Monthly Archives: March 2013

Our mission statement — “Simplify maritime history research”

The other day I was working in my office at the local Tim Horton’s, and a friend walked in. We often see each other there and take a few minutes to chat. He told me that he’s been working with colleagues on defining their company’s mission statement. I’ve done that work in the past, and I find it to be a project that can often be pretty challenging, but is still very much worth doing. Crafting a succinct but accurate mission statement can be tough work, especially if your organization does a lot of different things.

As we talked, I wondered about the mission statement for I feel pretty good that it came to me fairly quickly. I believe that ShipIndex’s mission is to “simplify maritime history research.” That’s it, and I think it’s pretty accurate. My goal isn’t to ‘tell people which books, journals, websites, databases, etc., mention the ships they want to know more about,’ even if that’s what currently does. If I can summon the financial, managerial, and intestinal fortitude, my goal is to make maritime history more accessible, more visible, and better understood, through a whole bunch of different paths, tools, and solutions.

I feel strongly that maritime history is a critical aspect of personal, local, regional, national, and world history, and I want more people to recognize it as such. I hope that as people find more effective ways of doing maritime history research, they’ll incorporate it into more of the stories they tell, and society as a whole will provide more emphasis on how maritime history, shipping, and the marine environment in general, impact our lives.

So, that’s the mission statement – “simplify maritime history research”. I believe that’s current work does that, and additional ideas that I have will also do that, but there’s so much more that could be done. Thoughts? What other things do you think could be done to simplify maritime history research?

Old Ship Picture Galleries temporarily down – what should ShipIndex do?

I discovered this afternoon that Old Ship Picture Galleries was recently taken down.

A site on the home page says “If you want this site back, e mail  and ask him to stop bombarding with e mails. He seems to take exception to me posting some copyright expired pictures that he has paid someone for. I do this as a hobby for the enjoyment of others and just don’t want to know all this animosity – life’s far too short for that! for god’s sake it’s only a picture of an old ship!”

This site had a ton of great images of old ships, and it’s a shame that the author feels bullied into taking it down, but I do not fault him for doing so.

I don’t know when it will be back; I guess I may take the links out of the database, at least for the time being, though I hesitate to do that. I’m trying to decide what to do right now. What are your thoughts?

ShipIndex content in library discovery layers

One of the biggest changes in academic libraries over the past few years has been the development of “discovery layers”: collections of paid, unique data that are pre-indexed and then easily searched by specialized search engines.

For those readers not in the library industry, keep in mind that Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and other search engines cannot crawl through data that is in siloed, subscription database collections. That data is limited only to people and institutions that have paid for access to it. So, a big benefit that libraries have held over Google is offering the content inside these databases. Such databases range from big vendors who gather together (or “aggregate”) content from many different sources – examples include ProQuest, Gale, EBSCO, Project MUSE, and a variety of others – to smaller publishers or content providers who generate unique content that they believe they can offer for sale to individuals or institutions. The drawback, however, has been that it wasn’t easy to find all that data – you had to go to each different silo and search that database to see if there was anything of interest there. And of course, first you had to know that each database (or silo) existed.

For a while librarians used “federated searching”, but it wasn’t a great solution. With a federated search tool (and they are still certainly in use in many libraries), the computer takes your search terms and goes out to search each of the many different databases that you’ve selected, waits for all the search results to come back, and then compiles the results together. In most cases, it’s not a very elegant solution, and it’s easy to see why the speed and simplicity of a Google search became so popular – even when the content wasn’t as good.

Google, of course, doesn’t go out and do a search the moment you type words into its search box; it has already reviewed and ‘indexed’ all of that content, and whatever it has indexed is what will be in the search results it provides to you.

So, library database vendors tried to create solutions that allow libraries to compete with Google in this area. Their strong differentiator is that the data they’re indexing is the subscription-based content, rather than data on the free web, which Google indexes. Examples of these are “EBSCO Discovery Service” from EBSCO, “Primo Central” from Ex Libris, “Summon” from Serials Solutions, a division of ProQuest, “Encore” from Innovative Interfaces, and a few others. (As an aside, I was a co-founder of Serials Solutions; I was involved in the sale of Serials Solutions to ProQuest, and remained with the company for a while after the sale; and was slightly involved with the development of Summon. While I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Summon – to the extent one can have a soft spot for a discovery layer, I suppose – I am today very interested in making sure that ALL institution patrons have access to the data, through ALL discovery layers.)

Content from is now indexed in Summon and EDS, and I’m looking to get it into other discovery layers, as well. Here’s an example of what search results look like at a library that subscribes to both and Summon, from Serials Solutions:

When a student does a search for a ship — in this case the Elizabeth Davidson — they find a citation for that vessel in, and a link to take them directly to the page for that ship. They didn’t even need to know that exists. They search in Summon (or EDS, Primo Central, or another discovery layer) and they find content that they wouldn’t have otherwise found.

To be clear, a library must subscribe to both a discovery layer and the underlying databases, for the databases’ contents to appear in the discovery layer. Discovery layers are definitely not cheap, but they do make a huge difference in improving how library patrons discover the resources that the library already subscribes to.

I’m pleased that’s data is in Summon and EDS, and I look forward to doing whatever I can to make it available to users of other discovery layers, as well.