"This Was Forgotten Space"
David and Ian McDougall have worked as drafting editors at the Dictionary of Old English since 1985. In this interview with Alexandra Bolintineanu, they talk about life at the dictionary, its beginnings, methodology, and challenges.
What was the Dictionary like when you began working here?
"The Dictionary of Old English was one of the first tenants on the fourteenth floor of Robarts Library. In the early days, in the seventies, this was forgotten space. You could roller-skate around here. There was a cafeteria sardonically nicknamed the Panorama Room, because it had no windows whatsoever. In the eighties, things changed radically. The computers they got up here were huge, closet-sized. This room was full of massive disk files. There was one tiny little monitor, like half a sheet of paper.
"The only way of searching the DOE Corpus was against the microfiche concordance. It was a maddeningly inefficient way to work, especially because, when we found mistakes, there was no way to correct the microfiche right away. So we would fill out a form for the same mistake over and over again, over several years.
"But the technology evolved. Our systems analysts started to produce tools as we needed them. And we got the tools to produce the slips we needed, to correct the corpus as we needed, to search the corpus efficiently. We were fortunate to have systems analysts who were embedded with the project, and who were very good at listening."