This document, "Principles and Characteristics of the Encyclopedia of Alabama," provides a concise articulation of the overall methodology and standards for EOA. As the project develops, the partners and the editorial and technical staff will make many important and perhaps unanticipated decisions on a variety of matters. The principles and characteristics shown below will serve as a touchstone for those decisions, a means of ensuring that the project does not depart from its essential purposes and objectives.
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1. Comprehensive. EOA should be as comprehensive as possible; that is, it should include information on a wide range of topics including—but not limited to—history, culture, geography, and the natural environment.
2. Trustworthy. Vast amounts of data are available on the Web, but the accuracy and authority of that information is often unknown or unknowable. Alabama's encyclopedia can only be useful if its users recognize it as trustworthy and authoritative.
3. Written Clearly. To be accessible, the content of EOA should be written in plain, direct English, even when dealing with complex topics.
4. Balanced, Fair, and Intellectually Honest. To be credible, EOA must strike a balance between celebration and condemnation. Alabama's problems must not be glossed over. Alabama's accomplishments and successes must not be overlooked. Controversial topics must be addressed in a manner that acknowledges and respects diverse points of view.
5. Inclusive. Newcomers and old-timers; rich and poor; patrician and commoner; educated and illiterate; Confederate and Unionist; planter and slave; male and female—Alabamians of all stripes—have contributed to the development of the state. EOA should tell the story of all Alabamians.
6. Useful and Accessible to a Wide Audience. An online reference work should serve the needs of many users, including students, teachers, scholars, genealogists, journalists, politicians, and the intellectually curious. The digital medium can provide content in various forms; EOA should fully exploit this aspect of the medium.
7. Both Factual and Interpretive. Entries should present readers with all the relevant facts that pertain to the topic, but, where appropriate, they should also offer readers a wider view of the subject through interpretive discussion of broader implications for the state and beyond.
8. Generating Scholarship. EOA will not simply synthesize existing scholarship; it will advance the scholarly base by commissioning articles on topics that scholars have not yet studied.
9. Editorially Independent. Financial support for the project will be solicited from a variety of private, corporate, foundation, and government sources. The support of donors and sponsors will be acknowledged on a section of the EOA site that is easily accessible from the Home Page. To insure editorial independence and avoid any appearance of donor/sponsor control, influence, or responsibility for EOA content, recognition of donors and sponsors will be limited to the acknowledgement sections of the EOA Web site.
10. Collaborative. Comprehensive reference works must be the product of many minds. Contributors should be selected based on their expertise in their assigned topics and their ability to communicate their specialized knowledge to general readers.
11. Original. EOA will not consist of a collection of Web links to content maintained at other sites. Textual content will be prepared or adapted specifically for EOA according to EOA's editorial procedures. Non-original, supporting multimedia material will be used where appropriate and will be supplemented when necessary by multimedia material created specifically for EOA. The Alabama Humanities Foundation will hold the copyright to EOA content in trust for the citizens of Alabama.
12. Sustainable. Adequate funding to support the EOA editorial office and information technology infrastructure must be secured to make it continuously available into the future.
13. Managed by a Competent, Independent Editorial Staff. The editorial staff must possess the knowledge of the state, the editorial skills, and the technical expertise needed to manage the digital publication of EOA. Editorial independence must be protected by the governing structure of EOA and the institution serving as host for the editorial office.
14. Dynamic and Expandable. As an online reference work, EOA can grow in size and scope and errors can be corrected. Moreover, new topical areas can be added over time, making the goal of creating a comprehensive reference source feasible.
15. Open. EOA should be freely available without a subscription fee to anyone with access to the World Wide Web.
16. Based on Open Data Standards. The data structure for the content of EOA should be based on open data standards that permit the migration of content from one proprietary platform to another and allow presentation of the content in a variety of formats.
17. Takes Full Advantage of the Digital, Online Format. EOA should not be a digital version of a printed encyclopedia; it should be conceived, designed, and developed as an online product that integrates text, images, audio, video, and graphics into a seamless, interactive reference work.
18. Uses Metadata Standards to Facilitate Searching and Data Exchange. EOA must be based on declared metadata standards that will make its content accessible to users and facilitate the exchange of data with other online projects. (In recent years humanities scholars have come to understand the value of metadata for digital publications. Simply put, metadata is "data about data." A card catalog is an example of non-digital metadata; it provides structured information about the "data" in the library, its books. Without the card catalog's metadata [or its digital equivalent, the online catalog], a library's resources would be difficult to use. A variety of standards exist for metadata structure and metadata content.)
19. Governed by an Advisory Council. An independent Advisory Council—consisting of representatives from each of the principal partners and four additional members representing statewide organizations, agencies, or institutions with a stake in the EOA project—should govern EOA. The Advisory Council will approve policies and procedures, create any boards, groups, or committees it deems necessary for the good of the project (e.g. editorial board, advisory board, fund-raising committee, etc.), and approve the appointment of the editorial and technical staff assigned to execute the project.