Wednesday, February 4, 2009

19th-Century American Merchant Marine Digital Library

The 19th-Century American Merchant Marine Digital Library is a project funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that “centers on merchant vessels of the nineteenth century, the people who owned and sailed them, and the records pertaining to them.”

Selection Decisions:
In its “Significance of this Digital Collection,” the digital library does a nice job of setting forth its rationale in compiling ship registers, primary sources, rare books and reference works relating to 19th century maritime activities. The Mystic Seaport Museum has collaborated with several other museums (The Mariner’s Museum, the Maine Maritime Museum, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the Library of Congress) to complete its collection of ship registers that is not available anywhere else, preserve a complete run of registers from 1857 to 1900, and make them available in a way that could not be done in print or in microfilm. The unfortunate aspect is that the digital library does not appear to be very well curated. The plethora of dead links on the site suggests that it is not being actively managed and sustained.

The site contains a lot of plain text information about general topic areas relating to maritime activities. There are some hyperlinks scattered throughout to other parts of the collection, but the connection between the hyperlink and the object it links to is not always clear. The website provides some helpful search options (subject, title, keyword, ship and yacht register), but the usefulness is hindered by numerous dead links and no highlighting or other indication of where the keyword is located within the object.

Object Characteristics:
The digital library contains many scanned items and finding aids, but it has not made them very interactive. There are no zooming capabilities. Unique identifiers to assist in finding the item in the museum’s collection are typically not provided. While most images identify the source of funding for digitizing the image, they otherwise do not identify the source of the object or provide information on the object’s authenticity.

Intended Audience:
Primarily academic researchers. The library notes: “Buried in our collection of primary materials are thousands of research papers waiting to be written. Making the collections more accessible will hopefully result in wider use and greater publication.”

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