British Online Archives

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    British Online Archives, distributed by Microform Academic Publishers (MAP), consists of eleven thematic series, each containing individual collections of archival contents. New collections are added to each series as they become available.  Two of the series within this digital archive have also been reviewed separately by CRL: British Records on the Atlantic World, 1700-1900, and Communist Party of Great Britain.

    May 31, 2024 4:27pm
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    Collection Content

    British Online Archives, distributed by Microform Academic Publishers (MAP), consists of eleven thematic series, each containing individual collections of archival contents. New collections are added to each series as they become available.  Two of the series within this digital archive have also been reviewed separately by CRL: British Records on the Atlantic World, 1700-1900, and Communist Party of Great Britain.

    The series are largely oriented toward British and British colonial history. New collections are added as they become available, with a goal of six new collections added annually to various series as appropriate.  The eleven series comprising BOA are:             

    Anglo-American Relations

    British Broadcasting Corporation

    British Records on the Atlantic World, 1700-1900

    Colonial & Missionary Records

    Communist Party of Great Britain

    Industrial Revolution

    People & Protest in Britain and Abroad, 1800-2000

    Twentieth Century Political History

    Records of the Raj


    Science & Medicine

    A list of the collections included under each series as of September, 2013, is available in the appendix: BOA Series and Collections List. Note that the publishers count several collections under multiple series; there is particular overlap between the collections of BRAW and Colonial & Missionary Records.

    The digital collections themselves have been converted from microform sets also distributed by MAP. MAP indicates that the source archival collections are generally represented in their entirety;  the originating archival repositories are noted.


    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.

    Individual accounts

    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.


    MAP offers the entire BOA or selection of any of the subject series. There are several payment options: as an annual subscription, five-year license, or perpetual license.  A complicated pricing structure takes into consideration that individual collections will continue to be added to the various series:  annual subscriptions and multi-payment perpetual licenses are pro-rated to include annual increases as the content expands, while a five-year license or single payment currently is available at a set price.


    Strengths and Weaknesses

    While the scope of some of the individual collections may be somewhat narrow, MAP’s effort to convert an extensive microform series is impressive. The use of a conventional hierarchical archival collection structure for the browse lists, and inclusion of contextual collection descriptions plus well-formed metadata extending down to page level are welcome features which should serve scholars and students alike. But the thematic grouping of collections into series is not fully exploited and is in fact potentially confusing, in terms of minimal overall description or representation of overlap, and lack of search functions available to act on the series as a whole. Regarding basic functional deficiencies in the platform, MAP has indicated a willingness to consider implementing features including: ability to download and print a maximum of a full document at a time rather than one page at a time; ability to apply search functions to multiple selected collections.


    Center for Research Libraries

    • Virginia Kerr - Digital Program Manager

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