Wednesday, March 11, 2009

American Journal of Science

The American Journal of Science, a digitization project of Carnegie Mellon University Libraries, is a full text digital library that provides access to the earliest volumes of the oldest, continuously published scientific journal in the United States. The collection includes 140 volumes from the first three series of the journal beginning with the second edition of volume one published in 1819 and concluding with volume 50 of the third series published in 1895.

Selection decisions can only be inferred as information about the collection is extremely limited. Two of the seven whole sentences on the About the Collection page indicate that this particular journal is (and has been since shortly after its beginning) an important scientific publication. Other influential factors in the selection decision process likely include the journal's continuous publication since 1818, its continued ranking as a top journal for peer-reviewed scientific information, and the selected volumes' lack of copyright restriction (all volumes are in the public domain). Though the collection is publically available and can be both searched and browsed, the interface is neither inviting or aesthetically pleasing, nor are there any obvious mechanisms for supplying usage data or comments.

Unfortunately, metadata of any kind is equally elusive. The remaining five sentences included on the About the Collection page note the scope and focus of the content, the scanning resolution (600 dpi), and the fact that the collection can be searched and browsed by volume. The FAQ page offers a small amount of information about how to search the collection, how to cite the collection and individual documents (use of persistent URL), a brief explanation of the OCR technology that makes the collection searchable, and direction to other digital collections available through Carnegie Mellon University Libraries Digital Collections website. The browse feature and search result list inform the user about the journal volume and publication year they are choosing to view, but that information is nowhere to be found when looking at page images. If the user forgets which volume they are looking in, they will have to backtrack to find that information.

Determining object characteristics is also primarily based on guesswork. Objects were scanned at 600 dpi and are bitonal. They can be viewed as small, medium, and large JPGs. The small and large formats do not seem especially useful unless the user has a fairly large screen. Images are limited to one page at a time. Navigation within a particular volume is also limited to moving through the pages consecutively or in leaps of fifty pages forward or back.

The intended audience for this collection appears to be scholars even though the general public can access the collection. The clunky interface and limited information seem like they would discourage casual use.

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