Dog days offer year-round research opportunties in ArchiveGrid

National Dog Day was Tuesday the 26th and it started 10 years ago as a public effort by celebrity animal advocate Colleen Paige to promote kinder treatment toward dogs. Paige has since founded other pet and animal awareness holidays which get noted throughout the year. For the rest of summer and into fall, for example, you can celebrate National Wildlife Day on Sept. 4, National Walk Your Dog Week, running Oct. 1-7, National Cat Day on Oct. 29, and National Mutt Day on Dec. 2.

National Puppy Day won’t happen until next year on March 23, following National Pet Travel Safety Day (Jan. 2), National Dress Up Your Pet Day (Jan. 14), and National Horse Protection Day (March 1).

A bloodhound. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

So that means there is plenty of time to do some research in ArchiveGrid for people and they pets they loved. One idea is George Brooks of LaCrosse, Wisc. He trained bloodhounds and while in his 30s, he started helping law enforcement officials track and apprehend criminal suspects and find lost people. His dogs helped in more than 3,000 cases, according to the finding aid for his papers at the LaCrosse Public Library.

Two names in criminal justice history associated with Brooks are Jens Thompson of Freeborn, Minn., and Ray Olson of Wisconsin. Both men were wanted for murder and found with the help of Brooks’s scenting bloodhounds.

When he wasn’t training dogs, Brooks worked at the Bodega Lunch Club – which is now the Bodega Brew Pub – and appeared in articles in the Saturday Evening Post, Life Magazine, American Magazine, and Reader’s Digest.

What two changes we made to ArchiveGrid mean for users

When Morristown National Historic Park in New Jersey was dedicated on July 4, 1933 as the first national historic park in the United States, there was a parade. Its theme was Spirit of ’76, referring to the Revolutionary War when a cluster of three historic military posts, Jockey Hollow, the Ford Mansion, and Fort Nonsense, served as George Washington’s army headquarters.

Imagine you’re in Google looking for photographs of the parade. You click on something and go to a page in ArchiveGrid, and this digitized black-and-white photograph from the dedication is discovered:

If you have visited ArchiveGrid before, you’ll know you’re looking at an archival collection description. You’ll be able to find out who holds the collection (this one’s at the Morristown and Morris Township Public Library) and how to access it.

Google Analytics shows that around 80 percent of ArchiveGrid visitors arrive this way, by clicking on a collection description or item they found in Google. These descriptions act as a kind of “home page” for most new visitors to our site, and this might be our best opportunity to show them what ArchiveGrid is all about and provide them maximum value.

With our new “More like this” feature, we’re hoping to do exactly that. Located in a box on the right-hand side of an individual record display, “More like this” uses connections made in ArchiveGrid’s Solr index to offer extra contextual information and links to related materials – without disrupting the flow for those who just want contact information and to learn more about access to the resource.

Success of “More like this” depends on how rich the collection description is and the extent to which related people and topics can be found in other descriptions.

Right away we noticed this feature seems to work well for items from digitized collections, such as in the example above. It provides a way to view other items in the collection without searching:

For other collections, it can suggest closely-related resources at other institutions:

Now imagine you’re doing a search in ArchiveGrid. A relevance ranking algorithm that mostly paid attention to keyword matches, compared to the number of times they occur in a description, and the description’s overall length, used to generate your search results.

We made some adjustments so now matches in certain metadata elements (title, author, scope and content) get emphasized over other fields in the keyword index. Behind the scenes, we’re grouping descriptions by their extent into small, medium, and large. This allows us to give greater weight to collection descriptions over sub-series and items.

As a result, we’re doing a better job of making “key collections” appear near the top of a related search result in ArchiveGrid.

You won’t believe what people preserved until you see these collections

A wearable herbarium? Flowers preserved in a necklace. Image by Ellen Eckert.

A recent ArchiveGrid blog post comment by Mount Holyoke College pointed us to a woman’s collection of interesting items, including an herbarium – a collection of plant specimens. We wondered what else a search for “herbarium” in ArchiveGrid would retrieve. It turns out, names of people who collected plants for various reasons surface and preserving fragile biota is a unique challenge archivists face.

Here are 10 collections containing herbaria, pulled from the first 100 set of search results in ArchiveGrid. Do you have an herbarium to let us know about? If so, please leave a comment.

1. While at Amherst Academy, poet Emily Dickinson produced a large herbarium which is now at Harvard University.

2. This herbarium Henry David Thoreau started in 1850 grew to about 900 specimens of New England plants. Like Emily Dickinson’s herbarium, access to this rare collection at Harvard University is restricted.

3. Another New England writer’s herbarium at Harvard University is in the Frederick Goddard Tuckerman collection.

4. It makes sense that the Olmsted family of American landscape architecture and park design fame had herbariums. They’re at the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site in Massachusetts.

5. Caroline Henderson was quite a lady. During the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, Caroline and her husband remained on their farm in the Oklahoma panhandle. She was in her late 50s when she earned a Master’s degree, and on the farm she canned, cooked, grew vegetables and flowers, ironed, and kept chickens. Her collection at Mount Holyoke College – her alma mater – includes an herbarium of native Iowa and Massachusetts growth.

6. Lillian Rhoades put ferns and wildflowers in her herbarium for a botany class in 1891 at Ursinus College. Now the cloth-bound volume is at University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

7. “Under Tuition of Mr. Horace Sprague” around the mid-1800s at Kingsboro Academy, Miss M.A. Andries made a notated volume of pressed plants, which is now at Johnstown Historical Society in New York.

8. What Selma Heideman collected in the late 1800s in La Crosse County, Wisc., are at the Lacrosse Public Library.

9. And what Ella Damp of New York collected in the 19th century, and from whose funeral came some of the flowers, are at the Capital District Library Council in Albany.

10. Not all herbaria are in east coast archives. Pressed plants from Pennsylvania made by Elva E. Stoner are at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore.