The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

New Vault Material Walks Into a Library…

New staff members (and researchers!) are sometimes surprised to find that on-order and newly received collection materials show up in Hamnet searches. Many special collections libraries keep that information staff-only until the material has arrived, been processed, and sent to the vault. But it doesn’t feel right to us to hide information that might be useful to researchers. Even if you can’t see an item right now because it was only ordered yesterday, you at least know that it exists, and is on its way.1

Three small stacks of books, with papers on top.
Vault material “received” but not yet “in process”.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to search Hamnet by order date: even though order information displays in Hamnet, it is actually pulled on-the-fly from the Acquisitions database. When you see “Please consult Reading Room staff” where the call number should be, you’re actually seeing the call number equivalent of the “404 file not found” error message on a website. The phrase itself isn’t present in the call number field.

Screen shot "Order information: 1 Received as of 04-06-2017"
Example of order information pulled into a Hamnet display (much to my irritation, system-supplied dates in Hamnet display in American order: mm-dd-yyyy)

Even though it’s not possible to search for order information in Hamnet, it is possible for me to pull information from the Acquisitions and Cataloging databases through the back end. This means I can generate a static report of everything received in a given time period, tweak it a bit, and put it in Folgerpedia as a sortable table. As proof of concept, see the Folgerpedia article List of vault material acquired in 2015/16, which originated with a report on last fiscal year’s activity. The default sort is by date of acquisition, but you can sort on any of the columns to change your current view of the data (it doesn’t change the underlying code: if you want to go back to the default view, just reload the page in your browser).

Screen shot of 7-column table

So why would anyone want a list like this? For one thing, Folgerpedia is indexed by search engines, so it’s a quick way for staff to find out when a given recent title was acquired: type “treatise concerning nobilitie accordinge” and “folger” into a Google search box, and you get this list right away. No need to log in to the Acquisitions database. More importantly, it helps returning researchers answer a question we often hear, “What’s new since I last visited?” Some day I hope it will be possible for individuals to set alerts so that they automatically get a text message if something on a given topic or by a particular person is acquired, but for now, this is what’s practical. I see it as a combination of “Something is Better than Nothing” and “The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good” with a dash of “Hang in There” for seasoning.

We’re thinking that a year’s worth of vault material is long enough to be a useful list, but short enough to be browseable (it’s usually a few hundred items; the 2015/16 list has 310 entries). But maybe quarterly lists would be better? There would be more links to click, but fewer titles to skim in each list. Let us know what you think in the Comments.

  1. Or rather, you can reasonably expect that it exists, and is on its way. Occasionally we’ve had to hide the record in Hamnet after adding a staff-only note like “Dealer can’t find book. Will let us know if it turns up” or “Returned to dealer: described as 17th-century but on wove paper.” (See Learning to “read” old paper for why something on wove paper cannot date to the 17th century).

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