JC: Yes, we are in the middle of updating the Reading Room. We have recently released the first main phase, which has been a rebuild of what we call the “lobby” part of the site.
The lobby shows users a structured outline of both the Kangyur and Tengyur, each subdivided into their traditional thematic sections and subsections. As well as labels and short descriptions, each section is marked with how many texts it contains and how many have been translated or are currently being worked on. When users get down to the last level of the subsections, they can consult a full list of all the texts it includes, with their titles in English, Tibetan, and Sanskrit; a link to the translation if there is one; and a link to the original text (although this feature is not yet operational). A toggle allows them to see variant titles and a summary, if available, and filter buttons at the top of the list make it possible to restrict the list to those texts that have been translated. A future update will include a search function for titles, and a page where a list of recent translations can be seen all together in one place. We have added notes on each section, appearing when users click on the blue “Learn more about…” button, and will be gradually adding to these notes and updating them as we ourselves learn more about the Kangyur and Tengyur. For some of the individual titles, too, we have been including brief notes and cross-references, and will continue to add more.
So the lobby serves as an enormous, annotated catalogue and contents table for the Kangyur and Tengyur. As well as being an index to 84000’s growing collection of translations, it aims to provide readers with a detailed, guided presentation of both collections according to their traditional structure. It now includes the Tengyur as well as the Kangyur, although we still have a lot of work to do to normalize and translate the titles of the 3,459 Tengyur texts—let alone start translating the works themselves.
The second main phase, which we are now working on, is a completely restructured online text reader. We hope to release it in a few months’ time. In the meantime, the links from the lobby to the translations open the texts up still in our old text reader software, which displays the translations in a book-like double page spread. The page breaks are fixed, which is a problem on smaller screens; so one of our objectives has been to make the new text reader (like the new lobby) “responsive” to different devices, so that it can be read easily on smartphones and tablets as well as laptops and desktops. This means doing away with fixed pages and finding better ways to navigate through long texts. Glossary entries and notes will float up from the text, and a separate optional panel will show the glossaries, notes, and contents list in full. The text reader will also generate fully functional pdfs and other electronic book formats for users to download if they wish.
Apart from the new and ergonomic design, however, the biggest change is under the hood. We are converting our whole system to be compatible with the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), an XML-based standard for marking up digital texts now widely used in many fields of the humanities, social sciences, and linguistics. What this means is that our translators and editors will be able to compile, record, and preserve within the translated text itself all sorts of information—notes on variant or doubtful passages in the source texts, glosses of important or unusual terms, recurrent text modules, tags for person and place names, cross-references and page markers from multiple source texts, and a whole range of other kinds of data—that will remain embedded in the text file where future translators, researchers, and scholars will be able to access and make use of it. The text reader software will use some of the encoded TEI information to display the appropriate headers, the most important notes and glossary entries, and so forth, but the primary focus of TEI encoding is semantic rather than presentational, and allows us to include a much wider range of important data related to the text than simple formatting instructions. For the time being, much of it will remain invisible to readers, but as our system evolves we will be developing specialized viewing options that make use of more of that embedded data. But in any case, because all the information is encoded in a standardized form, any researcher with the appropriate tools will be able to access and use it from now on, and, above all, it will remain safely and accessibly archived without being dependent on any proprietary software.
These developments of the Reading Room are very exciting and will open up many interesting avenues, some of which we cannot even imagine at present. The very detailed work involved in designing and constructing the software and converting our existing databases has taken a lot of time and effort; it has also meant that we haven’t been able to publish as many new texts in the last few months as we would have liked. But the more new texts we published, the harder it would have been to convert and adapt them to our new system. We felt that a short delay now, at this relatively early stage in 84000’s evolution, would be a small price to pay for the huge benefits of having a really solid, open, flexible, and forward-looking platform as the foundation for this whole, immensely precious collection.