The Electronic Literature Collection: A Valuable Research Tool

Preservation and archiving is essential to traditional print literature. A fact that is visible in the vast amount of libraries and special collections existing globally. Similarly, preservation and archiving are fundamental to electronic literature.  The networked computer and digital technology are continuously evolving to construct computers that perform at a higher level than both their competitors and preceding counterparts. Consequently, hardware and software are continuously evolving, posing a risk to pre-existing multimedia platforms as they may become obsolete, which subsequently, poses a threat to electronic literature. As older operating systems and software become updated or potentially extinct, the works that are often of high literary standard, become unplayable or unreadable.

Scholars in the area anticipating this problem have taken proactive approaches in order to ensure their works are not lost. One such solution is the Electronic Literature Organisation. The goal of the organisation is to promote, protect and freely distribute electronic literature works of high literary standards. In its goal to preserve and share works of electronic literature, the ELO established the Electronic Literature Collection. The ELC contains two collections, each consisting of up to sixty works that incorporate the diverse range of genres that exist in electronic literature. The genres include; hypertext fiction, interactive fiction, kinetic poetry, computer art installations, generative art and locative narratives. The ELC has a user-friendly interface where upon entering the website, a panel of tiles appear and hovering the mouse over a tile provides a brief description of the works. Once a user clicks a tile, they are immediately brought to the piece of work. Each piece contains a description of the work and the author and instructions on how to run the piece on a computer; catering for an audience with limited computing knowledge. Furthermore, the ELC is maintained and edited by prominent scholars and members of the electronic community, such as, Katherine Hayles, Nick Monfort, Scott Rettberg, and Stephanie Strickland, ensuring works featuring in the collection are of high literary quality.

Additionally, the ELC utilises a tagging system to mark works, this is an important tool in aiding effective knowledge sharing. Scott Rettberg, an active member of the electronic literature community, states the importance of the tagging system. Rettberg explains that in today’s research, it is not enough to simply describe a work or label a genre, as each piece may be studied for different reasons with research crossing into a variety of conceptual and technical classifications (“Communitizing Electronic Literature”). Therefore, the ELC is a reliable tool to an academic scholar in researching the broad area. As Chris Funkkhouser observes “this collection is a crucial document, an effective reflection of literary expression and areas of textual exploration in digital form” (“Electronic Literature circa WWW (and Before)”.

The Electronic Literature Collection is fundamental to the field of digital humanities due to its preservation, archiving and free dissemination of works of electronic literature.  The ELC through its two collections shows the evolution of the field and its associated genres, while highlighting the technical advances in the field. The ELC ensures high quality works will be preserved and will be a valuable tool for scholars for years to come.