More about the catalogue browser

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.

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7 thoughts on “More about the catalogue browser

  1. Pingback: FindersKeepers instructions | Derbyshire Record Office

  2. Pingback: Calmview is online | Derbyshire Record Office

  3. CALM is one of my pet hates anyway in its different manifestations. I usually have to visit and view the paper catalogues in whatever archive I am researching. This is proving a problem as archives are removing these from search rooms on the daft assumption that they are no longer needed.

    I am a professional genealogist who works for a number of overseas researchers who often ask me to go and look at documents whose references they have garnered from older source books. My only hope is usually to go and look at the paper catalogue listing where hopefully in the collection details it will refer to previous document references and re-cataloguings/re-numberings. Online catalogues are usually pretty hopeless for these “minor” details. What is particularly trying is where paper catalogue pages have been removed following input into the online catalogue with no indication that they have been removed at all. Then I hit a complete brick wall!

    Please please please take account of future researchers who may be doing the same thing as I in years to come – give them a chance to find a record which has in effect been re-catalogued. The concept of meticulous cross-referencing seems to have been thrown out of the window as soon as the computer arrived on the scene and as for the idea that research from fifty or a hundred years ago may still be consulted ………….

    • I was on duty in the search room last week, which left me no time to reply to your comment. I do like to reply, as it is always good to engage with people who care about cataloguing.

      First of all, I do like your user name. Biscuits always please me.

      I too have had my fair share of irritation with CALM over the years. However, the more I learn about it, the more I realise my problem is more with the way CALM has been used than the product itself; all too often, “pretty hopeless” sums it up. In the particular case of re-cataloguing, there is no good reason why the Previous_Numbers field should not be used to record a document’s former reference, especially if the paper list notes it. This field is missing from our current browser, but it will be visible in Calmview.

      If the paper list does not note former reference numbers, that may be because they are listed separately in a concordance. A good example from our collections is D258, Gell of Hopton, which was re-catalogued many years ago (no doubt with sound reason) and the changes noted together at the back of the paper list – online users have no access to that document, but when we have Calmview, we will be able to put a copy online, which should really help.

      You express frustration at (if I may paraphrase) the way that catalogue alterations make it harder to rely on published sources as a finding aid e.g. by harvesting reference numbers from scholarly footnotes. The flipside of that is the frustration for archivists when researchers order documents without checking the catalogue first, as it can cause tremendous confusion. References can usefully be garnered from fellow researchers, from citations in publications, from index cards in the search room and so on; but from our point of view the catalogue remains the definitive source of information on our collections and anything else is a signpost to it. By and large, we won’t (or at least shouldn’t) tinker with it unless we have a good reason.

      IMHO, the move from D37 M/T 3/2 to D37/MT/3/2 doesn’t count as re-cataloguing, because the use of spaces and slashes has never been systematic among either staff or researchers: the decision about whether to separate the elements with a space or a slash has tended to be stylistic rather than functional; whether it is a researcher writing the reference on a request slip, a member of staff writing the reference on the back of the document itself, or an archivist putting references in the catalogue. What we are finding is that we need to be more consistent about dealing with alpha-numeric references if we are to have references that work properly.

      Leaving aside re-cataloguing, you may find there are other things that appear in paper lists but not their electronic counterparts – cross-references, corrections and so on – but, again, there is no reason why this need be so. I spent much of 2013 comparing paper with screen before withdrawing paper lists, so I speak with feeling. You can tell whether a paper list has been withdrawn if you are in the search room by checking the Collection References list which sits next to the index cards. There will be a way of checking the same thing through Calmview, once it’s installed.

      I have already pleaded guilty to removing paper lists from the searchroom. But it’s not quite right to say this is on “the daft assumption that they are no longer needed”. We acknowledge that paper lists are useful, and we keep them in circulation if the online browser on its own would be markedly inferior. But we feel justified in removing most of them because in doing so we also remove the considerable burden of trying to keep parallel systems up to date. The staff time saved can then be used on unlisted material. There is some really good stuff in our backlog, and it will never see the light of day if we devote all available time to maintenance work on material that is satisfactorily catalogued already. (And another thing: we continue to pay for the physical space and resources spent on material that is waiting to be appraised, which may be archival gold dust, or just … well, dust. We won’t know until we get a chance to have a proper look through it all. There is a lot, and every week we are given more.)

      As I have said in previous posts on this, we have to use our judgement to work out when the catalogue browser on its own will suffice, and when it needs to be supplemented by a paper copy. Until we have got Calmview up and running, we don’t really have a fair means of comparison.
      Please forgive the length of this reply. I will now have a glass of water. And perhaps a biscuit.

  4. Hullo. If you noticed recently the Froggatt references in collection D1490 (actually the Barlborough parish collection, but there is a lot about Barlborough Hospital in there) that is a sign that the FindersKeepers project is working – the collection was added to the catalogue by our prolific volunteer Elissa in October 2013. I have now added D3331 to the database so it will be available to you just as soon as the upgrade is complete. For what it’s worth, Froggatt is one of those surnames with endless alternate spellings, so it might be worth searching for Frog* if you are doing name searches, as that will catch anything that starts with those four letters. An aside: our cataloguing rules are that we modernise first names (e.g. put Peter instead of Peeter), transcribe surnames just as they appear on the original document, and put place names down as per the original but with a modern spelling in square brackets (e.g. Grindleforthe [Grindleford]).

  5. Definitely flummoxed and can’t wait to see the online catalogue up and running. By a fluke, last weekend, my D3331 Froggatts were not available online but a search revealed Froggatt documents in the Barlborough Hospital collection that had not appeared before. At last the answer to some of our pre 1570 Froggatt family questions. It seems that the Froggatts owned land in Froggatt from before 1296 to 1743. I have to rewrite the Froggatt family history. Jennifer Nicholas nee Froggatt great granddaughter x 10 of William Froggott of Froggott ( died 1591)

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