[Source] Science and Technology 'showcase' at the European Library

30 januari 2013

Modern railroads, electric lights, airplanes and automobiles: these are just some of the notable 19th and 20th century inventions highlighted in a new showcase of the European Library. During this time of rapid progress, the potential of science and technology to improve every aspect of daily life seemed to be limitless. ‘Science & Machines’ is a collection of over 600 images, videos and historical documents, ranging from an early history of electricity to a film showing the birth of the world’s first test tube baby. Handwritten correspondence with Albert Einstein, early x-rays and videos of 1930s operating theatres are among the more than 600 images, videos and historical documents brought together by the showcase. (From the European Library web site)

So far the good news. Although the library portrays this as a ‘showcase’, it is not so easy to see what practical use such an admittedly haphazard collection of items will have to a researcher. The ‘more than 600 images, videos and historical documents’ that the site boasts about pales in comparison to what is already available online in various locations. Moreover, it is unclear which selection criteria have been used for this ‘showcase’. Nor, for that matter, what is the raison d’existence for such a showcase to begin with.

There are some interesting items, certainly, but their presentation is somewhat clumsy. One only sees an image with part of a title of the work and an ‘access online’ link to the original publication. In itself, such an aggregator is not a bad idea considering the chaotic organization of many source repositories (including archive.org, to name the worst offender). The way in which individual items are tagged and described is not bad at all. It’s just that there are so few of them.

Navigating through a list of items isn’t actually that much easier than it is on sites such as Google Books or Archive.org. A tag search is fine, but the thumbnail pictures in the item list aren’t large enough to distinguish many details, and because the title is also cropped the visitor needs to visit each potentially interesting item description after all. The European Library site as a whole is also not without its problems; especially navigation is inconsistent. For instance, clicking ‘home’ in an item view within the showcase will cause the visitor to return to the site’s home page rather than that of the showcase.

In its present state, the showcase gives an interesting peek into something that may become, but isn’t yet, a viable solution to the problems of finding online sources. The whole process of describing individual items also seems very labor-intensive. So unless some sort of crowd sourcing is used, it is difficult to see how this showcase will become more complete very soon.