Jan. 19, 1995
Vol. 14, No. 10

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    Internet allows 24-hour access to Oriental Institute

    When can a museum never close? When it's on the Internet!

    All-hours browsing through the Oriental Institute Museum and the institute's archives and resources has become a popular pastime for computer users around the world. Oriental Institute materials are available through World Wide Web, a service that helps people maneuver through the network of networks that makes up the Internet.

    Internet users, who make thousands of requests for Oriental Institute material each week, are able to gather information on research projects as well as make virtual visits to the Oriental Institute Museum. They also can access Abzu: A Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East Available on the Internet, the Oriental Institute's first exclusively electronic publication.

    The service has made the Oriental Institute the major international clearinghouse for electronically available information on the ancient Near East, said John Sanders, Research Associate and Head of the Oriental Institute's Computer Lab.

    "The attraction of the service is that it is available 24 hours a day. People don't have to come to us in person to get information on the ancient Near East -- they can find what they need using their computers," Sanders said.

    One way to access the Oriental Institute's electronic offerings is through a software program called NCSA Mosaic, which is available free to University students, faculty and staff. The Oriental Institute's "home page" on World Wide Web -- the starting point for accessing OI information -- can be reached via the Oriental Institute's Universal Resource Locator (URL): http://www-oi.uchicago.edu/oi/default.html.

    When information on the Oriental Institute Museum is summoned, users can retrieve descriptions of museum artifacts as well as photographs of exhibition material. The service allows people to do two things they usually cannot do when visiting a museum: bring home a reproduction of an object for further study and instantly access further scholarship about the era and area in which the artifact was found.

    The Oriental Institute Museum will further expand its electronic holdings sometime later this quarter when an exhibition that closed in 1993 reopens on the Internet. That exhibition, "Sifting the Sands of Time," details the history of the Oriental Institute and its excavations in the ancient Near East. As with the other Oriental Institute material available on the Internet, the exhibition will include retrievable photographs of artifacts and accompanying text.

    "This electronic capacity to display museum objects will be particularly useful when the museum's galleries close," Sanders said. Sometime in the next two years, the Oriental Institute Museum will be close its galleries for remodeling. When that happens, the museum will be able to continue to serve the public through the Internet.

    In addition to electronic exhibitions, the Oriental Institute offers excerpts from its annual reports and information on the institute's current research projects, as well as Abzu: A Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East Available on the Internet, which has been on-line since October.

    The guide, called for short simply Abzu -- a title derived from the name of the primal swamp from which the Sumerian god of knowledge emerged -- is intended to be a comprehensive resource guide and index to the materials available on the Internet for the study of the ancient Near East, said Charles Jones, Research Archivist/Bibliographer for the Oriental Institute and author of Abzu. Like many other such documents, Abzu is written in a programming language that allows the user to select a given title in the bibliography and be immediately transported to that document, regardless of its location on the Internet.

    Additional materials are continuously being added to Abzu, and refinements of the indexes are made on an almost-daily basis, Jones said. The author index includes links to more than 300 works, many of them book-length.

    "More than a score of archaeological projects in the Near East now have materials on-line, ranging from brief descriptions to detailed, illustrated excavation reports. All of these have links in the Abzu project index," Jones said. The documents include materials produced by museums, institutions and university departments, as well as course curricula, bibliographies, lists of publishers and library catalogs.

    The Abzu home page can be accessed on World Wide Web via Abzu's URL: http://www-oi.uchicago.edu/oi/dept/ra/abzu/abzu. html.

    In addition to the electronic offerings of the Oriental Institute, virtual tours of campus and some campus buildings, plus tours of other museums, including the Smart Museum of Art, are available through NCSA Mosaic on the Internet. For more information on accessing the Internet, call the Academic Techline, 702-3111.

    -- William Harms