This post is the third in a series examining select digital projects showcased at the SHARP 2015 conference. It focuses not only on Jordan Michael Howell’s “Digital Bibliography Quick Start” conference demonstration but also the project, that serves as a rich illustration of the potential WordPress has for creating databases.
Howell’s project has much to interest EMOB readers. For one, the “Quick Start” Robinson Crusoe Online Bibliography, document offers an excellent guide to creating a DIY database that requires little technological knowledge to build. As the “Quick Start” title page announces, “No coding experience? No problem.” The three-page guide that follows enables novices “to develop a comprehensive and searchable bibliographical database using WordPress in eleven somewhat easy steps.” While a few may find the “somewhat” a needed qualifier, the instructions are clear, and all eleven steps fit on just two pages. Indeed, the steps should give those who are desirous of undertaking such a project but anxious about their skills the confidence to launch their own bibliographic database. Novices may be worried about what may be unfamiliar acronyms or names (e.g. MySQL), but the point is that such knowledge is not truly necessary. Full disclosure: I have yet to attempt to build such a database using the guide, but the process seems fairly straightforward. No doubt one would learn the most from hands-on application of the steps. Step 2, in fact, recommends practicing website construction using WordPress before becoming more involved in the database’s construction.
Howell’s impetus to create this guide emerges from his extensive experimenting with WordPress for his Robinson Crusoe Online Bibliography and his seemingly endless searches for plugins to obtain more functionality for the bibliographic database. Scholars of eighteenth-century literature, Defoe, chapbooks, and bibliographers should be pleased to learn of this project that, once finished, will feature descriptive entries for all editions published between the years 1719 and 1774.
In his introduction to the online bibliography Howell explains that the power of our digital age has enabled this ambitious bibliographic project on a few fronts. Even though the project is in its first phase of production, there’s already much available, especially given that Howell is operating solo, handling all aspects of the project. (A tab allowing others to submit information is active and Howell does request “scholars, librarians, and rare book dealers contact the project manager with corrections or additions to the bibliography.”) Some sections, however, are in the early stages or as yet lacking content (“Chapbooks,” for example).
When finished, Robinson Crusoe Online Bibliography will offer entries for all editions published during the sixty-five year period, including “extensive description of and commentary on derivative editions such as abridgments and chapbooks.” In addition, Howell will augment his traditional descriptive bibliographical entries with “high-quality images.” Depending on their placement, the images also signal the status of an entry: “An image along the left margin indicates that the entry is largely complete, with photo-facsimiles, publication metadata, document descriptions, and secondary references.”
Besides harnessing the ESTC as well as Gale-Cengage’s Eighteenth-Century Collections Online as tools, Howell has already visited a number of special collections and spent time examining their Defoe holdings. To read more about the findings from these visits, see Howell’s “Eighteenth-Century Abridgements of Robinson Crusoe.” The Library 15.3 (2014): 292-343.
I invite you to explore both Howell’s guide and the online bibliography that serves as working example of how WordPress can be employed to create such a tool–and please offer your comments and observations.