11 December 2016

What genealogists want from digital libraries and archives

Digital library search preferences amongst historians and genealogists: British History Online user survey by Adam Crymble provides understanding of the different needs and expectations of academic historians and genealogical users of digital libraries and archives.

The results are from a survey of British History Online, a digital library of key printed primary and secondary sources for the history of Britain and Ireland, with a principal focus on the period between 1300 and 1800.

Who responded to the survey? 737 (51%) classified themselves as genealogists; 354 (25%) as academics or students; and 348 (24%) were in a catch-all, casual user, category. Academics reported more frequent use of the site than genealogists.

Genealogical users were typically older than the academics. The majority were between 55 and 74, but the largest group was older than 65, and there was a large group older than 75 years. Very few users were under 45. The split between male and female respondents was equal, unlike amongst academics.

63% of genealogist users responding were from the UK and Ireland, 18% from North America and 13% from Oceania.

Simple keyword searching was the most popular approach to using the site's resources with genealogists having slightly more use than academics. Advanced keyword searching was also popular but slightly more so for academics than genealogists. This could be because genealogists were found to focus most on name and place searches.

A majority of users liked to have access to fuzzy and proximity searches, more so the academics.

The study concludes that "genealogists are primarily interested in names of people and names of places related to their search. They do not seem to be interested in reading material, or even what the source of the material is, as long as it contains the details they are after. Searching free content only was more important to genealogists than it was to academics and casual users."  That could well be because academics have access to the paid content through an institutional subscription.

If you decide to read the full article don't be put off by the momentary lapse to 23rd grade Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level academic obfuscation,:
It would be easy to be deterred reading the sentence above in the recent article Digital library search preferences amongst historians and genealogists: British History Online user survey.The project is also an important part of the technical revisionist reactions in the form of discrete re-curated datasets that eschew searchable databases entirely and instead focus on a mutable interpretation of a set of records as the new unit of dissemination.
Digital library search preferences amongst historians and genealogists: British History Online user survey is by Adam Crymble of the University of Hertfordshire and published in Volume 10 Number 4 of Digital Humanities Quarterly.

1 comment:

Old Census Scribe said...

One of the most useful series of publications provided by British History Online is the Victoria County Histories (which are available for most, but not all, of the counties of England). However, one of the keywords not on British History Online's list is "Victoria County Histories"--very frustrating if you forgot to bookmark the main page last time.

For those family historians unfamiliar with the VCH, it contains articles written in the early 20th century describing numerous parishes in England, small and large. It is very useful for tracing genealogies of the families owning the "manor" in the parish. And if the parish had a special industry outside agriculture, it will tell you that, too.