Online library catalogues are not often regarded as sources for historical analysis. While they are designed and used for resource location, their consideration as a primary source document is infrequent. Extending the work of her doctoral thesis “ The Imprint of The Scholar: An Analysis of the Printed Books of McGill’s Raymond Klibansky Collection”, Dr. Jillian Tomm is now engaged in postdoctoral work, examining the character of the McGill Library’s historical collections. The primary source for her analysis? The library catalogue.
Dr. Tomm’s methodology builds on the mining of the library catalogue to build sets for data analysis. Tools like Voyant, as well as various basic spreadsheet analysis and visualization tools, are used to identify – and efficiently communicate about – overall collection strengths and also smaller clusters of interest from perspectives of intellectual content as well as historical or material features of book production and use. Using the results along with pre-existing knowledge of individual collections, she hopes to contribute to a better understanding of the McGill collections as a whole within the larger context of intellectual history and their relationships with each other. The project also aims to support the development of collections-level searching to help users identify individual special collections (as opposed to individual items) of likely value to their research.
For the moment, Dr. Tomm will be considering the 18th century as her primary area of interest, however she intends to expand to earlier periods. Additionally, Dr. Tomm notes that the project is only considering printed materials, however this may also serve as an expansion point in the future.