Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.

The Power of Suggestion: Two Search Tips

Pronunciation: s&g-'jes-ch&n, s&-'jes-, -'jesh-
Function: noun...
2 a : the process by which a physical or mental state is influenced by a thought or idea suggestion> b : the process by which one thought leads to another especially through association of ideas
(Source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

The power of suggestion—that's really what the BROWSE feature found in most Archive of Americana collections is all about.

Sometimes researchers have a specific destination in mind when they approach an online resource, but more often than not, the journey begins with a somewhat vague idea lacking specifics. BROWSE is a powerful tool that allows researchers to begin with a general idea and then to select additional terms to narrow the search, or to move in a slightly different direction. In a sense, BROWSE helps the researcher by providing "suggestions" as to how he or she might proceed.

TIP 1: While genre, subject and author are frequently used BROWSE categories, other categories should not be overlooked.

The Power of Suggestion: Two Search Tips

Integrating Browse with Search: Finding Needles in Haystacks

Expert searchers know that one of the best strategies for getting precise search results quickly and effectively is to use metadata when constructing searches.

Many have dedicated countless hours learning the search fields, subject headings, search syntax and interface functionality of numerous databases in order to efficiently satisfy information requests. But in today's world, user expectations are higher than ever. Not only do they expect precise results quickly, they expect to be able to do it themselves without having to become expert searchers. Learning the advanced functionality of various interfaces or Library of Congress Subject Headings is not on their agenda.

Thus, the challenge for designers of information products is to expose those capabilities in a way that puts precise results within easy grasp of any user. The integrated browse/search design of the Readex Archive of Americana collections is an example of how to approach this challenge, and based on customer and user feedback, it appears to be a success. The following are the core principles behind the design:

Principle #1: Just because it's powerful and sophisticated doesn't mean it's advanced; presentation makes all the difference.
In most databases, field searching is relegated to the advanced search portion of the interface. Even when it isn't, users are generally expected to know what the fields represent, what values might be useful as search terms (e.g., Library of Congress Subject Headings), how to combine fields with other fields or full-text search terms, etc.

Integrating Browse with Search: Finding Needles in Haystacks

Digital News You Can Use: Observations on Digitizing Historic Newspapers

One of the biggest challenges to digitizing archival and special collections material is to prioritize your projects. Budget pressures aside, there are the standard considerations of historical subject matter, material format, current preservation needs, technical limitations and institutional priorities. After directing several digital projects, I've realized that one guiding principle has always helped me to decide.

During one of my first workshops in digitization, the presenter advised the audience that whatever digital project you decide to create, you will marry it for life. The presenter that day was Liz Bishoff, founding coordinator of the Colorado Digitization Project, now the Collaborative Digitization Program. Most people don't think of a digital project as a long-term commitment, but that's exactly what it becomes. A digital project is a digital collection, and all collections need not only a vision, but also a commitment to accuracy, service and preservation.

With Ms. Bishoff's advice in mind, I considered a number of potential subjects for my first digital archives project at Franklin and Marshall College. I quickly settled on digitizing the college's student newspaper, "The College Reporter." Established in 1873, the Franklin and Marshall student newspaper already had a long-term relationship with the students, faculty and alumni of the college. Digitization would enable the paper to be indexed and keyword-searchable for the first time. In addition, full images from the paper would now be available for browsing via the Web, all completely free of charge. The appeal and benefits were obvious. It was now just a matter of contracting the scanning, distillation and hosting processes with Olive Software, Incorporated.

Digital News You Can Use: Observations on Digitizing Historic Newspapers

"Find Ten Primary Sources by Tuesday": Tips for Teaching Students to Use Digital Archives

Many of the topics librarians address in teaching digital archives of historical documents are common to bibliographic instruction of all electronic resources: explain the content and scope, demonstrate searching and show how to print and save searches. Digital archives, however, are sufficiently different from other search tools because their instruction requires a more specialized approach. Several suggestions for effectively teaching such primary source archives follow.

First, explain to your users how using a digital archive will benefit them. While it's easy to spend the limited bibliographic instruction time available on the what and how of the resource—content and searching techniques—it's essential to not neglect the all-important why.

What benefit does a primary source archive offer that a database of journal articles does not? This is a vital information literacy question, and your answer will depend, of course, on the expertise of the users you are teaching. Although historians with extensive experience using primary texts will find the value obvious, it's unlikely that all beginning undergraduates will share that understanding.

Why should students burden themselves with original historical documents—arcane and abstruse as they often are—when they have textbooks available to summarize and interpret the same information? Why would any professor demand such a thing? Teaching digital archives affords you an important opportunity to explore these questions with students. By encouraging an understanding of the value of primary sources—including the potential for original discoveries in unabridged historical documents—users often explore digital archives with a new pleasure in making the required deductions and inferences on their own.

Serial Set, Breakfast of Champions: Setting the Table for Librarians

Although the "U.S. Congressional Serial Set" is an extensive collection of documents that makes the history of the United States come alive, many librarians have been reluctant to highlight this resource at the reference desk or in their library instruction classes. Until a few years ago, the Serial Set had been available only in often-fragile printed volumes and in microfiche with limited indexing, which made identifying and then finding relevant materials challenging, even for experienced librarians. In this article, I will describe how a new Web-based edition of these historical U.S. government publications became available at San Jose State's King Library.

Formed by a unique collaboration between the public library of San Jose and San Jose State University, King Library serves the diverse research needs of students, faculty, staff and the community. Prior to this merger, the San Jose State University Library was the designated federal depository for San Jose. However, most inquiries for federal resources came from the University's faculty and students. For example, history and political science students were often required to analyze the evolution of U.S. legislation and policy.

Since the merger, our academic librarians have become aware of the public community's research interests. For example, the California Department of Education has provided social studies teachers with a new set of frameworks that incorporate the use of primary sources to develop historical literacy concepts (California, 1997). As a result, students from local high schools have started to visit our library to find primary resources for their social studies assignments, many of which could effectively utilize the Serial Set.

Serial Set, Breakfast of Champions: Setting the Table for Librarians

Indexing Congressional Publications: The Grasshopper's View

Representative Alexander Hamilton Stephens, 1812-1883, and U.S. Senate Librarian, Alonzo Webster Church, 1829-1909, though on different sides of the aisle and separated by almost two decades in age, had at least one thing in common besides being Southerners, Georgia natives, and graduates of the University of Georgia: a deeply held concern about the indexing of and access to U.S. Congressional publications.

In the Jan. 19, 1880 report "Indexing the Publications of Congress" (H.Rpt. 128, 46th Congress, 2nd Session), Stephens noted that his recent reports from the Committee on Rules have "had the effect of calling the attention of members to the real nature and importance of index-making…and developed an appreciation of the fact that the want of a proper system of indexing has detracted very greatly from their value and use." He then went on to say "the application of a uniform system of indexing, based on well-established principles, would enable the compilation of general indexes at stated periods hereafter a matter of very little trouble and expense."

Stephens also focused on the practices, current at that time, of indexing the Congressional Record, which were making access to the Record far from easy. He quoted one index entry which begins "That the rules of the Last House of Representatives shall be the rules of this House until otherwise ordered, with the following amendments thereto; namely: Rule 76 shall be amended so as to read as follows…" and then the entry goes on for another 660 words making a total entry of 690 words. From that exaggerated case Stephens drew the conclusion: "Measured by the standard of Sir Henry Thring, that 'an index is perfect in proportion as it is concise in expression,' we doubt if a more extreme example of what an index entry should not be can be found in the history of index-making since the art of printing has been practiced."

Indexing Congressional Publications: The Grasshopper's View

What's Cooking in the Library? Tested Recipes for Building Digital Libraries

In addition to the ever-increasing interest in digitizing materials for preservation, access and sustainability, interest in creating new digital collections is also on the rise. Digital collections are natural extensions to the idea of the library, an idea which itself has expanded rapidly in recent history—from physical collections to the concept of a collection. As with building physical collections, creating digital collections is arduous and richly rewarding.

For those beginning to create digital collections, the technicalities of digitization are only a small part of the larger process. The larger process requires planning all aspects of the project, especially accessibility and sustainability. Luckily, we can learn from the digitization work of others who have already documented their process. However, the individual requirements of projects emerge from specific collections and institutions and vary accordingly. 1 Those variations require extensive planning time even when using existing models.

In The Mythical Man-Month, Frederick P. Brooks offers a general recipe for software development, comprised of:

  • 1/3 planning
  • 1/6 coding
  • 1/4 component test and early system test
  • 1/4 system test, all components in hand (p. 20)

While Brooks focuses on software engineering, the planning required to develop a digital library project is similar. The longest single chunk of time for the first project iteration should be in planning. Planning is essential to project success because poorly planned projects are difficult to salvage. Brooks' law, "Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later," is equally applicable to many digital library projects.2 Proper planning plots the necessary infrastructure so that time-consuming and costly conversions do not become necessary.

What's Cooking in the Library? Tested Recipes for Building Digital Libraries

Originalism in a Digital Age: An Inquiry into the Right to Bear Arms

The quest for original intent has dominated Second Amendment scholarship, a trend further solidified in the Supreme Court's recent gun case, District of Columbia v. Heller. In the majority opinion, Justice Scalia insisted that the "normal meaning" of the words of the Second Amendment must be used to understand the Framers' intent, not "secret or technical meanings that would not have been known to ordinary citizens in the founding generation."1 But how can scholars (and justices, for that matter) determine the normal meaning of words? How can we divine what the Founders meant when they recognized the right of the people to keep and bear arms?

The debate over the Second Amendment has largely revolved around whether the right to bear arms protects an individual right to self defense or a collective right to keep arms for service in a militia. To date, most scholarship has sampled select quotations from a relatively narrow set of sources to determine the meaning of key phrases like "bear arms." Readex has now made it possible to search the historical record in a systematic and comprehensive way. Indeed, digital archives with keyword search capabilities can help us understand the meaning of historical phrases with relative certainty.

Originalism in a Digital Age: An Inquiry into the Right to Bear Arms

How Libraries Can Win in Today's Web 2.0 Environment

When librarians talk about developing patron services in the Web 2.0 environment, I often wonder if they are simply expressing a desire to deliver more engaging services, or whether they are truly embracing the Web 2.0 philosophy. For most, it’s likely the former, but over the past 18 months, a growing number of library administrators have been actively searching for ways to capture the fast-paced development environment utilized by Web 2.0 organizations.

In October 2008 at the Readex Digital Institute, Dartmouth College’s David Seaman presented "From Ponderous Perfection to Perpetual Beta: Library Services and Superabundant Information." He talked specifically about his institution’s desire to develop a more nimble infrastructure for creating and testing new patron services. In a sense, Seaman was asking if a library can become a Web 2.0 organization.

It’s an interesting question, as the Web 2.0 concept is, in many ways, more about a philosophy itself than the technologies or services that the philosophy has spawned.1 More specifically, Web 2.0 is grounded in the idea of perpetual development, or “perpetual beta,” and of treating users as equal partners in the development process. Seaman’s talk raised two important questions that I o;d like to explore further: first, what happens within this environment when library services are not successful? And second, what is that one thing—that “big win" for libraries—that will keep users coming back, even if new services fail?

How Libraries Can Win in Today's Web 2.0 Environment


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This online publication explores diverse aspects of digital historical collections and provides insight into web-based resources, including the Archive of Americana and Archive of International Studies.

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