The Penobscot Marine Museum has announced the arrival of the first version of its database of images from the magazine National Fisherman. The collection, consisting of previously-undigitized images from the 1950s to 1990s, is being released in groups of 5000, as the museum is able to digitize and index them. (The work is being done by Past Perfect, a company that provides software tools for museums.)
You can search by topic or by “advanced search“. The “keyword” option doesn’t limit searches to just this image collection, so it’s not as useful. And, alas (for me, anyway), there seems to be no list of ships represented in the database. To search for a ship you need to put the ship name in the Description field, but note that it just becomes a keyword search — if you’re searching for a ship named “Elizabeth”, you’ll get many results, most of which mention Elizabeth, NJ, or the Elizabeth River, or Cape Elizabeth, or people named Elizabeth. Your only option to find out if the term is used in a ship name is to look at the metadata about each image.
In addition, the searching is done as an “or” search, rather than an “and” search. A search for “elizabeth” returns 16 results in the National Fisherman collection, but a search for “elizabeth anne” returns 19 results, rather than fewer. The expected result would be that a search for “elizabeth anne” returns only the images that have both terms, not either term. (You can force the search engine to do an “and” search by putting the word “AND”, in all capitals but not in quotes, in between your two terms.)
There’s also no way to go from one result to the next; one must go back to the search results each time, which can be frustrating and does waste time.
Search terms are also problematic; I found images with a location of “Washinton, Tacoma”, and though you can find results if you put “washington” or “oregon” in the Place field, you won’t find any results if you put those terms in the State field. (You can also see the effects of the “and” vs “or” search here: A search for “washington” in the Place field returns 197 results; a search for “oregon” returns 62 results; a search for “oregon washington” returns 259 results. A search for “oregon AND washington” returns no results.)
There are several other collections on the site, as well, including the museum’s artifact collection, so keeping your search narrowed to just the National Fisherman set is a bit tricky; you need to be sure that the phrase “national fisherman” (in quotes, this time) appears in the Collection field.
Overall, the Past Perfect interface is clunky and frustratingly non-specific. It’s not bad if you want to just browse and look at pictures, but much tougher if you want to do actual research. However, every time more content – especially images – appears online, it’s a step in the right direction. “And” versus “or” searching functionality can be fixed easily, I assume. Functionality to limit results to specific sets more effectively could probably be implemented fairly easily. Providing links from result to result may or may not be possible, likely depending on the database structure. And adding ship names is now tough work; that would have been a great thing to be doing when the other indexing of each image was being done.
Enjoy browsing the collection, in any case.