Reading nineteenth century schoolbooks online : user behavior in a digitized special collection
Narayan, Bhuva & Spink, Amanda H. (2008) Reading nineteenth century schoolbooks online : user behavior in a digitized special collection. In Ross, Deidre (Ed.) Issues in Librarianship : Presented Papers at the ALA Annual Conference. American Library Association, Chicago, pp. 72-87.
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Special collections, because of the issues associated with conservation and use, a feature they share with archives, tend to be the most digitized areas in libraries. The Nineteenth Century Schoolbooks collection is a collection of 9000 rarely held nineteenth-century schoolbooks that were painstakingly collected over a lifetime of work by Prof. John A. Nietz, and donated to the Hillman Library at the University of Pittsburgh in 1958, which has since grown to 15,000. About 140 of these texts are completely digitized and showcased in a publicly accessible website through the University of Pittsburgh’s Library, along with a searchable bibliography of the entire collection, which expanded the awareness of this collection and its user base to beyond the academic community. The URL for the website is http://digital.library.pitt.edu/nietz/. The collection is a rich resource for researchers studying the intellectual, educational, and textbook publishing history of the United States. In this study, we examined several existing records collected by the Digital Research Library at the University of Pittsburgh in order to determine the identity and searching behaviors of the users of this collection. Some of the records examined include: 1) The results of a 3-month long user survey, 2) User access statistics including search queries for a period of one year, a year after the digitized collection became publicly available in 2001, and 3) E-mail input received by the website over 4 years from 2000-2004.
The results of the study demonstrate the differences in online retrieval strategies used by academic researchers and historians, archivists, avocationists, and the general public, and the importance of facilitating the discovery of digitized special collections through the use of electronic finding aids and an interactive interface with detailed metadata.
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