Technical Platform & Interface
The basic search retrieves results from all collections housed on the platform. MAP indicates that “You are free to search and browse results from all collections, but you may only view images in items for which your institution has a licence.” Once results from an all-collection search are returned, the user can choose to select “show licensed collections only.”
A potentially confusing aspect of the BOA platform is the handling of the thematic series groupings. There is a single page listing the various series, linking to individual pages itemizing the collections included in each. But the landing pages of the individual collections do not in turn reference back to the series title, except for those from a key series, British Records on the Atlantic World (BRAW). In fact, there is collection overlap among the thematic series, particularly between BRAW and two other series, Anglo-American Relations series and Colonial & Missionary Records.
Most of the interface functions are geared toward the individual collections rather than applying to the series. Within the individual collections, the browse interface has a very logical and clean layout, following conventions familiar to those accustomed to browsing traditional archival collections. There are lengthy summary descriptions providing historical context, presumably taken from the original guides for the microform sets. The guides themselves, are digitized to enhance browsing access, and provide a fair amount of detail for each document or group of documents (listed in a hierarchical order like an archival finding aid). One potential source of confusion is the reference to “series title” within various collections (e.g. “Kenya 1901-1946” is a series within “African Bluebooks”) This nomenclature follows standard archival practices of establishing subsets within collections, but could be confused with the broader thematic series created by MAP.
In contrast with browsing, searching is tedious. Since the collections are a mix of manuscript and printed documents a word search retrieves a heterogeneous mixture of full text and document titles. The “go” button for searches is not intuitively labeled. The most challenging aspect of searching is that the terms are not featured within the results; there are no contextual snippets or highlighted text. One must open each selected document and scroll through the full contents list of pages; the relevant page numbers are highlighted, but not the terms themselves. One can actually find search terms highlighted by switching to the Adobe Reader plug-in and searching within the document, but that solution is not obvious (although it is mentioned in the help comments). Additionally, there is no obvious method for returning to search results.
A major inconvenience is the fact that documents currently can only be printed or downloaded one page at a time. While the publishers originally noted that copyright violations were a concern, they have indicated that expanding this function will now be a “top priority” for development.
The Advanced Search function allows a choice between searching “all collections” or selecting only one individual collection at a time. It would be useful to be able to make a custom selection of collections to search. At the same time, there are actually separate search interfaces and home pages for two of the series: British Records on the Atlantic World (BRAW), and Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). The publishers indicate that they may create home pages for other series once they have grown to a certain size. The existence of these separate home pages is not obvious at first, and it also is not easy to find one’s way back to the BOA home page.
The metadata for individual collections is quite thorough. Records appear to be based on Dublin core. These are displayed for each “series”, document, and page image. Documents are assigned digital identifiers. Document level metadata often includes lengthy title annotations for unpublished materials, and notes the original archival collection source, such as “Liverpool Record Office”. Page image records include any page level tagging, such as the date of a manuscript letter. MARC records were created for the initial eleven collections in BRAW; the publishers indicate that they will investigate the feasibility of producing more MARC records for the other collections.
Individuals at subscribing institutions can set up end-user login accounts from their local account administrator, allowing them to save up to five favorite document citations at a time.