Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Product Analysis: Great Speckled Bird Database 3/12

Individual Tutorial Assignment: Product Analysis

The assignment this week is to examine, explore, and analyze a product that utilizes the technology we have chosen for the research project. Since I am looking at the creation of an archive and community for underground press publications, I decided to explore the functionality of a digital archive.

Georgia State University Library currently has a digital collection of media that can be searched, and it is very similar to the kind of project I envision. I also selected this archive because Georgia State University is home to history professor and author of the underground press book Smoking Typewriters, Dr. John McMillian.

Here is a link to the database: GSU Library Digital Collections

Although the collection includes many different types of media and various titles, I am primarily concerned with Atlanta's major underground publication, The Great Speckled Bird. There are far more issues of this newspaper (having run from 1968-1976) than there are of the papers I have been involved with thus far; however, there are many functions of this database that I think would apply to mine.

A Walkthrough:

From the database's home page, you can select the publication or collection you want to browse. I selected Great Speckled Bird. This screen shot shows the results: a list of titles with thumbnails of the cover and date of publication. Each has the same description and subject. At the top, there are options for doing an advanced search, setting results preferences (number of hits per page and format), and saving articles and entries to a favorites section by clicking the box beside the thumbnail.

By clicking on the advanced search tab, I was able to search for key terms within the collection. I could limit the search to one title or select multiple media to search across the entire collection. There are some various search options like searching for an exact phrase or all of the words. I searched "Charlotte" in just Great Speckled Bird.

The search produced a list of hits. Each issue that contains the term is listed in the same way as before, but when the title is clicked, the page that contains the term is highlighted in red.

Here is where my heart started beating a little faster. There are many amazing features shown in the screen shot below. First, the database is able to list each issue's pages separately down the left hand side of the screen, clearly indicating in red the page that has the key term. The viewer wouldn't have to scroll through a lengthy pdf file but simply click the page he or she needs.

The next feature that I like is that the key term is also highlighted, so the viewer can see exactly where the term appears without having to read the entire document. An additional tool bar appears to the immediate left of the document. Here, the number of instances that the keyword appears on the page is given as well as the file paths for each instance. By clicking on the file paths, the highlighted box will move between the various instances on the page. The page being viewed can also be searched for a different keyword.

Finally, in the upper right hand corner are a series of tabs. The tools tab allows the viewer to create a pdf of the page and export it by email or with Adobe SendNow, convert the page to a Word document, or create a new pdf. These tools are available after signing up for Adobe membership, which the viewer will be directed to before having access to these features. Comments can be added and text can be highlighted by selecting the comments tab.

Why This Rocks:

There are many aspects of this database that are impressive, particularly for a researcher:
  •  The completeness of the archive is great. They have done a lot of work in compiling, preserving, and digitizing such a vast amount of issues.
  • The thumbnails of each cover makes the results resemble a digital catalog, which helps the researcher more readily scan through the various issues.
  • Organizing each issue with a list of links to each individual page is an excellent research tool.
  • Searchable text is the key feature that takes this from being a reading resource into a true research tool for scholarship. Being able to look for a certain event or person allows the archive to be used by multiple disciplines.
  • The quality of the scans makes it very easy to read each issue, and the zoom features on each page allow the online viewer to closely simulate the first-hand experience.
  • The researcher is also able to use Adobe tools to annotate, save, and export in a text document. This would allow for the text to be easily incorporated into a paper or blog. Not having to retype passages can save a lot of time.
  • There is a place to click for a reference URL. A new window opens with a URL address directly to the page being viewed that can be copied and used in citations. Another great research tool.
It really seems as though the database was built with the needs of a scholar in mind. The kind of searching, saving, annotating, and exporting functions it provides are excellent research tools. This helps me see the difference between a website dedicated to just reading about or having a forum about a particular title and a research archive designed to further the scholarship in a particular academic discipline. While I want the forums as a place for author attribution and connection, I don't want to lose sight of the scholarly purpose.

A New Lead:

At the bottom of the screen, there is a little link that says "powered by CONTENTdm" (a php site by the way). Here is the link: http://www.oclc.org/contentdm/.

can handle the storage, management and delivery of your collections to users across the Web." The storage of archive could be a great solution to my eventual problems of space, and the conversion to searchable files is something they could potentially help with in addition to building the interface for the archive like the GSU collection.

I am really excited to have come across this new lead!

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