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Hidden treasures in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

When most people think of government documents, they think of boring, hard-to-read reports that go on for pages and pages. So you might think the American State Papers, 1789-1838 and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1994 are nothing to get excited about. In actuality, however, these sets both contain a wealth of information and images that are both interesting and informative.

U.S. Congressional Serial Set

The American State Papers, 1789-1838 contain legislative and executive documents from the first fourteen U.S. Congresses. Reports, documents, and journals of the 15th through 103rd Congresses are available in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1994. These materials cover more than just American government history – they also include fascinating glimpses of American and world history on a variety of subjects, such as botany, ethnography, travel, natural history, and lots more.

Pictures and maps are scanned from original prints; documents are now scanned from original prints as well (previously they were scanned from microfilm). In addition to the usual search parameters, the search interface allows for searching by bill or resolution number and congress number. You can also browse by subject, type of publication, personal name, act name, geographic name, and standing committee name. Researchers can export information to RefWorks and create their own personal collections on the database.

 

Search screen of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set.

Search screen of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set. (Click to see a larger version.)

Below are just a few examples of research topics using materials from these sets.

Around the World in 80 Documents: 19th-Century Publications on Europe, Africa and Asia in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set by Steve Daniel, Senior Editorial Consultant, ReadexIllustration of silkworms from the U.S. Congressional Serial Set.

Resolving a Stolen Past: The General Allotment Act, Individual Indian Money Accounts, and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set by Charles D. Bernholz, Professor and Government Documents Librarian, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Promoting Silkworms: Using Electronic Texts and Digital Images for a Historical Exhibition by Dana Dauterman Ricciardi, Curator, Framingham Historical Society and Museum

Transcontinental Railroad Construction and Chinese Laborers in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set by Suping Lu, Professor and Liaison Librarian, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Take a look and see what interesting things you can discover!

When most people think of government documents, they think of boring, hard-to-read reports that go on for pages and pages. So you might think the American State Papers, 1789-1838 and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1994 are nothing to get excited about. In actuality, however, these sets both contain a wealth of information and images that are interesting,

 

The American State Papers, 1789-1838 contain legislative and executive documents from the first fourteen U.S. Congresses. Reports, documents, and journals of the 15th through 103rd Congresses are available in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1994. These materials cover more than just American government history – they also include fascinating glimpses of American and world history on a variety of subjects, such as botany, ethnography, travel, natural history, and lots more.

 

Pictures and maps are scanned from original prints and documents are now scanned from original prints as well (previously they were scanned from microfilm). In addition to the usual search parameters, the search interface allows for searching by bill or resolution number and congress number. You can also browse by subject, type of publication, personal name, act name, geographic name, and standing committee name. Researchers can export information to RefWorks and create their own personal collections on the database.

 

Below are just a few examples of research topics using materials from these sets.

 

Around the World in 80 Documents: 19th-Century Publications on Europe, Africa and Asia in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

By Steve Daniel, Senior Editorial Consultant, Readex

 

Resolving a Stolen Past: The General Allotment Act, Individual Indian Money Accounts, and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

By Charles D. Bernholz, Professor and Government Documents Librarian, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

 

Promoting Silkworms: Using Electronic Texts and Digital Images for a Historical Exhibition

By Dana Dauterman Ricciardi, Curator, Framingham Historical Society and Museum

 

Transcontinental Railroad Construction and Chinese Laborers in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

By Suping Lu, Professor and Liaison Librarian, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

 

Take a look and see what interesting things you can discover!


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James Cautillo – April Student of the Month

James Cautillo has been selected Falvey Memorial Library’s Student Employee of the Month for April. James, a sophomore humanities and mathematics major, works for Access Services where he scans documents, shelves books, helps at the Circulation desk and assists with Garey Hall remote retrieval.

Phylis Wright, James’s supervisor, said, “James is an incredibly versatile student. Every member of Access [Services], both student and staff alike, has benefited from his open willingness to take on additional work. … James does it all with a gracious and friendly spirit. My hope is that he will give Falvey a couple more years of his excellent work before he graduates and leaves us.”

James, from Winthrop, Mass., plays the piano and is learning to play the guitar. He loves hiking and is interested in karate, astronomy, theology and literature.

Phylis, manager of Access Desk Services and also the Library’s University Staff Council (USC) representative, initiated Student of the Month as an appropriate way to honor student workers. When the Falvey USC team asked department supervisors for nominations of outstanding students, they “received so many that our team is finding it a difficult task to choose,” a nice comment on the quality of Falvey’s student workers.

Congratulations, James!

Article and photograph by Alice Bampton; the sketch of James posted on the pillar behind the Circulation desk by Joanne Quinn.


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Connecting the shards of history

Finding and making available lost or hidden treasures from collections is one of the greatest satisfactions in working with heritage materials.   In processing collections for digitization one occasionally finds materials that don’t seem to fit with the other materials in a collection, especially when dealing with a partner’s materials that may not have been fully described in paper prior to the digitization.

I was quite shocked and amazed when in the box of the Eleanor C. Donnelly personal paper collection, which is owned by the American Catholic Historical Society, Villanova University’s first digitization partner, I found a bound volume that she had owned that didn’t fit with the remainder of the materials, which largely contained correspondence to and from Eleanor, primarily from priests and Bishops throughout the United States in answer to her requests for facsimiles of episcopal seals.  Eleanor Donnelly, who lived from  1838 to 1917, was a figure on the Philadelphia literary scene.  She was known as “The Poet of the Pure Soul” and was also a contributor to numerous Catholic magazines and newspapers.  She edited the Augustinian magazine “Our Lady of Good Counsel” for a period and wrote over 85 books.  She was also sister to the infamous Ignatius Donnelly so her collection had at least the possibility of being filled with unusual treasures.   But this newly discovered bound volume upon closer examination proved to be in fact a manuscript containing signatures of Confederate prisoners of war held at the Johnson’s Island prison during the Civil War.

The first step was to describe the newly discovered work. A careful count finds that the manuscript itself consists of 62 leaves of unnumbered pages filled with not only signatures but also place and dates of capture and sometimes even other information.

After describing the album, I next reached out to other organizations to communicate the new find.  A short Google search provided the name of the heritage organization that documents and collects information about the prison:  the Johnson’s Island Preservation Society.  A little further digging found that they also have a page of documentation about the C.S.A. autograph books which have already been digitized and collected.

Next I reached out to them to let them know the url and the title of the work.  They were very excited – as can be imagined – about the discovery.   They immediately saw the benefit of cross-linking to our content and we asked for and received permission to link to theirs; thus we are digitally uniting two disparate physical collections into one linked set of resources that connects together the shards of history heretofore lost by the vagaries of time and place.

The final step is the creation of a detailed hand transcription of the document that will provide readers an easy way to view the text, and searchers a way to discover the names and other content from search engines and tools like Google and the library catalog.  Indeed we have started this process already as  one of our student transcribers has specifically requested to work on this item because she shares her home town with many of the captured Confederate soldiers whose names were written in this memorial almost 150 years ago.


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Using Dismax for VuFind’s Advanced Search

The Problem

One of the complexities of dealing with Solr searching is the fact that it has multiple query parsers with different strengths and weaknesses. The “Standard” query parser (sometimes referred to as the “Lucene” parser) offers traditional features like wildcards and boolean operators, but it doesn’t always do a good job when you need to search multiple index fields at the same time. The “Dismax” query parser uses fancy logic to do cross-fielded keyword searching that often seems to work like magic, but it lacks support for all the operators found in the Standard parser. VuFind currently uses a blend of these two mechanisms — most of the time, it relies on the Dismax handler, since that tends to yield the best results… but when a search contains features that Dismax can’t cope with (like a boolean AND or a * wildcard), it fails over to the Standard handler.

One of the big limitations of this situation was that VuFind’s advanced search screen always generated a Standard query, since the advanced search form forces the use of boolean operators, and Dismax doesn’t support booleans. This meant that advanced searches were often slightly inconsistent with basic searches, not to mention being slightly less effective in some cases. Fortunately, due to some little-known and little-documented Solr features, the next VuFind release will address this problem.

The Solution

As it turns out, the Standard query parser supports a pseudo-field called “_query_” which allows you to combine multiple non-Standard queries using Standard operators. You can specify the parser to use in each subquery through the {!parser} syntax. As a result, as long as each individual field of the advanced search form can be handled by Dismax, it is possible to use the Dismax parser for the separate chunks of the advanced search while still combining the chunks together using the Standard parser’s boolean capabilities!

For example, suppose you wanted to combine a Dismax author search with a Dismax title search. You could do it through this Standard search:

_query_:”{!dismax qf=”author^100 author2^50″}charles dickens” AND _query_:”{!dismax qf=”title^100 alt_title^50″}tale of two cities”

This will perform two Dismax searches (note that you can specify qf boosts inline) and then return only the results that match both of them. It’s not pretty thanks to the need to escape quotes inside the subquery, but it works… and attractiveness doesn’t really matter when it’s all generated automatically by code. Admittedly, VuFind’s search generation logic is fairly convoluted right now, but adding support for this capability only required the addition of a few more lines, as you can see from the patch posted in JIRA, and the benefits are significant.

The Future

Hopefully things can be improved even further in the near future. The latest release of Solr (version 3.1) adds an “extended Dismax” parser which combines many of the best features of the Standard and Dismax parsers. This should greatly reduce the number of situations in which we need to use Standard instead of Dismax, and it may even eliminate the need for the current nest of recursive code that builds cross-field-capable Standard queries. Once I find time to upgrade VuFind’s Solr instance to the new version, I will begin investigating how much of the search logic can be simplified through the use of this new feature.


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Senior Project Series – Presentation Tips

As you prepare your presentation, pick up some tips from the library’s resources.  See this handy guide on Business Presentations from Linda Hauck.  These recent books are also helpful guides to presenting:

Presentation Skills for Students cover Presentation Skills for Students
by Joan Van Emden & Lucinda M. Becker
Palgrave Study Skills
2010

Presenting with Power
E-book version
by Shay McConnon
2007

Giving Presentations
by Jo Billingham
One Step Ahead
2003

Power Points!: How to design and deliver presentations that sizzle and sell
E-book version
by Harry Mills
2007

If your presentation includes a PowerPoint slide, handouts, or any type of material that makes reference to or displays the work of others, be sure to follow the University’s Academic Integrity policy.  It is important to attribute the work of others, and APA citations may be appropriate.  Cite all references to the work of others, and be sure to attribute all images and other media to their original authors.  Please see the library’s guide to Academic Integrity for more information.

_________________________________________
Kristyna Carroll
kristyna.carroll@villanova.edu
610-519-5391


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In Memory of James L. Mason

(Falvey received a generous bequest from the estate of James Mason ’64 A&S. The Christian Recorder, an online 19th century African American newspaper published in Philadelphia, is now available to students and scholars.)

By Gail Ciociola

My cousin Jim passed away in September 2009. He was in his mid-sixties at the time and I thought that he was entirely too young to have left us.  Though I still think that, I know this also has to do with the boyish face that he had maintained throughout his lifetime. And to bring a very quick smile to it, all one needed to say was Villanova.

Jim attended the University both as an undergraduate and graduate student in the 1960s.  He studied what would remain the two constants in his life: literature and theatre. My own first exposure to theatre at Villanova and at any forum, in fact, I owe to Jim. His mom, my Aunt Catherine, had taken me to see him dramatize a series of character sketches from Shakespeare in the old black-box theatre that sat in the vicinity of Dougherty Hall and what is now the Connelly Center. He proudly became that day My Cousin the Actor, even boasting the same name of a then well known film star. (more…)


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Digital Library intern: Marie Marbæk Johansen

Marie Marbæk Johansen, a graduate student in the Drexel University Library and Information Science program, has joined the Digital Library as a volunteer intern.

A native of Copenhagen, Denmark, Marie received her bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in information studies, both from Aarhus University. After completing her master’s degree, Marie worked for the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR), a public service station. At DR she worked with information technology strategy and policies.

Marie is interested in history, exhibitions, information management and the ways in which libraries can use new technologies and media. Marie also loves books and the cultural history of food and cooking; in fact, she combines these interests by collecting cookbooks. At Drexel she curated an exhibit on 19th century American cookbooks.

Article and photograph by Alice Bampton


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Eyewitness to the Civil War and Reconstruction: Historic Newspaper Added Through Alumnus James Mason’s Bequest

By Alice Bampton

Falvey Memorial Library recently received a bequest from the estate of James L. Mason ’64 A&S , who died in 2009. Mason’s gift was used to purchase the Christian Recorder, which began regular publication in Philadelphia in1861.

History professor Judith Giesberg, Ph.D., teaches the History Practicum graduate seminar in which her students actively use the Christian Recorder, “the premier journal for news about emancipation and civil rights,” for news stories about legal cases from the 1860s through the 1880s and “the activism of black communities around the country.”

Last fall several students used parts of the Recorder to find want ads “placed by former slaves looking for lost loved ones in the ‘Information Wanted page,’ school integration cases argued in … Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and the paper’s coverage of the passage of Reconstruction amendments and the 1876 Civil Rights Act.”

Dr. Giesberg notes that students will now have access to the full run of the newspaper and “will be able to expand their understanding of the nineteenth and early twentieth century antecedents to the 20th century civil rights movement.”

The Christian Recorder was published by the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church with the stated purpose of “the Dissemination of Religion, Morality, Literature and Science.” (Accessible Archives) (more…)


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Cultural Film Series Catch Up

If you missed any of this semester’s Cultural Film Series presentations, you can still catch up with the library’s DVD collection.  See the Spring 2011 features, or all recent Cultural Film Series features.


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Eyewitness to the Civil War and Reconstruction: Historic Newspaper Added Through Alumnus James Mason’s Bequest


By Alice Bampton.
Falvey recently received a bequest from the estate of James L. Mason, a 1964 Villanova graduate (B.S. in Education) who died in 2009. His cousin, Gail Ciociola, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the English department, said, “[I]t comes as no surprise to me that Jim left a bequest to Villanova and, in particular, to the library. He loved the university and with his passion for reading knew there was no better way to serve it in his passing than to honor the library where he likely spent so much of his time.”

Mason’s gift was used to purchase the Christian Recorder, which began regular publication in Philadelphia in 1861.

Find the complete story on Library News.


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Last Modified: April 11, 2011