Yesterday a helpful user brought to my attention the newly updated website for USTC (Universal Short Title Catalogue) which was just launched 4 days ago. For those unfamiliar with the project, its mission is to compile a “collective database” of all European printed books from the 15th and 16th century, with a later extension into the seventeenth century also in sight. I don’t think I need to make a point of how useful this will be to anyone who does research relating to early printing.
I was able to add it to viaLibri library search without the slightest trouble. Whoever is responsible for the new design and user interface deserves great credit. As someone who uses online bibliographic databases on a regular basis and has also had to build a few myself, I have, over time, developed a lot of opinions about how these things should be done. A few minutes on the new USTC site won me over completely. If anyone is out there working on new specs for an updated bibliographic search engine I don’t think they need to look any further for their model.
One thing in particular pleased me no end. There has been a trend over the last few years to build search forms that use scroll bars instead of field labels. For example, instead of having separate fields for author, title, keyword, date, etc. you are given, instead, multiple generic fields that each require scrolling through a long list of options for selecting what that particular form field will represent. Basically, in addition to filling in the search terms, the user is also made to construct the form himself. It is a tedious process that hides all the search options from the user until he opens up the scroll bars. In many cases it is there mostly to simplify the construction of Boolean searches, but how many people actually need that? I suspect it is very few. If Boolean searches really are needed, then a separate interface should be provided, while the primary users are given an interface that is as simple and self-evident as possible.
Bravely against the trend, the new USTC does that beautifully. And that’s only a small slice of the cake. I can’t wait until they get to work on the eighteenth century.