Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


Benjamin Franklin’s “The Way to Wealth”: Documenting Its Dissemination through Bibliographical Work

Some phrases have become common expressions because the works in which they appear were printed repeatedly in diverse publications. That is the only way they could have entered into such widespread popular usage. Such a phrase is “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and in a splendid bibliography Stephen M. Matyas, Jr., has traced its dissemination up through 1825.[i]

“Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise”; “Lost time is never found again”; “No gain, without pain”—these are other phrases that are part of our language, still seen by parents and grandparents as common-sense words of wisdom, maxims worthy of being instilled in the younger generation.

Benjamin Franklin’s “The Way to Wealth”: Documenting Its Dissemination through Bibliographical Work


Teaching Bibliography and Research: Using Early American Imprints in an Online Graduate Class

The Charles Brockden Brown Electronic Archive and Scholarly Edition is currently preparing for its archive nearly 900 periodical texts, many of which were published anonymously or under a pseudonym. Our goal is to identify these texts, and make them available electronically in the archive. During the course of locating Charles Brockden Brown’s political pamphlets on the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and Jefferson’s Embargo (1807), I first came to use the four Archive of Americana collections of Early American Imprints. That initial encounter with Early American Imprints, Series II and its Supplement from the Library Company of Philadelphia (LCP) would lead me to incorporate its companions—Early American Imprints, Series I and its Supplement from LCP—into my online ENG 5009 Bibliography and Research class and to explore how all four series can complement the assignment on library research tools.

 

Teaching Bibliography and Research: Using Early American Imprints in an Online Graduate Class


The Index of Virginia Printing: Building an Online Reference with Print and Digital Resources

How does a researcher handle dated reference works still in print and still widely used?

 

From the masthead of a Virginia newspaper

This has been a recurring challenge in my twenty years of research into Virginia’s early printing trade. Historians of the Old Dominion have long repeated the assertions of their predecessors with a certain reverence for their closer proximity to the historical past, and so of their forebears’ intrinsic authority. Names like Lyon G. Tyler, Earle Gregg Swem, William G. Stanard, and Lester J. Cappon carry considerable authority among Virginia’s historians, just as those of Charles Evans, Clarence Brigham, Roger P. Bristol, and Winifred Gregory do among bibliographers of early American imprints and newspapers. Their works are magisterial efforts from a time when the now-common computerized collecting and sorting of bibliographic and biographic data was not just unknown, it was unfathomable.

The Index of Virginia Printing: Building an Online Reference with Print and Digital Resources


Digging Up Crime Stories from America's Past: Tips and Technique from a Librarian-Scholar

As a librarian, I love to recommend the perfect Boolean search phrase to unearth the exact documents wanted, but as a writer who digs up stories from America’s criminal past, I generally find myself using simple search phrases. This search strategy, however, does not mean that I conduct simple searches.

In seeking primary source material, I inevitably find myself trying to answer one or a combination of four basic questions: who? what? where? and when? (“how” and “why” are more the province of secondary sources). By combining these basic questions with knowledge of the peculiarities of how information in eighteenth-century America was published and distributed, I have a better chance of finding the information I need.

Who? In writing about crime in early America, I am interested in the lives of criminals, especially if they have a compelling story to tell. But early American sources can be frustrating in their lack of detail. The Boston News-Letter reports that in New York on June 9, 1718, “Three men are condemned here for Burglary and Felony and are to be Executed on Saturday next.” That is all. No names. No details. I can waste a lot of time in an attempt to track down more news reports about this execution, but I will find no more information than what is offered in this one newspaper.

Digging Up Crime Stories from America's Past: Tips and Technique from a Librarian-Scholar


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


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


The Power of Suggestion: Two Search Tips

sug•ges•tion:
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


Preserving the Library in the Digital Age

Librarians, educators, journalists and others often rave about the potential and promise of electronic databases. Let's face it, I rave, too. For my previous book, Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution, and my current book on the Boston Tea Party, I have found Readex collections like America's Historical Newspapers and Early American Imprints invaluable for discovering new sources, learning more about eighteenth-century readers, confirming citations and drawing new comparisons.

I've had a lot of chances to reflect on how I gain access to sources. As a scholar whose sources are over 200 years old, it still amazes me how much I can read without ever leaving my study. Sometimes there are frustrating gaps in the available electronic databases, which can be unwieldy or misleading. Still, on occasions when I need to check a fact or a footnote without leaving my study, they're massively convenient.

Preserving the Library in the Digital Age


In Praise of Librarians and Archivists: Appreciating the Colleagues Who Make Professors' Jobs Easier

Since I was a child begging my mother to take me to the library on a daily basis, I have appreciated the designated keepers of books. Conducting research as an undergraduate student made me aware of the specialized jobs that academic librarians did every day to make life easier for the clueless young people like me who wandered into the building with no idea about how to find academic journal articles or primary sources. As a graduate student, my appreciation for academic librarians only grew. I also became acquainted with archivists, primarily at the Tennessee State Library and Archives and the Library of Congress, who explained the mysteries of microfilm readers and emerged out of “the stacks” with the material necessary for me not only to complete my graduate degrees but also to satisfy my intellectual curiosity. Becoming a faculty member has allowed me to work with academic librarians as colleagues. Over the past few years, I have appreciated not only their willingness to assist my students with searching for and acquiring sources but also for the different perspective that they bring to the inner workings of a university.

In Praise of Librarians and Archivists: Appreciating the Colleagues Who Make Professors' Jobs Easier


Of Presidents and Papers

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, established at Princeton University, is preparing the authoritative and comprehensive edition of the correspondence and papers of our nation’s third president. As historians editing Jefferson’s incoming and outgoing correspondence, we are responsible for gathering documents and making them available to posterity in an accurate, transcribed, and contextualized format through our published and digital editions. Our “humanities laboratory” (as our general editor Barbara Oberg refers to it), consists of folders of more than 70,000 photocopied manuscripts gathered from over 900 repositories and private collections. These manuscripts line every wall and fill almost every surface area of our small space and are the core of our collaborative scholarly enterprise.

We never tire of sharing with others the process of producing a documentary edition. When we hosted an annual documents-based seminar for high school students last year, the teenagers looked incredulous when we explained that our compilation of Jefferson correspondence, some in multiple versions, is the single most comprehensive resource of its kind in the world. The techno-savvy students were equally intrigued by the clunky object that, until recently, occupied a corner of our office. We explained that this microfilm reader had enabled us to search thousands of documents from federal repositories and other smaller collections. As we demonstrated this alien technology to a texting and tweeting generation, we were reminded that not long ago these microfilmed manuscripts or microcard collections were the only access points to archives short of in-person visits.

Of Presidents and Papers


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