Monthly Archives: February 2011

Upcoming Conferences – SCELC, ACRL, NGS, ALA

At the American Library Association Midwinter conference in San Diego last month (where it was wonderfully warm and sunny, compared to the 8-12” of snow dumping outside my window at the moment), we ran a promotion for librarians, which we called “We Sing Sea Shanties on the Show Floor”. When librarians signed up for a free trial of, I’d sing them a sea shanty, right there on the convention floor.

Folks from Perkins Library, at Hastings College, filmed the first shanty I sang, then posted it to their Facebook page. They also promoted their trial on the campus radio station! Very cool.

Anyway, it was a rousing success, and we’ll do it again at the ACRL conference in Philadelphia, at the end of March. If you’re attending, please make a point of visiting us at Table 155. Bring your IP ranges, and I’ll sing you a shanty!

We’ll also be at the following conferences and gatherings:

  • SCELC Vendor Day, March 3, Los Angeles. I’ll also be the keynote speaker at the SCELC Colloquium the day before, but I won’t be talking about ShipIndex. Instead, I’ll talk about an idea I have for improving the way libraries manage electronic resources – especially the niche ones, like ShipIndex. So, it’s relevant to ShipIndex but it’s more of a proposal of something I’d like to see someone else build than a pitch for ShipIndex. Those occur on Thursday, the 3rd, at 10:50 and 1:40.
  • National Genealogical Society Conference, May 11-14, Charleston, SC. Here, we’ll be talking more about our individual subscription offers. Charleston is a great city; this should be a fun conference. We had a great time at NGS last year.

If you attend any of these conferences, please come by and say hello! If you know of other conferences we should attend, please let us know; we’d be interested to hear about them.

More new content, question about shipwreck info

The following files have been added to the premium database in the past few days:

The last one listed describes shipwrecks around the world. A correspondent suggested that we add more content surrounding shipwrecks, which I thought was a great idea. This is a start. I understand that there are a number of diving guides regarding shipwrecks, specifically intended to help divers locate particular sites. I’d love to know more about those, and get some examples from folks. If you have any ideas about such items — either books or websites or other sources — please let me know by email or in the blog comments section below.


New content added recently

Content from the following resources has been added to the premium database in the past few weeks:

In addition, a number of resources were update. Several hundred new vessels were added to the entry for, and corrected URLs were added to several databases where the URL structures had changed.

The premium database now contains over 1.53 million citations.

On Naming Ships and Representing them in ShipIndex

At present, has one point of access: the vessel name. You’d think that would be fairly easy, at least in the case of extant vessels: just look at the stern or the bow, and see what’s written there. Alas, it’s not that simple. There are many reasons for this, and a lot of them are completely understandable. Others can lead to surprisingly interesting stories.

While working through the index to the first 50 years of Steamboat Bill, and its successor, PowerShips, I came across many, many mentions of the Queen Elizabeth 2. Most of these are listed under the very common, abbreviated name, “QE2”. In the ShipIndex database, however, one also finds many entries for a different version of the name, “Queen Elizabeth II”. I read a bit about the ship on its Wikipedia page, and learned some interesting stories about how the name came about. According to the contributors, the name of the ship was not announced before the launching. Cunard intended to name the ship “Queen Elizabeth”, but the Queen, when she launched the ship, stated “I name this ship Queen Elizabeth the Second.”

The next day, newspapers announced the name as “Queen Elizabeth II”, though when the ship was delivered its name read “Queen Elizabeth 2”. According to Wikipedia, “From at least 2002 the official Cunard website stated that ‘The new ship is not named after the Queen but is simply the second ship to bear the name – hence the use of the Arabic 2 in her name, rather than the Roman II used by the Queen’, however, in a change in 2007 this information had been removed.”

In addition, there’s confusion about who the ship is named after. Multiple sources provide multiple suggestions. Some feel the ship is named after the current Queen, and that, in fact, she made that change when she announced its name. Others state that it is named after her mother, the wife of King George VI. Others state it’s named after the previous Cunard ship named Queen Elizabeth.

We need to make it possible for people to find ship names however they might be represented, and so we’ve created functionality that allows one to link between variant names for specific ships. So, for example, when you search for “QE2”, you find entries that cite “QE2”, but you also find a link at the top taking you to entries for other variant names for this ship, specifically “Queen Elizabeth 2” and “Queen Elizabeth II”.

We also have the ability to ‘normalize’ ship names, and in that case, one goes directly from a misspelling of a ship name to the correctly spelled entry. So, by rights, we should ‘normalize’ “QE2” and “Queen Elizabeth II” to “Queen Elizabeth 2”. But I think that, in this case, for this very famous ship, it’s worth maintaining the separate entries and linking them together via the “alternate spelling” links. Maybe I’m wrong; should I just normalize them all together? What do you think?

We also show links for previous and subsequent names of ships. So, if you search for “Euterpe”, you’ll see a “subsequent name” link to “Star of India.” It is important to remember that if there are multiple ships with the name “Euterpe,” the link appears, but doesn’t apply to all of them. Creating a system that separates out all these ships is a big project, but one that we will tackle.

One great thing about the Steamboat Bill files is that they include many previous and subsequent vessel names. Unfortunately, they don’t exactly indicate the order in which vessel names appeared; you’ll see both “Liberte; a) Brasil; b) Volendam; c) Monarch Sun; d) Volendam; e) Island Sun; g) Canada Star h) Queen of Bermuda” and “Queen of Bermuda; a) Brasil; b) Volendam; c) Monarch Sun; d) Volendam; e) Island Sun; f) Liberte; g) Canada Star”, as well as “Island Sun; a) Volendam”. So, some research is needed to figure out the order in which the ship names appeared. Then, I still have a question about whether or not I should include all of the previous and subsequent names in each entry or not. In the above example, if I determine that the actual path of ship name changes was Queen of Bermuda, then Brasil, then Volendam, then Monarch Sun, then Volendam (again), then Island Sun, then Liberte and finally Canada Star”, do I include ‘subsequent name’ links from Brasil to Volendam, Monarch Sun, Island Sun, Liberte, and Canada Star? That creates a lot of links. Or do I just have a link from Queen of Bermuda to Brasil, and on Brasil a link to Volendam?

And if I list all previous or subsequent names for a ship that had the same name twice, then in this case the entry for Brasil (and Queen of Bermuda, and others) will have multiple ‘subsequent name’ links to Volendam. The page for Volendam could conceivably have a link back to itself!

What do you think? What’s the best way to represent this important data?

New Content: US Naval Institute Proceedings

As my background with Serials Solutions might suggest, I’m a big fan of serials (journals, magazines, etc.) and their content. I’m an even bigger fan of indexes to those publications. If there’s no index to a publication, then the past issues are nearly useless. Researchers don’t have any easy way of finding what was mentioned in those past issues, and that’s a significant loss. The next step is making that index as accessible as possible, to as wide an audience as one can. This leads to interest in and usage of the incredibly valuable back issues and past work put into the many years of a publication’s history.

So I’m always excited about adding content from indexes to journals. One subscriber asked if we could investigate adding content from the US Naval Institute Proceedings, which was a great suggestion. I learned that an index for 1874 to 1977 was printed in the early 1980s, and through assistance from staff at the USNI, I was able to get a copy of the Proceedings. I’ve completed working through that index, and have added it to the database.

The index itself isn’t fantastic: I’m sure there are many more vessels mentioned in the Proceedings than are mentioned in the index, and working through the index to make it ready to load took many, many more hours than I could have ever imagined. Some entries say, “See this article.” without including the article page numbers. Since the individual using ShipIndex wouldn’t have access to the Proceedings Index, I had to add issue and page numbers for that particular article. But sometimes the main entry for that article was nearly impossible to find – luckily, I had an electronic version so could do keyword searches across the entire index. Without that, some of those entries would have never been found. In any case, it’s been completed, and was added to the database last week. Entries tend to have a fair bit of information about what’s mentioned in the article, so that’s a good thing. The citations, though, are a bit confusing, and leave something to be desired. There’s information about how to understand them on the resource information page.

I have lots and lots and lots more journal content to add. Right now, I’m getting close to finishing work on a very extensive index to Steamboat Bill (which recently changed its name to PowerShips), covering its inception in 1940 through 2010. What’s most cool about this index is that it includes lots and lots of citations for photos and illustrations in the magazine. This is a great connection to the many, many photos in each issue. I hope to load that file in the next week or so.

I also have many indexes to Mariners Mirror that need to be processed, and there are other titles I’d also like to add, such additional years of Sea Chest, the publication of the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society, and also American Neptune. I’ve had a tough time getting in contact with the folks from PSMHS to ensure that it’s OK to add their index to the database, and I need to get an OK on that before moving forward. I would like to point out the very smart moves of institutions that make indexes to their publications available online, particularly the Steamship Historical Society of America, for Steamboat Bill/PowerShips, and the San Diego Maritime Museum, for Mains’l Haul (whose index has been in the database for quite a while).

If there are other publications you’d like to see added, please let me know. Alas, if they have not indexed the publication themselves, then I don’t have an index to add. All the more value that one can put on creating an index to a publication — make it available; make it useful!

New searching just released

We’ve just implemented new, and vastly improved, searching functionality throughout the website. The previous version of searching worked, but not as well as we liked, and we saw some problems that we knew needed attention. Our crack technology team has stayed up late into the night, refining midnight oil to be burned later, and developing special disposable fingertip covers to prevent the actual tips from being worn away due to extra-heavy coding work.

Now, as a result, you can do much better searching than before. You can search for any two terms in a vessel name and find it, even if the terms aren’t next to each other. Punctuation and diacritics no longer cause problems. In addition, we’ve implemented special advanced searching options, which allow you to do far more refined searches than you ever thought possible. Want to search for ships with the name “Mary”, but only see the ones that start with “Mary”, and so skip all the “Queen Mary”s? You can now do that: just put a carat (“^”) before the word, like this: “^mary”.

Even more remarkable is that now you can search the citations – not just the ship names. In the past, searches looked at just the ship names, so a search for “hms buckingham” returned no results. Now, a search for “hms buckingham” will return appropriate citations. (We still recommend that you drop things like “HMS”, “USS”, or “USN” before searching; if a ship doesn’t have those terms in the citation, you won’t locate those citations.) The search doesn’t limit itself to only those citations that have both those terms; it still returns all the citations, which is good: many, many citations for HMS Buckingham don’t include the “HMS”.

This is particularly useful when you want to get as much information as possible on a ship. If you search for “flying cloud”, you’ll be taken to the main entry for the ship name, which we figure is most likely what you want. For more information, though, you can click on the link in the green box at the top, which takes you to “other matches”, where you’ll find entries that don’t include “flying cloud” in the ship name. But follow some of those ship links, such as N. B. Palmer or Andrew Jackson, and you’ll find “Flying Cloud” mentioned in the citation. This is a big, useful, dramatic improvement in helping folks get at as much information as they possibly can.

If you’re not sure of the spelling of a vessel name, you can use the asterisk for wildcard searching. A search for “fant*” will return several results, and help you narrow down your spelling to the exact ship you’re seeking.

Searching for ship names with diacritics is also much improved, as mentioned above. A search for “fantome” will return “Fantôme” and “Fantôme II”.

More specifics on all the ways you can do advanced searches are available here.

Many thanks to the hundreds of developers who worked on this release. It’s a big, big improvement.