Scholarly Societies Project

Editorial, 2004, February 6:

The First Decade: Retrospect and Prospect

Table of Contents

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The Motivation Behind the Project
With the occurrence of the 10th Anniversary of the the Scholarly Societies Project this month, it seems appropriate to reflect on its past and look to its future. We begin with some thoughts about why a Project like this is of value.

In The Role of the Scholarly Societies Project (Editorial, 2000 March 27), it is argued that scholarly societies are, and have been, critical to the scholarly enterprise, and that it is therefore essential that information about them be readily available. Yet most large directories covering scholarly societies are not available free of charge on the Internet. The provision of a high-quality free directory of scholarly societies was the first motivation behind the Project.

Furthermore, The Role of the Scholarly Societies Project points out that determining historical information about a society can be a daunting task. This holds true especially when one is searching for information on the very oldest societies, particularly those that were important in their time, but which no longer exist. This realization came about half-way through the first decade of the Project, and represented the beginning of a shift away from the original conception of the Project as merely a directory of current scholarly societies with websites to the broader vision of the Project as a repository of information on scholarly societies, past and present.

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1994 - 1997: Inception and Early Growth

The Scholarly Societies Project was made public in February of 1994. It began as a collection of 20 links to the gophers, and then later to the websites, of scholarly societies across the world. The collection was at first simply an alphabetical listing by society name. More information on the development of the Scholarly Societies Project over the last decade may be found in Timeline of the Scholarly Societies Project. The first few years are discussed in Progress of the Scholarly Societies Project (1996 November 25).

By December of 1995 the list had grown to 610 links. It was supplemented by: 42 different subject listings, links to 103 serial publications in full-text form, 45 meeting announcement lists, 21 academies, 36 federations, and 23 international unions. Over the years, a few of these special features had to be dropped (e.g. the serial publications and the meeting announcements) because of the extraordinary volatility of their URLs. But most of the features from 1995 still form part of the Project; in addition to this, there have been several enhancements.

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1997-1999: Quality Control
Late on the afternoon of Wednesday, November 20, 1996, a milestone in the Scholarly Societies Project was passed when the Editor added the 1000th society to the Scholarly Societies Project.

As happy an event as this was, the Editor was becoming increasingly aware of the price that accompanies a project containing a large number of external links: the heavy cost in tracking and fixing changed links.

In an attempt to maintain quality control in a project with a rapidly growing set of links, the Editor imposed some restrictions on which societies would be added to the Project. This is documented in the following set of Editorials:

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1998: 1st Search Engine
Another consequence of the increasing size of the Project was the increasing time it took to locate particular societies in the Project. It was decided that a database would be a useful way of alleviating this situation.

In the Summer of 1995, work on constructing a database containing all the information in the HTML files was begun. In late 1996, the database was completed, but it was not yet made available to the public via a search engine. A lengthy delay ensued.

On 1998, February 6, the Editor was pleased to announce: Database with Search Engine Now Available (Editorial: 1998, February 6). This represented a major improvement in access to the resources in the Project.

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1999: Historical Enhancements
In 1999, recognizing the problems in determining historical data on scholarly societies, especially the oldest ones, the Editor began a sub-project to determine as well as possible the history of name changes for the societies, as well as other interesting historical details, such as the the major journals of each society (including contemporaneous abbreviations used for the titles of these journals).

The sub-project, entitled Repertorium Veterrimarum Societatum Litterariarum (Inventory of the Oldest Scholarly Societies), is confined to societies founded up to and including 1799. As of 2004, February 6, there are 252 societies in this pre-1800 area; history pages have been created for 178 of them. It is hoped that, at some time in the not too distant future, it will be possible to develop a general data structure for these history pages, and begin the task of creating a database that captures all the data in all the history pages. The resulting database would allow historians to use the data in novel ways.

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2000: Geographical Coverage
In the Editorial, 2000, March 27: The Role of the Scholarly Societies Project, it was recognized that there needed to be a greater effort to increase the proportion of societies from countries other than the ones that then dominated the Internet, namely the English-speaking ones.

Consequently, work was begun to enhance geographical coverage in the Project. A progress report on that work (as of 2001, Mar.12) is found at: Improved Worldwide Coverage in the Project (Editorial, 2001, March 12).

The current state of affairs may be found by consulting Scholarly Societies by Country / Geographical Area, and Scholarly Societies by Language.

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2001: Unicode Enrichment
As a result of enhanced geographical coverage, problems in dealing with foreign diacritics and non-Latin scripts assumed greater prominence than previously.

Consequently, protocols were developed for dealing with the display of these characters. Entries requiring re-encoding were processed according to these protocols. This initiative is described in some detail in: Implementing the Unicode Standard for Encoding Character Sets (Editorial, 2001, December 20).

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2002: Re-Analysis of Subject Headings
The set of subject descriptors used in the By Subject area was originally based on the list of academic departments at the University of Waterloo, and supplemented by a few obvious additions.

By 2001 it was clear that that some of the files (especially in the areas of science, technology and medicine) were too large to be of real use as a way of classifying material. At the time this effort was begun (November 2001), there were 6 subject files that had more than 300 entries in them; and for one of these, there were more than 600.

The TUGWEB Ejournals Group of the Tri-Universities Group of Libraries (TUG) (University of Waterloo, University of Guelph and Wilfird Laurier University, all in Southwestern Ontario) had recently revised their classification scheme, after much effort, to include slightly more than 60 subject headings. The Editor then suspended all normal maintenance of the Project for a period of about 5 months in order to bring the Project into line with this new classification scheme.

At the beginning (Nov.2001), there were a total of 46 subject files, with 6 of them having more than 300 entries. At the conclusion of this phase (March 2002) there were a total of 61 subjects descriptors, for an average subject file size of 2542/61 = 41.7. At this time, there were only a couple of subject files that contained more than 300 entries; both contained fewer than 350 entries.

At the conclusion of the five-month reclassification period, it was decided that it would be best if no subject file were much bigger than 200 entries. Consequently, further subdivision of the larger files was undertaken. As of 2004, February 6, there are 82 subject descriptors in the By Subject area, including several not in the TUG scheme. This effort is still in progress; problem areas still exist.

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2003: 2nd Search Engine
In A New Search Engine, A New Look: Phase 1 (News/Editorial, 2003, May 9), it was pointed out that, when the first 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. This turned out not to be the case.

In addition, five years of using the database had revealed some shortcomings, both in functionality of the search engine and in the display of its search results.

It was decided to remedy these problems by moving the database to a highly structured Access database, and creating Cold Fusion scripts to run a new search engine, and to display the search results. Phase 1 of this project relieved most of the functionality and display problems, except those that involved accepting diacritics and Unicode as input. It did not, however, result in the creation of the subject and chronology pages directly from the database; these must still be maintained by hand.

A later phase, Phase 2, is intended to relieve the problems with the diacritics and Unicode, as well as the back-breaking labour of maintaining the HTML pages by hand.

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The Future
This is necessarily a smaller section, since the Editor has no crystal ball. He does, however, have a wish list.

Through a feat of temporal dexterity, we briefly return to the present. It is a pleasure to acknowledge the support over the past decade of the Administration of the University of Waterloo Library in sponsoring the Scholarly Societies Project for the benefit of scholars world-wide.

Without that generous support, this Project would almost certainly have amounted to little more than an interesting web-based experiment that unfortunately vaporised, like so many other websites, after a few brief years of existence. Thanks!

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Published 2004, February 6
Amended 2004, February 8
Jim Parrott
Editor
Scholarly Societies Project.

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facilitating access to information about scholarly societies across the world since 1994
last modified: 2009, December 27

NEWS/EDITORIAL 2009, December 27
Fifteen Years of the Scholarly Societies Project

4157 Scholarly Societies, 3832 Websites
Search Engine
By Subject [83]
By Country
By Language
By Founding Dates
Inventory of the Oldest Scholarly Societies (1323-1849)

Special Kinds of Scholarly Societies
Academies and Royal Societies of Broad Scope [272]
International Unions [88]
Federations of Scholarly Societies [198]

Special Resources at Scholarly Society Websites
Meeting/Conference Announcement Lists
Standards [59]
Full-Text Serials

Scholarly Societies and Scholarly Communication [essays]
Meeting Sponsors and Publishers
Bibliographic Work
Interactions with Commercial Publishers
Crisis in Scholarly Publishing
Creating a Society Web Site
Bailey's Scholarly Electronic Publishing Bibliography

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