Hello everyone and Merry Christmas. Nothing festive about this post, I am afraid – it’s just a composite of the first two items in a series I am calling FindersKeepers Bulletin. I have been putting them in the leaflet boxes next to the searchroom catalogue binders, but they need to be online too.
Those disappearing paper lists: mea culpa
Until recently, when we referred to “the catalogue”, we meant the paper lists in the maroon binders. Copies of some of those lists were online at http://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/recordoffice. Now, we regard the online version as “the catalogue”, and the paper lists as the copies. This sounds like a delicate change in emphasis, but there has been a significant consequence: the withdrawal of most paper lists.
We had hoped that, by the time the refurbished record office re-opened in spring 2013, this transition would be complete, or at least very nearly so. The reality has been rather different. The following jobs remain in progress:
• The installation of CalmView, a newer catalogue browser, which should make the lists easier to read online. (From Bulletin 2: Current predictions are that this system will be up and running by mid-January.)
• The checking of the aforementioned maroon binders against the catalogue database. When this process is complete some of the lists – notably those covering Anglican parishes – will be making their way back in to the search room. (From Bulletin 2: This has been done.)
• The addition of 1,500 more lists to the catalogue database, through the FindersKeepers project. (From Bulletin 2: more than 200 lists have been added to the catalogue in December, thanks to the work of volunteers during the preceding months.)
• The insertion of index references to the top-level catalogue entries, which should make it easier to find the right collection to begin your research. (This process will begin once the new browser has been set up)
Derbyshire Record Office has been going through a period of transition over this last couple of years. One of the challenges this has brought is the necessity of making changes to the system of finding aids while that system remains in daily use. I would liken it to trying to repair a car while the engine is still running. While focussing on two of the principal tasks – getting all our catalogue information online, and reforming the catalogue so that the results are intelligible – I fear I have neglected a third, equally important one: communicating the changes to our users. For this, I apologise.
We remain committed to the goal of making the online catalogue comprehensive and are sorry it is taking so long to finish the job. I am confident that the changes will result in a better service. In the longer term, for instance, you will be able to order documents online in advance of your next visit, and view images of many documents through the browser.
Coming soon: a new catalogue browser
By cataloguing new accessions electronically, we also cut out one of the most time-consuming elements of the process: formatting, printing and maintaining the paper lists. This should give us more time to devote to listing incoming accessions, and doing something about our backlog.
The browser has been with us for almost a decade without any significant changes, and there are problems with it that make a replacement desirable. The three most obvious are:
• The “overview” provided by the browser aligns the documents’ titles and reference numbers in such a way that it is often hard to tell which reference applies to which document
• When you look at the overview, you see only the reference, title and date – missing out any crucial information that might be hiding in the “Description” field
• The “Description” field can be viewed if you click to see the full entry for a specific document – but the administrative and custodial history of the collection is omitted even then
The new version of the catalogue should redress all of these problems. In the meantime, though, what can you do if you have tried and failed to get to grips with the online catalogue in its present format?
If you are using the catalogue at home, you could ask for a copy of a list as an email attachment. (The new browser will allow us to attach lists to the catalogue itself, so that we can cut this phase out – but until then we will be happy to oblige.)
If you are right here in our searchroom, you can put in a request for the reinstatement of the paper catalogue. A member of staff will look with you at the version as it appears on screen and determine whether that is necessary. In cases where the list is especially long, complex, or eccentrically structured, we will say Yes. If we say No, but you still find it too hard to use the version on screen, we will normally be able to supply a paper copy just for you.