Last month an embarrassingly long time ago now that it’s November, I spent a day off work at the John Miller Burnam Classical Library at the University of Cincinnati, and among the errands I undertook was a look at their trial of the EBSCO interface to L’Annee Philologique. Following are my notes, keeping in mind I probably only spent an hour or two total with the database, and several things occurred to me afterwards that I did not have the ability to go back and check on. I welcome comments from others who have tested, or adopted, this interface for L’Annee.
Overall they have done a surprisingly good job of translating the quirks of L’Annee into the standard EBSCO format (when I worked at UGA, we subscribed to a large number of EBSCO databases, so I have spent a lot of time with the blue-and-green logo ball). But for those of us pretty intimately familiar with both, the mashup is kind of weird and takes some getting used to!
The Cincinnati trial put the user by default into the “Advanced Search” interface. In my experience, academic libraries usually get to choose where the user lands, and “Advanced Search” is a pretty obvious choice for a complex index like L’Annee. A major advantage of Advanced Search at EBSCO (and indeed at most database providers) is it nudges the user in the direction of Boolean searching by presenting 3 search boxes. They are initially connected by “AND” but there is a drop-down menu allowing the user to change to “OR” or “NOT.”
The choices of “fields” (indexes) to search from Advanced Search are as follows, with [notes in square brackets] made by me:
- TX (All Text Fields) [this is the default]
- TI [title, obviously]
- AU [author, ditto - modern author]
- RW (Author, Reviewed by)
- SU [appears to search all subject headings by keyword, i.e. both of below]
- DD (Subjects and Disciplines Prior to Vol. 67)
- DG (Subjects and Disciplines Vol. 67 & After)
- AB (Abstract)
- AN (Accession Number) [N.B. these are unique numbers for each citation in the database]
- AC (Ancient Authors and Texts) [note of course searching "homer" here gets you nothing - more on this below]
- SA (Archaeological Sites)
- ED (Editor)
- GE (Geographic Subject) [What is this searching? "athens" found 2 results - both Athens, GA. ]
- IS (ISSN)
- LA (Language)
- PE (Name of Scholar) [looks like it searches scholar's name in subjects]
- NT (Notes) [cannot figure out WHAT this is searching?!]
- RS (Publication Name, Reviewed By)
- DT (Publication Date)
Some of these are rather strange or opaque, as my notes indicate. While being able to search all the indexed fields available in a database is nice, in this case the labels on the fields can be misleading or simply perplexing. There are some that seem so obscure they might better have been left out, in my opinion. Most entry-level searchers may do best to stick to TX, which does a keyword search of the record (equivalent to a “full text” search in the L’Annee native interface).
What is lost here from the native interface of L’Annee is the extremely useful autofill feature for searching (modern) Authors and Ancient Authors and Texts. In the native interface, if you start typing “hom” in the box when searching Ancient Authors and Texts, you will automatically be directed to a list of possible matches, which usefully demonstrates that “homer” is not indexed but “homerus” is (in L’Annee, all ancient authors and texts are indexed under their latin names.)
The EBSCO interface does attempt to replicate these useful features by allowing the user to browse some of the indexes – accessed by More -> Indexes. Browsing the Ancient Authors and Texts index does not include the autofill feature, however, and there’s no “did you mean” feature here, leading to what I call the classic “Juvenal Fail” in L’Annee:
Imagine how boggled an undergraduate would be by this! And there’s no help text to tell you to try the latin name. Browsing for a modern author is less likely to result in failure:
One can also browse the Archaeological Site index, which is very useful for archaeologists, once you get over the hurdle that the site names are all exclusively in French and must be browsed by the strict format “country (site name)”. So my test of “ath” to try to see what Athens was indexed as brought me sites in Austria:
One can also browse the two Subjects and Disciplines indexes, and these operate exactly as in the native interface, where one can expand the broad terms by clicking to reach deeper levels of the subject classification.
L’Annee in its native interface abbreviates the titles of journals, which only expand when hovered over with the cursor. In the EBSCO interface journal titles are expanded by default, but abbreviations are also included, and can be searched interchangeably with the full titles. I tested a search for “aja” and found it returned the same results as a search for “american journal of archaeology.” Yay!
Things I Might Change
The EBSCO interface is in English, of course, but subject headings that appear (i.e. in the sidebar to facet a search after it’s been made, and in individual records, see image below) appear in both French and English (duplicates), which I can see as confusing and/or off-putting to undergraduates who are wary of languages they don’t know. This seems a strange choice – why not simply include the English translations and leave out the French originals?
Another EBSCO feature included in this version of L’Annee is the suggestion of alternative search terms when a search returns few/no results, displaying “did you mean…”. I found this only appeared some of the time – perhaps the less common vocabulary of classics sometimes stumped EBSCO’s recommender – and when it did appear was sometimes useful and sometimes not. (This is not a problem unique to L’Annee – at one point I had a small collection of wildly irrelevant things databases would suggest to me I ‘might have meant’.) Overall, in assessing whether this feature added value or complicated matters, I might well have chosen to leave it off.
Who might consider purchasing L’Annee through EBSCO in addition to the native L’Annee interface, adding L’Annee at EBSCO when they do not subscribe to the native interface, or switching? Factors will vary at different institutions. For starters, I have no information about price. Anecdotally, I heard from one person that the EBSCO interface was more expensive than the native, and from another person, the reverse. (This is by no means unlikely – pricing for library subscription databases is generally not transparent, and will vary according to the size and classification of the institution as well as local and/or consortial deals involving purchase of multiple products from a given vendor.)
A second question to consider is who uses L’Annee. In my anecdotal experience, faculty use it occasionally to rarely – they tend to conduct research by bibliographic chaining out from known items, and looking for new publications by scholars whose work they already know. Graduate students, especially PhD students, are probably the heaviest users, given their need to move from a position of little knowledge on a subject to mastery of it, often including a full historical literature review. Graduate students also have a minor tendency to become obsessed with bibliographic completeness (raise your hand if this is you.) In my experience, undergraduates are generally slow to be exposed to L’Annee, even those majoring in Classics at top-ranked institutions. They are unlikely to be using it at all unless a librarian or faculty member has both recommended it and taken the time to demonstrate its value. The EBSCO interface might make L’Annee an easier sell for undergraduates – since after all, you can plop “homer” into a keyword search box that looks pretty standard and get (some) results. Grad students and faculty are more likely to resist change, and in my opinion the EBSCO interface doesn’t add anything valuable enough to the native one to be a dealbreaker.
A third question is, does your institution already subscribe to a large number of EBSCO databases, and is your library promoting a unified search of the local catalog and subscription databases (like GIL-Find/Multi-Search at UGA or Summon at Cincinnati)? If you’re already heavily EBSCO, you’ll likely get a better price, and your students will already feel pretty comfortable with the look and feel of EBSCO. More classics-themed results will be included in a catalog-and-database combined search. That might make switching worth it.
Who else has had a trial of the EBSCO version of L’Annee? What was your evaluation, and what has your institution chosen to do?