IsisCB Explore—What You Can Do Now, and What You Can Expect

by Stephen Weldon, HSS Bibliographer

As most of you will already know, the new IsisCB Explore application is now available online. Your library may now already have a link to it—as of this writing, we are listed on about thirty library resource pages around the globe. (If yours isn’t one of them, you might want to give your librarian a nudge.)

Brainstorming the future of the IsisCB. Recently, Weldon and his graduate student team met with Sylwester Ratowt to work through a new Zotero-based input system that will make it possible to collaborate more easily with other bibliographers and with scholars who have bibliographical collections to share. From left to right: Nathan Kapoor, Stephen Weldon, Younes Mahdavi, and Sylwester Ratowt.

Brainstorming the future of the IsisCB. Recently, Weldon and his graduate student team met with Sylwester Ratowt to work through a new Zotero-based input system that will make it possible to collaborate more easily with other bibliographers and with scholars who have bibliographical collections to share. From left to right: Nathan Kapoor, Stephen Weldon, Younes Mahdavi, and Sylwester Ratowt.

I’m really pleased at how the application has turned out so far and want to give you an update on the status. When I envisioned the project about four years ago, I had the idea that it would link scholars and their scholarship together in new and interesting ways. The generous two-year Alfred P. Sloan grant has pushed us forward dramatically and has already allowed us to achieve quite a lot of what I had envisioned. We are hoping to receive another grant to continue the development and put the platform on firm footing so that the IsisCB will become a standard online resource for years to come.

For those unfamiliar with the project, IsisCB Explore makes data in the Isis Bibliography available to users worldwide via an open access search interface. Although we are still calling this the beta version, the site is very useable now and has many features. For example, all of the citations in Explore are picked up by bibliographic managers. We have designed it with Zotero in mind, and users have told me that Mendeley can also read our citations.

Recently we have made some modifications on the system to encourage users to recognize a major advantage of our system over standard “bibliographical” search services, namely our authority file. I want to emphasize how novel it is. Unlike many search services where the indexed terms and names are only lists of words in an index, our authorities all have their own records. This means that we are able to track information on the meaning and identity of our authorities in ways other services cannot. Both subjects like Marie Curie and authors like Sally Gregory Kohlstedt have stable URIs in our system so that in the current highly linked environment of the web, we can link out to other resources and those resources can link back to us.

We have already begun exploiting this feature in a collaboration with Deutsche Biographie (an authoritative lexicon of German personalities published by the Historical Commission of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and the Bavarian State Library). We are identifying as many common authorities as we can so that users on our site will be able to quickly find out what information Deutsche Biographie has on any particular person. We plan to do the same with the Encyclopedia of Australian Science, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and other major online academic resources.

Another advantage of our authority file is that you as an author can find your own authority record, and if you register for an account and log in, you can add comments with relevant information on your scholarship, including URLs where people can find your most recent CV or other online material. Please try it out when you have a few minutes.

Beyond the authority file features, we’ve tried to make it easy to send citations via Twitter or Facebook, and you can email colleagues the link to your search results simply by giving out the URL of the results set. To do this, just copy the URL in the address bar of your browser. Even though I’ve developed this system, I am still surprised by how convenient it is to tell people about whole sets of records just by giving out this link. Because Explore is open access, anyone anywhere can call up the same set.

So what does the future hold? First of all, it will hold more data from the past—we are historians after all—so you’ll find records from the Isis Cumulative Bibliographies going back to 1913. This will almost double our current dataset. In addition, we will start adding conferences to Explore so that you can get titles and topics of presented papers. Think of the historiographical advantages of being able to see what people are working on before they publish their definitive account.

Most important, before long, you will begin to see bibliographical records appearing in your search results as we enter them. No more waiting for the annual CB to appear. Records will be visible even before they have been officially approved. This is the IsisCB in action, a living project built by scholars.

I didn’t do all of this by myself, of course; I’ve had a lot of help. I want to single out three individuals here who have been instrumental to the current success of the project: my project manager, Sylwester Ratowt, and the two extraordinary developers we’ve hired, Julia Damerow and Erick Peirson. Without these three scholars (all three of them have doctorates in our field), there would be no IsisCB Explore. Of course, that is also true of my valuable advisory board as well as of my graduate assistants who labor daily, entering and proofreading, classifying and tagging. A lot of intellectual work goes into building this resource that is often overlooked. Please go to the About page on Explore to see the many other individuals who have worked hard on this project.

Thanks, and stay tuned….

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