In a previous post, I mentioned that we are currently reviewing what information users will be able to see in the results page produced by searching our bibliographic database. The current fields displayed are country, county, author, phase and publication date. The most obvious omission here is of course title. However, for a number of reasons, it’s been impractical to include the titles during development and may not be practical in the online tool. This post explains why, and outlines some of the challenges presented by the survey titles.
Firstly, there is the issue of length. Some of the survey titles extent to half a page, and if they were shown in full, they would significantly limit the number of results that could be shown on one screen. In addition there is the issue of repetition, as most follow a generic format. Here, for instance, is one typical title:
General View of the Agriculture of the Hebrides, or Western Isles of Scotland: with observations on the means of their improvement, together with a separate account of the principle islands; comprehending their resources, fisheries, manufactures, manners, and agriculture. Drawn up under the direction of the Board of Agriculture. With several maps.
Like all the other titles, it begins with the generic form ‘General View of the Agriculture of… with observations on the means of their improvement….’ Listing many titles in such a form is potentially confusing visually and means that a reader has to work harder than usual to scan and identify the different content. It also means that presenting a shortened title is difficult without reducing the title to the county name. In which case, why not simply list country name? This is what we have done throughout the development process. But, as this example also shows, there is also quite a lot of useful additional information which varies from title to title and which may attract slightly different groups of readers. Here for instance, the promise of an account of the manners of the islands makes the socio-historical interest of this volume explicit. The question is how we can we format the title in such a way as to reveal that information without creating redundancy and repetition.
Unexpected title variations have also created challenges in gathering bibliographic data. The Irish surveys (which are mentioned but not detailed in our master bibliographies) have a significantly different title format. Rather than ‘general views’ they are titled ‘Statistical Survey of the Country of… with observations on the means of their improvement’. We discovered this late in the process, which meant that we had to go back to the sources we had harvested information from and repeat the process. To complicate matters, even these variations are not consistent: anomalies such as the General view of the agriculture and mineralogy, present state and circumstances of the County Wicklow exist, making it very difficult to be sure we have identified all the relevant publications and holdings.
We will be experimenting with the format of the results page over the next few weeks, and hope to find a way to present the titles to include some of these interesting variations.