This past fall JISC announced a new venture, the JISC eCollections, “a new community-owned content service for UK HE and FE institutions.” What might interest EMOB readers most is its Historic Books. This digital collection contains over 300,000 books from before 1800 and also makes over 65,000 19th-century first editions from the British Library available for the first time online. The entire corpus is accessible through institutional subscription and, most welcome, searchable over a single platform.
The pre-1800 material in the JISC Historic Books eCollection consists solely of ProQuest’s Early English Books Online (EEBO) and Gale’s Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) textbases, so some might wonder what this collection offers that is new for those working in the early modern period. One does not need to be in eCollections, for instance, to conduct searches simultaneously across both databases. Yet the Help page for the eCollections indicates that more than just the convenience of a single interface and platform is being offered:
JISC Historic Books uses meaning-based searching rather than traditional keyword searching, which is why you will notice you get different results to searching EEBO and ECCO on the publishers sites. Meaning-based searching enables you to find conceptual and contexual [sic] links betweeen [sic] related documents which aren’t possible using traditional keyword searching.
Besides returning traditional results, JISC Historic Books also delivers “meaning-based” concepts deemed relevant to the search in the form of a Concept Cloud:
The more prominent the word, the more relevant it is deemed to the search, and as the screenshot indicates, items in the cloud can be manipulated to narrow one’s search further.
Over the past three or four years (and maybe longer) I have been consistently struck by the transformations that traditional searches of ECCO, Burney, EEBO, as well as Google Books have had on the ways I think about searching, construct searches, and view my results. More specifically, these keyword searches, described here as traditional, were already encouraging me to view results in a more networked, contextual way and, as a consequence, to devise additional searches aimed at teasing out new potential relationships. The meaning-based search enabled by JISC’s mimas platform, of course, is offering something quite different, but I wonder how its use might cause rethinking of what it means to search and research.
It would be interesting to hear from EEBO and EECO users in the UK who have used JISC Historic Books, especially the differences between results obtained from searching using the JISC platform and those obtained by searching using the original publishers’ platform.