Susan Broadwater returns to Rakehell to catch us up with what The Regency Library Online has been up to, and what we can look forward to in the future.
Interview with Regency Library Online!
by Cybil Solyn
Q: Since you started Regency Library in 2001 how has it been?
A: It has been a great experience because of the subscribers. We have great subscribers and I love to interact with them. Subscribers can ask for specific research to be presented on the list so I find myself researching topics that I might never have delved into but for them. The subscription base has remained constant over the last five years so we must be meeting their research needs.
Q: What are your plans for the new online site?
A: As for my plans for the website, we recently moved the sites to different servers because I want it to perform at least four functions.
1) To provide an entry place on the internet for anyone who is interested in the time period to come for information and links to other resources on the internet.
2) To further promote our subscription services to writers and others by providing exhibits on specific topics or people.
3) To offer our subscribers a way to pursue specific research needs and to offer those who do not want a full subscription to access research packets and reprint articles on an individual basis. Both of these objectives will be achieved through password protected, easy to use FTP drop boxes.
4) To promote our author subscribers websites and new book releases.
I am particularly excited at being able to provide specific, individual research through the FTP drop boxes. People will be able to pick and choose materials that meet their needs without accumulating what they do not need. Some subscribers become overwhelmed with the amount of material they have accumulated so this option will allow them to pick and choose what they need when they need it.
Q: In our last interview you said your hopes for the future were: “I'd like to produce e-books that can be downloaded to PDAs so writers and others can take all this stuff with them in a compact form when they go on trips and have easy access to it. I'd like to somehow get a grant so I could save more books from the breakers but that is something I have to look into. Eventually I hope that this can be my full time job.” Have you accomplished any of these goals? What are your new ones?
A: The library has produced a few CDs over the last six years. However, technology and the growth of the internet have changed my overall goals and objectives for the Library. When the Regency Library started in 2001, the internet was more accessible than it had been in the late 1990s but there was a lack of access to primary source materials from the 18th century and Regency time periods. There was a need for someone to make these materials available to those who did not have easy access or the time to visit large academic libraries. Regency Library provided these materials and met the demand for them.
Fast forward and it is now 2007. With the advent of Google Books and the Internet Archive many of these materials are becoming available. Google even offers a “My Library” option to people that allows them to put specific books into an area they can access 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. People can download the PDF versions or access their Google library anytime from any PC. This has led some people to ask me if I will continue with the Library in the face of these resources becoming available and my answer is YES, Regency Library will continue but with innovations.
The books that Regency Library will produce on CD will be in Word format with index and hypertext links for easy navigation. I'm also working on some specific projects. One is a reference CD called Researching the Regency. I think it is past time for a new reference book for writers that concentrates on this time period and covers in depth everything from food and fashion to amusements, travel, and everyday life. All of this material is being collected from primary source materials and will include links to reliable online resources. People who purchase the CD will receive any updates free with only the cost of shipping.
In addition, like any other collection, there are gaps in what is becoming available through Google and Internet Archive. I am concentrating on filling those gaps by purchasing the materials that are not becoming available through the internet. These include period newspapers and certain periodicals.
I am also going to write a series of research articles on various topics. Hopefully some of these articles will provide ideas for writers for their novels. As part of these articles there will be a section presenting exactly how it was researched and extensive bibliographies. These articles will be distributed on the subscription based list.
I believe it is important to continue the service, especially for writers. I subscribe to several writer's communities online and am often dismayed to see new writers being given advice that research isn't that important and that they should concentrate more on the story and not spend too much time performing research. Fortunately I don't see this advice being given a lot but I have seen it and I think it is important for a writer to know their time period,--to want to know their time period. I want people to love this time period. Research is exciting and doesn't have to be boring. Research may also provide an author with a unique hook to hang a story on and help them write a unique story.
As a reader, I can tell you that accuracy is very important. The readers who are reading novels set in this time period love the time period and know a lot about it and they can spot when something is wrong. No matter how insignificant the writer may think a detail is and that it doesn't matter because nobody would know—trust me someone will know and the writer who does not believe this will lose a reader, or perhaps many readers over time. Recently I bought a novel set in the Regency period and everything was fine and enjoyable through the first 25 pages, and then it happened—a quote from a famous and well known Victorian book was put in the thoughts of one of the major characters. The book went in the garbage I will not purchase another book by that author. I don't think I am the only reader that feels this way when an author does not do their homework. The market is very competitive so I think it is imperative for writers to love their time period enough to present it to their reader accurately. I hope that the library can help writers not only with their research needs, but also help them fall in love with the period, and spark their imaginations to create some wonderful books.
As for saving the books from those who tear them apart and sell the prints out of them, I've rescued some of these by purchasing them before they could be pulled apart. Having funds from the subscriptions allowed me to do this for several years of La Belle Assemblee and Lady's Monthly Museum. I think I have spent over $1,800 to save these and I do have a portion of the money we receive from subscriptions set aside to purchase other volumes when I become aware of them and the seller is talking about splitting them up to offer on an auction service. When I finish digitizing them, the volumes are offered to subscribers who agree not to split them up and sell them. They pay exactly what I paid for these volumes and the money is put aside with a percentage of the funds we receive from subscribers to purchase different volumes. Hopefully if these materials become widely available it will discourage people from destroying these books to make a few dollars on a print or two.
Q:What is the most exciting research item you've found so far?
A: I can't think of one item that I've found that has been the most exciting. However, one of the richest mines I have found are travel diaries and memoirs of foreign travelers (especially Americans) who traveled to Great Britain in the early 19th century. Manners and customs that a native would take for granted are observed, detailed and compared by these travelers to those of their own countries. The view of society, its manners and mores are three dimensional in these works and their detail is wonderful. I've been compiling this research and have decided to explore English traveler's memoirs and letters of their trips to America during the same time period. I suspect there is another gold mine in these. This research will be presented on the list in the next year and will form a significant basis of the research CD.
One of the items that I came across which became one of my favorite was Thomas Jefferson's opinion of the Prince Regent!
Q: Rakehell has been a loyal subscriber since the beginning and I am always awed by the quality and quantity of the research materials we get from you. Whether someone is a hard core researcher, a writer or just a fan of the genre trying to get a better feel for that time period, the materials you offer are wonderful. What can subscribers expect to receive over the next year?
A: Subscribers can expect more primary source material this year but they will have more options to control what material they receive. For instance, we have a group of subscribers who are interested in the life of the Princess Charlotte. We have been presenting that material through her biography, newspaper and periodical accounts, letters, etc. Other subscribers aren't interested in her so other offerings are prepared for them. Coming up in December 2007, subscribers will be provided with menus of the contents of FTP drop boxes. The subscribers will have the option on initially subscribing or renewing their subscription to subscribe to up to 5 FTP boxes for their $30.00 subscription price. Or if they want the usual weekly subscription with documents coming to their email they can add whatever FTP boxes they want for a reasonable price of $6.00 per box per year. Content will be added to these boxes throughout the year so by the end of the year a subscriber could end up with thirty to fifty additional articles for a very low price.
As usual, thank you for taking the time to talk with Rakehell.
You are welcome, and I want to thank Rakehell for their support these past five years.