Re: HRAF interest group

Barry Lewis (blewis@UX1.CSO.UIUC.EDU)
Fri, 22 Apr 1994 09:21:50 -0500

>The Human Relations Area Files is applying to the American Anthropological
>Association to form an Interest Group about HRAF. The purpose of the group is
>to create an on-going network of individuals across the profession who use,
>are interested in, or want to use products and services provided by HRAF

I am interested in principle, but the scope of the proposed group is too
narrow and too obviously self-serving. HRAF is an important tool for
archival research and secondary analysis, but the long run trend is for
many large scale social science data archives to become widely available
and readily accessible to anyone who can tap into the Internet. This is an
inevitable growth point given data vehicles such as gopher servers, WAIS
and Mosaic, and the fact that 1000s of men and women with a scanner, OCR
software, a basic understanding of copyrights, and sufficient free time are
beginning to flood the world with e-texts. It's only a matter of time, for
example, before someone does up a multimedia version of all 200 Bureau of
American Ethnology Bulletins. (Anyone want to do it? I'll help.) The
major apparent difference between something like an online BAEB and HRAF is
that the former will probably be in the public domain and online or
available on CD-ROM at nominal charge; it certainly won't be available
piecemeal in paper/microfiche/cd-rom form at outrageous cost.

HRAF is right that there is a strong need for an interest group to deal
with design, maintenance, analysis, and access issues associated with the
development of large scale social science data bases. The research
university's stranglehold on information is quickly coming to an end.
Within 10 years, a person sitting at home in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, or
at Pearlington Junior College will have the same capability as a researcher
at Yale or Stanford to access social science data sets, maps, pictures,
videos, and sound recordings almost instantaneously, at low cost, and in
most of the world's major libraries (but not at HRAF, I guess, unless they
pay up). This is potentially the greatest impact on the nature of research
since the invention of the printing press. The opportunity exists for AAA
and other professional organizations to help define standards, data
priorities, and address methodological problems associated with the
development, maintenance, and analysis of these data archives. By virtue
of their experience, it would be appropriate for HRAF to provide leadership
in this area, but for the sake of the discipline, not merely HRAF's bottom

Comments/discussion welcomed. Direct flames to online incinerator.