Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Summer 1997

Digital Resources for Managing Wetlands:
The Case of Playa Lake Research:
A Preliminary Report

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The initial phase of this digital project has involved a collaborative approach to resource gathering. We have employed a diverse strategy of searching available bibliographic databases and current technologies to digitize relevant documents and images. The structure of this hypertext resource follows an intuitive menu whereby students, researchers, or managers may locate relevant articles or citations. Finally, we are considering several future enhancements to make this electronic collection of material on wetlands research more functional and more effective in meeting the information needs of interested parties into the next century.

Team Approach

The seed for developing this electronic resource was planted when Bill Johnson received an email message from a research group in the midwest who had received funding from the EPA to do some work on playas. They expressed some frustration with tracking down relevant research findings and asked for help from the Texas Tech University Libraries, apparently because of our well known collection of dissertations and theses on the topic.

With a graduate degree in botany, I expected citations focusing on the life sciences to dominate this bibliography. However, the physical sciences now constitute at least two thirds of the citations. In order to create a better database, I asked for help from a colleague with a graduate degree in geology. Collaborative teamwork has characterized every aspect of the project thus far, yet each subject area has been organized by the appropriate subject specialist. Each team member has also assumed responsibility for indexing their material, writing the hypertext, and contacting the appropriate parties for copyright permission to display relevant text or abstracts.

Literature Searching

Due to the central role that Texas Tech University has played in the pursuit of original and applied research into playa lakes, it naturally follows that the library catalog at this institution would provide the first place to search for relevant citations and texts that could be converted into a digital format. Texas Tech University is also situated near many natural and urban playas, offering a rich source of material ranging from modern images to historical manuscripts. Texas Tech Libraries house one of two federal regional depositories in the state of Texas and is home to the Southwest Collection, with many specialized archival resources about the region. The telnet address to this DRA library catalog is {lib.ttu.edu}.

The international scope of research into playa lakes necessitates the review of a wide body of periodical literature. The following electronic bibliographic databases were searched via the TTU Library Information System:

In addition to these periodical indexes, two very large bibliographic databases have thus far been searched: WorldCat and RLIN. WorldCat (OCLC's online union catalog) accesses the world's most comprehensive bibliography, with more than 30 million bibliographic records describing items on thousands of subjects and published in any year since about 1000 AD. OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) is a nonprofit, membership, library computer service and research organization dedicated to the public purposes of furthering access to the world's information. The Uniform Resource Locator (URL) to their home page is http://www.oclc.org. RLIN (Research Libraries Information Network) is an international information management and retrieval system. It is used by research libraries, archival repositories, museums, academic, public, law, technical, and corporate libraries.

Various Internet search tools and subject guides were also explored. Search engines such as Altavista ({http://www.altavista.com/}) and NLightN ({http://www.nlightn.com/} -- Note: NlightN has discontinued its service) were searched for their broad scope and comprehensive coverage. Subject guides like the World Wide Web Virtual Library ({http://vlib.org/}) and INFOMINE ({http://infomine.ucr.edu/}) were browsed for their broad scholarly content. Yet, with the dynamic nature of the Internet, results were often unpredictable and inconsistent.

While it first appeared that the search terminology would be very simple and straightforward, international concepts and terms have required that a richer framework be incorporated. Terms like "sabkha" and "kavir" have appeared alongside playa and describe similar physiographic entities. The term playa too is problematic, as it may refer to a proper name such as Playa Azul. Also, in Spanish it may be translated as "beach", so many marine sites are often a source of confusion.

One of the more important features of this resource is providing access to abstracts and full text documents. Abstracts have been included when permission to display them was granted by the copyright holder. Permission was sought using several formats: standard mail (the most successful), email, and the telephone. Thus far, the two symposia held at Texas Tech in 1970 and 1994 have been digitized. Government documents on the management of and research into playa lakes are scheduled next for conversion to electronic format.


A variety of software and hardware tools have been used to create the electronic text and images in this database. The Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) was coded using a simple text editor, Word for Windows. Full articles were scanned and converted with OmniPage OCR software (Optical Character Recognition). HTML editors used to convert some articles included Internet Assistant, PageMill, and Front Page. This work has been largely done by the authors, though a student has recently been hired to continue the work.

Images have been scanned from traditional prints using Adobe Photoshop and the same flatbed scanner used to capture the text, a Hewlet Packard Scanjet 4c. A few of the images were taken with a Kodak digital camera. These large graphic files, pictures and figures, were saved as jpg's. Thumbnails were made from these as gif's to facilitate faster loading over the Internet.

Database Structure and Function

Citations are divided into three main groups: Life Sciences (Biology), Physical Sciences, and Management. While some citations fit into more than one category, a decision was made to place each citation in the area which reflected its primary association. Citations related to management issues, history, and general interest have been designated M1. Most Environmental Impact Statements will be found in this category.

The Life Sciences group was further divided into Aquatic Ecology, designated B1, Terrestrial Ecology (B2), and Wildlife (B3). Physical Science citations were subdivided into Geology (P1), Hydrology (P2), and Soils (P3). Within each group citations were listed alphabetically by title and assigned a unique number. This number represents the subject category, year of publication or occurrence, and a sequential designation within the year produced. For example, [B1-987.0] signifies that this citation is classified as Aquatic Ecology. It was published in 1987 and it is the first entry we added for 1987 in this subject.

In addition to subject groups, the database includes three indexes: subject, personal names, and geography. A small image gallery has been started and links to the full text articles of the 1970 and 1994 symposia held at Texas Tech are provided. Finally, a directory with Web access to agencies working on playa lake research is available, based on information in the author affiliation field of bibliographic entries.

Future Developments

It is important that this resource keep pace with the latest technological innovations, to be available to the widest possible audience and to serve them with maximum efficiency. A number of future enhancements are envisioned in the technical functionality of this resource as well as in its basic content. A couple of technical innovations may include searchability using CGI scripts and additional full text formats such as Portable Document Format (PDF).

Of course the primary basis for using this resource is the content itself. More documents will be digitized, more images will be created, and the number of citations will grow, as research interest grows. Ongoing searches will be conducted in standard databases and print indexes, including Georef, Science Citation Index, Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, and Biological Abstracts. The number of agencies providing Web access is also expected to grow and a glossary of basic terms will be added.


The Playa Lake Research Bibliography is a hypertext resource of citations, abstracts, images, and full text articles useful to managers, engineers, and biologists working on playas around the world. Citations are grouped into two broad categories: Biological Systems and Physical Processes. Each of these broad subjects is further subdivided into three topics: Aquatic, Terrestrial, and Wildlife Ecology; plus Geology, Hydrology, and Soils. A Land Management section exists for material which is general or historical in nature, and of course if it relates to specific management issues. Citations are arranged by title and indexed by author, subject, and geographic region. A directory of institutions and agencies working on playas is also provided.

This growing digital library of material on playa lake research is currently housed at Texas Tech University Libraries ({http://www.lib.ttu.edu/subject/bill/biology/playa/playa.htm}). Texas Tech is the international center of research into all aspects of playa lakes. It is also located in Lubbock, Texas, the heart of "playa country", which fosters many pure and applied research projects related to playas.

The city of Lubbock, located on the Southern High Plains, supports a population of approximately 193,000 people. City engineers estimate there are roughly 100 playa lakes within the city limits. Therefore, information gained from playa lake research plays a crucial role in the day to day life of the citizens of Lubbock (Figure 5). For example, due to the region's nearly flat topography playas are used as part of the city's drainage and flood control system. Also, during recent years the city has experienced an explosion of new housing construction. Therefore, developers have been allowed to build adjacent to playa lakes. However, to do this, the developer must first modify the existing playa lake by removing sediment from the center and using it to fill around the margin thereby recovering some of the lake area. Playa lake modification is permitted only if the lake's volume is maintained. This process serves two purposes, it provides more area for housing and allows the lakes to capture and store water more frequently and uniformly, therefore, providing a habitat for many types of waterfowl (Hertel and Smith 1994).

Figure 5: Humans and wildlife interact at Leftwitch Park, Lubbock, Texas.

There is little doubt, that as Lubbock grows, so will local interest in playa lake research. The Playa Lake Research Bibliography will continue to support this research activity. Future enhancements may include searchability and additional formats such as Portable Document Format (PDF). Growth is also expected in the breadth of citations and full text resources included.


Davis, Richard A. Jr. 1992. Depositional Systems: an Introduction to Sedimentology and Stratigraphy. 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ : Prentice Hall.

El-Hoshy, Lynn. 1997. Personal communication, 10 July 1997.

Friedman, Gerald M., John E. Sanders, and David C. Kopaska-Merkel. 1992. Principles of Sedimentary Deposits: Stratigraphy and Sedimentology. New York : Macmillan Publishing.

Gilbert, G.K. 1890. Lake Bonneville. U.S. Geologic Survey Monograph 1.

Haukos, David A. 1991. Vegetation manipulation strategies for playa lakes. Note: Thesis (Ph. D.)--Texas Tech University.

________. 1997. Personal communication, 1 July 1997.

Hertel, Larry D. and R. Keith Smith. 1994. Urban Playa Lake Management, IN: The Playa Lake Symposium: Proceedings of the Symposium in Lubbock, Texas May, 1994. Lubbock, TX : Texas Tech University, 109-112.

Kearey, Philip, (ed.) 1993. Encyclopedia of the Solid Earth Sciences. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications.

Mattox, Richard B. and William D. Miller, (eds.) 1970. Ogallala Aquifer Symposium, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas. Published by the International Center for Arid and Semi-arid Land Studies, Lubbock, Texas.

McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. 1997. 8th ed. New York : McGraw-Hill.

Murrah, David J. 1994. Round as Plates: Playas and the Exploration and Settlement of the Llano Estacado, IN: The Playa Lake Symposium: Proceedings of the Symposium in Lubbock, Texas May, 1994, Lubbock, TX. Texas Tech University, 15-22.

Neal, James T. (ed.) 1975. Playas and Dried Lakes: Occurrence and Development. Stroudsburg, PA : Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross Inc.

Reeves, C.C. and Judy A. Reeves. 1996. The Ogallala Aquifer (of the Southern High Plains). Lubbock, TX : Estacado Books.

Reeves, C.C. 1997. Personal communication, 3 July 1997.

Reeves, Judy A. 1997. Personal communication, 7 July 1997.

Russell, I.C. 1883. Playas and Playa Lakes. Popular Science Monthly 22 : 380-383.

________. 1885. Geological History of Lake Lahontan : a Quaternary Lake of Northwestern Nevada. U.S. Geological Survey Monograph 11.

Smith, H.T.U. 1970. Playas And Related Phenomena in the Saharan Region, IN: The Playa Lake Symposium: Proceedings of the Symposium in Lubbock, Texas May, 1970. Lubbock, TX : Texas Tech University, 63-88.


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