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Calling all genealogists and researchers

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We’re interested in your feedback about another pilot project, related to our transcription pilot project.

Here at the GHL, we have a pretty extensive genealogy vertical file. It contains research and primary sources submitted by patrons, for other patrons’ use, over the course of many years. While it’d be great to have all of these digitized and put freely online, about 90-95% of the contents are under copyright.

One idea we have is to allow people to full text search the contents (which can’t be done now), but only present a small image of the document.  You’d then have to come to the library to get the actual document from the file.  Here is what you might come up with if you did a full text search on the term “Waddill.”

So what do you think? Is this too confusing and frustrating? Is it worth the effort, to have these documents full text searchable? Please leave us a comment below and let us know what you think, and pass on our request to others who might have insight. It’ll help us determine how to proceed with these valuable and often unique resources.


  1. I think that offering full-text search of copyrighted works is quite valuable, so long as you are able to display some sort of snippet from the results, which I don’t see in the Waddill results. This is important for two reasons: most obviously, patrons need to know whether their search results are legitimate (rather than an OCR error or such) before they make travel plans. The other reason to offer result snippets is a matter of usability: users need that feedback in order to refine their searches.

    One other thing I’d suggest is being as explicit as possible about why you can’t display the full text or hi-res image of the document, posting the explanation in apologetic/sympathetic terms on both search and results screens. We’re all in favor of minimizing user enragement, and I know of few things more perilous than directing a user to what they want, then telling them they can’t have it. So long as you make it plain that you’re trying to provide as much access as possible but are limited by external IP restrictions, I think that people will be appreciative. One possibility is to allow users to flag documents they believe to be obviously out of copyright, so that full text and hi-res images can be placed online.

    1. Government and Heritage Library says:

      Thanks for the suggestions, Ben. We are planning on putting up the out of copyright documents separately, like our other items. As for snippets, I considered the same thing myself since many folks are familiar with Google’s book snippet view. I’m not sure our software can accommodate such a thing, but we’ll look into it. Your comments are definitely helpful!

  2. Ginger Smith says:

    Hi, I agree with Ben’s comments above. I was surprised there was no snippet view available. However, I did read the bottom of the page that explained the issue with copyright. I think the snippet is important in order to gauge the quality of the information, especially for people who might travel to view the documents or for myself who is a researcher often called upon to retrieve these documents for out of State people.

  3. Jerry harvill says:

    Having a searchable database would be quite helpful for people out of state or long distance. But with what you showed us, on a listing of the surname and close surnames, but not way to see at least the full name or document id#s…. not too helpful.
    And I agree a view of the area that is indexed really would be helpful. I have an older Death certificate that David was indexed as Daniel …. Not everyone can read the older microfilms….
    Any online information id appreciated. Thank you for all your hard work.

    1. Government and Heritage Library says:

      Thanks for your feedback. I can see that context is important – especially if you’re on the trail of a Smith or a Jones. If we can find a way to do some sort of snippet view, to give just a little more information, that sounds like it’d be the most helpful and least frustrating.

  4. I.M. Spence-Lewis M.D. says:

    The concept of a searchable database is very useful and worth the effort. It is important to survey all those requesting use of the database. This should be done prior to use as they may not wish to do so after. This would be useful when applying for grants and determining the extent to which the database is being used.

    Is the database to be indexed into various catagories for search convenience? Examples are: birth certificates, death certificates, medical information, eugenics, military, politics and any index that would be appropriate to the work or requests.

    There needs to be guidelines so that one may have an idea how to proceed with a search that will avoid being ” too confusing and frustrating”.

    Perhaps you could have an instructive on-line video that would assist those using the proposed database.

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

    I.M. Spence-Lewis M.D.

    1. Government and Heritage Library says:

      We had not thought about dividing items by category – that’s an interesting idea. It’s also helpful to know that you’d find an online video useful. Thanks for taking the time to give us feedback.

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