My last FindersKeepers post discussed the Calmview browser we will be using to display our catalogue and noted that “Current predictions are that this system will be up and running by mid-January”. I was cagey about exactly when it would be installed, being aware that IT systems and weather systems offer comparable levels of predictability. For now, let’s just say mid-February and hope for the best. [Deep sigh.]
Meanwhile, I offer a treatise on the subject of spaces and slashes. The subject matter mayn’t be the most entertaining, but I hope it will help at least some users get more out of the catalogue.
An eagle-eyed researcher wrote to us from the USA recently ask why there had been some slight changes in the reference numbers used in the list for collection D37. So, for example, a document formerly holding the reference D37 M/E 2/1 now appeared on the catalogue as D37/ME/2/1. To some people, those references will appear identical – but to others (and indeed to our software) there is a world of difference.
As I said in my reply to the researcher, reference numbers are intended in principle to be permanent. However, we are only now beginning to catch up with the legacy of how they have been put into our online catalogue, and it’s this that brings the change.
The main problem is that Derbyshire Record Office’s referencing system was designed long before the technology for electronic cataloguing was available. In a lot of cases, the spaces between the components of the reference are in themselves a meaningful part of the reference. By contrast, CALM – the software used by a strong majority of UK repositories – interprets a space as non-existent, so that it would read D37 M/E 2/1 as identical to D37M/ E2/1. This is not such a problem if you are viewing the results through the online catalogue as an Overview, i.e. the hitlist that you get after you click “Search”. But it is nigh on impossible to navigate if you are opening and closing sections of the “tree” view, i.e. the collapsible diagram that you can see if you click on the reference numbers themselves. That explains why I have been putting slashes instead of spaces.
But why remove the slash separating the letters in the middle? Well, this goes back to another problem with the history of our referencing system, which is that it has relied on users to draw inferences here and there. For instance, only guesswork will tell you that M/F usually stands for “family documents”, where M/E means “estate papers”, M/T means “title deeds”, and in some other collections, Z/Z means “miscellaneous”. If there was once a rule book that made these things explicit, there is no such rule book any more.
A reference like M/E is no problem if you are viewing your search results as a hitlist; but if you are using the hierarchical “tree” view, some records will appear blank because there is no directly corresponding catalogue entry. If the catalogue contains an entry which says D37 is Turbutt family of Ogston and another which says D37/M/E is Estate papers, but nothing in between the two, users of the tree will expand D37 and be confronted with “D37/M: No Title”. Only the most dedicated optimist would click the little cross next to this to find D37/M/E, D37/M/F, D37/M/T etc., etc. So we either have to insert a new level into the list, with reference D37/M, calling it something bland like “Family and estate papers”, or remove the slash from the middle. While working through our collections in recent months, I have opted for the latter course of action in most cases, in the hope that it will give people quicker access to the meaningful bits of description. Conversely, in the case of Anglican parish records, I have opted for the former solution, because formulations like A/PI are used so very consistently that to make even minor changes risks disorientating users who work with parish collections all the time. So in each instance, I have had to insert an extra level in the catalogue such as D2179/A and call it “Parish Archives”, which can be opened up to reveal A/PI (the parish incumbent’s records), A/PD (the Parochial Church Council’s records), A/PF (charities) and so on. Either of these approaches has its drawbacks. I hope you have not been unduly flummoxed by the changes.
I am still not finished. Sorry.
The new browser will work from the latest version of CALM, which has been “improved” in a way which I personally find baffling, but I hope to get used to: a search for D37 returns only one entry, the fonds-level entry which describes the whole collection. If you want to move to lower levels of the list, you must either use the “tree” and drill down to item-level, or search using an asterisk to indicate that you want to see all entries that begin with D37. Be warned, though! This also returns entries from 108 entirely unrelated collections that also begin with D37, i.e. D371-D379 and D3701-D3799 – if you want to see the whole of D37 only, you need to type D37/* (including the slash) into the RefNo field. Once we have managed the transition to the new system, I intend to enter into a dialogue with the developers to see whether this might be changed.
The new system does have its advantages, though. Calmview allows for images to be inserted so that users can download them from the catalogue. We have made a start on this by scanning much of our material relating to the First World War, and will be uploading the images in the coming months. The first image to be added was the Roll of Service of Wirksworth Grammar School – as soon as the catalogue has been upgraded I will post again and give a link to the image.