Scholarly Societies Project

News/Editorial, 2003, May 9:

A New Search Engine, A New Look: Phase 1

Table of Contents

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Background

The first search engine was made available to the public in 1998, February (Database with Search Engine Now Available). It marked a big step forward in providing access to the information in the Scholarly Societies Project. The updating process was, however, rather cumbersome, consisting of (1) updating the data, which resided in an Excel spreadsheet; (2) converting the spreadsheet to a text file; (3) converting the text file to an XML file; and (4) running the indexing program on it.


When the original search engine was first made public in 1998, it was hoped that within a short period of time it would be possible to use the database to create most HTML pages that the Editor had been maintaining by hand. If fact, it turned out not to be possible to do so in a satisfactory manner. Unfortunately the Editor had to maintain a double entry system, that is, entering the data for a given society into the database (actually an Excel spreadsheet), and also manually updating the HTML pages that were to contain information about that society.

Drawbacks of the First Search Engine
Aspect
Description
Functionality of the Search Engine Boolean combinations were not permitted between different fields.
Limiting a search by founding date of societies could not be done.
Input including diacritical marks or non-Latin characters was not interpreted properly by the search engine.
Display of Brief Records
Brief records contained too little information and were poorly formatted.
Sort order (by date of entry into the system) was not useful.
Management System
Until the Summer of 2001, a cumbersome double entry scheme was used to maintain all areas in the Scholarly Societies Project: the HTML files were updated separately from the updating of the database.
In 2001, two new areas were introduced that were produced directly from the database: the By Country and By Language areas. These added value to the Project, and did not need a double entry system. But the resulting listings were hard to use if more than a couple of dozen entries were returned, since there was no useful sort order, and the brief display was far too brief.
The HTML files in all other areas continued to be manually produced.

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Phase 1 of the Cold Fusion Implementation
The goal of Phase 1 was to create a new search engine with greater functionality and a better brief record display. This was achieved by
  1. moving the data from the Excel spreadsheet into a highly structured Access database,
  2. performing several checks on data integrity and
  3. creating Cold Fusion scripts to run a new search engine, and to display the search results.
Changes Resulting from Phase 1
Aspect
Before Phase 1
After Phase 1
Functionality of the Search Engine Boolean combinations were not permitted between different fields. Enabled in Phase 1.
Limiting a search by founding date of societies could not be done. Enabled in Phase 1.
Input including diacritical marks or non-Latin characters was not interpreted properly by the search engine. Deferred to a later Phase.
Display of Brief Records
Brief records contained too little information and were poorly formatted. Major improvement in Phase 1. In a later Phase, some enhancements will be made (e.g. displaying transliterated names and translated names differently from the original society name)
Sort order (by date of entry into the system) was not useful. Major improvement in Phase 1: sort order is now almost alphabetical. In a later Phase, some aberrations caused by the existence of diacritical marks in society names will be corrected.
Management System
The By Country and By Language pages were already produced from the database, but with the above-noted limitations in brief record display. Major improvement in Phase 1: the brief record display limitations for these pages were largely fixed in Phase 1.
The text in all other areas was manually produced. Producing other pages from the database is deferred to a later Phase.

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Phase 2 of the Cold Fusion Implementation
Phase 2 will likely take place over the Summer of 2003. The Editor hopes that the following steps will be taken during Phase 2:
  • creating Cold Fusion scripts that will produce the 70+ subjects pages from the database, which will spare the Editor much labour in maintaining the HTML pages;
  • modifying the search engine so that it will accept diacritical marks and non-Latin script as input, in a Unicode-compatible fashion;
  • performing a few minor enhancements to search engine functionality; and
  • performing a few minor enhancements to the brief record display.
It is hoped that eventually most other pages in the Project will also be produced from the database.

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Acknowledgements
It is a pleasure to thank several members of the Systems Department of the University of Waterloo Library for their hard work on Phase 1. The team who handled the bulk of the complex technical operations of Phase 1 consisted of Bill Oldfield, Chris Gray and Joe Stauttener. Thanks are also due to Charles Woods who handled details of the URL alias used for the search engine.

Finally, thanks are also due to the Administration of the University of Waterloo Library for continuing to sponsor the Scholarly Societies Project for the benefit of scholars world-wide.

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Published 2003, May 9
Jim Parrott, Editor
Scholarly Societies Project.

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