbook as a pilot project. In preparation for automated production of the printed edition of volume 50, in 1989 the Handbook's editorial staff began inputting analytic citations in MARC format into the newly developed Generalized Bibliographies (GenBib) file, a shared file created especially for Library of Congress bibliographers. Since that time, the Handbook portion of the database has grown to more than 70,000 entries, over half annotated, a figure which is growing by an additional 10,000 entries annually, of which about 5,000 are annotated by scholars and appear in the printed volume.

From volume 50 onward, in order to produce the print edition of each Handbook volume, bibliographic information for each publication sent to Handbook contributors for review and possible annotation in the print volume must first be input into the database. In the case of monographs, the Handbook staff copies the Library's computer catalog information from the BOOKS file into the GenBib file. The "cloned" book records are then edited by the Handbook staff for bibliographic clarity and Handbook style. For analytic entries such as journal articles, chapters from books, and papers from published conference proceedings, bibliographic records are created from scratch by Handbook staff. These Handbook-created records combine traditional cataloging rules with Handbook style guidelines. For all annotated records, the staff adds Handbook subject index terms, and the author index is verified and amplified. At the end of the production cycle for each volume, the Handbook's output program generates yearly proofs and a computer tape that contains the data for that year's print volume, including computer-generated document markup codes in Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML, of which the Internet's Hyper-Text Markup Language, or HTML, is a subset). Since the inception of the project in 1989, all records input are immediately available for searching on terminals connected to the Library of Congress mainframe, using the same MUMS search software employed for searching the BOOKS and other card catalog files at the Library of Congress.

In April 1993, electronic access to the Handbook was expanded exponentially by the Library of Congress' decision to provide public telnet access to the LC card catalog among the worldwide Internet community. [2] As a result, over the past three years this database -- originally conceived as a means to the end for producing the print Handbook -- has become a vital, quasi-independent aspect of the Handbook's publishing activity; in fact it is no longer certain whether the horse is drawing the cart or vice versa. Has the print edition now become a by-product of the HLAS database instead of the other way around?

Return to the top of the page

III. Print vs. Electronic HLAS, and Expanded HLAS Availability

Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Handbook editors believe that both print and electronic media are equally important and appropriate means to disseminate the HLAS data. Nonetheless, there are certain advantages associated with each format. For instance, the print edition affords the opportunity to browse through an entire discipline or chapter from beginning to end, including scholarly introductions which precede each section, while the electronic versions provide improved searching across disciplines and volumes. Since all electronic formats provide access to unannotated items which were not included in the print edition of the Handbook (and indeed two of the formats even provide access to future bibliographic entries in various stages of the editorial process), those who require a higher degree of selectivity and editorial excellence may tend to favor the print edition, while those seeking comprehensiveness at the expense of selectivity will probably prefer the electronic versions. One of the principal advantages of the print edition is simply its affordability and dependability: for many Latin American researchers, Internet access is either not available, or is too costly, too complicated, and/or too unreliable to use on a regular basis. For these and others who simply prefer the convenience of the printed word, we will continue to publish the print edition of the Handbook for the foreseeable future.

Nonetheless, we have endeavored not to let this commitment to the printed Handbook hinder the development of the electronic version in its many forms. For instance, as early as 1990, we began discussing the possibility of making the Handbook's MARC records available via the Library's Cataloging Distribution Service. The HLAS-MDS service was inaugurated in 1992; its principal advantages are fourfold:

  1. users receive records in MARC format, suitable for mounting on local OPACs;
  2. HLAS records are purchased rather than "borrowed" from CDS -- they do not evaporate into thin air at the end of the year, unlike some subscription services;
  3. there are no restrictions as to use of the data; and
  4. subscribers receive only the verified records corresponding to each volume of the Handbook. [3]
In 1993, the Research Libraries Group began purchasing the yearly load of HLAS records from CDS to mount on their Citadel service, further expanding HLAS access on many university campuses already subscribing to the RLG family of databases. [4] Citadel runs under the same search software and interface used by many RLG members' OPACs, thus providing users access to the HLAS data using the same familiar interface they use to consult their own card catalog. From 1992-1995, the National Information Services Corporation also purchased the HLAS tapes from CDS to include on their NISC-DISC entitled Latin American Studies, Volume I. [5]

Return to the top of the page

IV. The HLAS Retrospective Conversion Project and HLAS/CD

Our appetites whetted by the response to the Handbook's increasing electronic availability, we began pursuing the means to convert the first 49 volumes of the Handbook to electronic format for cumulative searching. Initially, we hoped to convert the first 49 volumes to MARC format for merging with our current data; we soon discovered that the price of such a conversion would be insurmountable. With the encouragement of the Fundación MAPFRE América (Madrid), we decided to explore other options, most notably, conversion of the data to ASCII text, with only simple fielding (author, title, other bibliographic description, annotation, subject headings) provided. We were of course delighted when the Fundación MAPFRE América agreed to undertake all aspects of this project for us, assuming the lion's share of the cost, with additional funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The finished product, nicknamed HLAS/CD, was unveiled in September 1995 during the Latin American Studies Association's conference in Washington, DC. This truly collaborative effort brought together for the first time the first 53 volumes of the Handbook for cumulative electronic searching on a user-friendly CD-ROM. The new HLAS/CD was published by the Fundación MAPFRE América, edited by the Library of Congress' Hispanic Division, and distributed by the University of Texas Press at a minimal cost of $150. [6]

Electronic conversion of the first 49 volumes was a complex task requiring detailed analysis of the original print volumes as well as careful computer programming by the MAPFRE team. For volumes 1-43, this process included the following modules or phases: scanning and programming for optical character recognition (OCR), first automated introduction of field designators, manual correction, automated and manual quality controls, second automated introduction of field designators, and integration of all modules. For volumes 44-49, the data were extracted from the existing typographical tapes using a program developed for eliminating unneeded typesetting codes and replacing others with the corresponding field designators for the database. The process utilized for volumes 1-43 was then repeated: manual corrections, etc. In addition, all the bibliographic records from volumes 50-53 (those appearing in the print volumes as well as those available only in the Library of Congress GenBib database) were converted from US-MARC format and integrated with the retrospective data on the Handbook of Latin American Studies CD-ROM: HLAS/CD, Vols. 1-53 (1936-1994). This one-disc title contains approximately 20 million words in 250,000 records -- corresponding to all annotated bibliographic entries and scholars' introductory essays in the print edition of the Handbook for almost 60 years. The HLAS/CD features bilingual interface, documentation, and command-line help (English/Spanish), as well as both novice and expert search capabilities. Full-text searches may be conducted on any combination of fields (author, title, description, annotation, subject, etc.) and may also be restricted to type of record (bibliographic citations, introductory essays, or both). Designed by the Publicaciones Digitales MAPFRE (DIGIMAP) team, the user-friendly HLAS/CD interface runs under Windows and uses a customized BRS Search engine which allows researchers to select from eight Boolean and proximity operators.

Return to the top of the page

V. Merging the Retrospective and Current Databases on the World Wide Web

The Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress is currently working to provide an enhanced user-friendly Internet version of the Handbook on the World Wide Web. This project will provide a Handbook home page which will enable cumulative searches of all existing HLAS data, both current and retrospective. It will make use of the Inquery search software developed by the Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a software which offers users the possibility of conducting either full-text or fielded searching, and ranks the resulting documents by relevancy to the user's original query. Generously supported by the family of Lewis U. Hanke, the Handbook's late founder, the Handbook's Web version, HLAS Online, is expected to be available by October 1996.

Return to the top of the page

VI. HLAS on LOCIS, CD-ROM, and the World Wide Web: Which to Use When?

One of the most frequent questions the Handbook office receives is: what are the advantages and disadvantages of the Handbook's various formats? We have already touched upon the strengths of the print edition, the CDS tape service, and RLG's Citadel service. We will now concentrate on comparing the three most popular means of electronically accessing the Handbook: via telnetting to LOCIS (the LC's card catalog), on CD-ROM, and over the World Wide Web. To this end, we have prepared a table comparing coverage, minimum requirements, user-friendliness, and search engines (see fig. 1), and thus we will only highlight the most salient points here. The HLAS/CD is perhaps strongest in the area of dependability, user-friendliness, and downloading/printing capabilities. For only $150, plus the price of a modest computer (a 486, with a double-speed CD-ROM drive), HLAS/CD users have unlimited access to the first 53 volumes of the Handbook. Although the HLAS/CD is less up-to-date than the other two electronic products, this is mitigated by the fact that it contains only the verified (i.e., edited) data from the GenBib database, which provides users with a "cleaner" product than is available via telnet or on the Web. In fact, the Handbook's GenBib file, available on LOCIS, is actually the Handbook's working file, and so contains records in various stages of the editorial process. In turn, the entire GenBib database (verified and unverified records) will be loaded monthly or bimonthly to the Handbook's Website, once again trading off editorial accuracy for immediate access and timeliness of data.

In terms of search engines, the HLAS/CD and HLAS Online (via the Web) use extremely different paradigms. Users experienced with Boolean operators will take comfort in the familiarity of the MAPFRE's HLAS/CD. More adventurous users willing to explore new searching techniques will likely discover advantages to Inquery's relevancy ranking of documents, but it will probably take some time for most users to adjust to this new means of displaying hits based on complicated algorithms generally intelligible only to mathematicians and logicians. Suffice it to say that HLAS Online hits are displayed according to their relevancy to your search criteria, with each item's relevancy determined by a formula based on variables such as the number of times each search word is present in the record, weighted by how many times each particular word occurs in the entire database, as well as by size of the particular record. Finally, researchers seeking up-to-the-minute data will want to consult the HLAS via telnetting to LOCIS, admittedly a cumbersome yet ultimately tameable database.

Return to the top of the page

VII. Epilogue: Future Electronic HLAS Projects

The Handbook staff continues to plan for the time when it will be technically and legally feasible to scan articles, chapters, and perhaps even books into our database for retrieval by scholars and librarians. To that end, discussions are underway with the Fundación MAPFRE América to develop a collaborative pilot project to scan and store images of journal articles to be cited in future volumes of the Handbook. We believe that eventually online fee distribution mechanisms will be available to reimburse the original creator and publisher of the articles for their intellectual property rights if they agree to provide electronic access to their data. We hope to begin scanning in early 1997, so we have a significant number of journal articles stored and ready to distribute as soon as publishers' and authors' permissions can be requested and granted.
Special feature: a CHART comparing electronic versions of the Handbook of Latin American Studies.
Go to:
Library of Congress
Comments: Ask a Librarian (07/19/00)