Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Worldcat and Boopsie

I'm often using Worldcat to check library holdings of antiquarian books. As a resource it's pretty amazing, and when I saw that I could run it on my mobile, I thought this would be even more wonderful. And it is .... up to a point.

Worldcat has gone into partnership with Boopsie. With the tag line 'Type less, find more', Boopsie is a search client for mobile platforms. Here's how it describes itself on the Boopsie website:

Boopsie is a mobile search provider. However, we like to call it mobile find - because Boopsie finds things, it doesn't search for them. The Boopsie client is a thin, yet powerful, layer between you and what you are trying to find. Boopsie does not 'contain' the data; it creates and uses special indexes to find the data on other content providers' sites.

So I downloaded the Boopsie Worldcat client onto my Blackberry Pearl 8100 (yes, I know that I'm one of the clerical workers of the world, thank you Mr Hockney). First little snagette is that you actually have to download two Boopise apps: one is the Boopsie main application; the second is the dedicated Worldcat interface.

As a result two icons appear on the Blackberry display. Clicking on the Worldcat icon opens up a screen with a search line at the top next to an icon that flickers between a blue search 'magnifying glass' and a red satellite dish. The point of the dish is that the Worldcat app is meant to pick up the GPS signal from the Blackberry's position and be able to tell you how far you from the nearest library where it's located the book you're looking for. Cool eh?

Err, no. Here's the first problem. I live and work in London, but for some reason it thinks I'm in Seattle, WA. You can manually change your location, but only you can only change it to Londons in the USA or Canada. Why, therefore, is it called Worldcat? I would understand this if it thought Boston was in Massachusetts rather than Lincolnshire, but really... It works fine on the main website, Worldcat even knows how to find and position British postcodes, but obviously it's Boopsie that has the problem. Google Maps, incidentally, works like a dream on my phone, and seems to instantly pick up my position everywhere I've ever been with it, whether that's in the New World or the Old.

Unfortunately, the second flaw is generated by one of Boopsie's strengths. The idea behind Boopsie is to create a fluid searching experience using minimal keystroke entry to gain results. (Boopsie's own example is that to find 'jacqueline kennedy onasis' in Wikipedia, one only needs to type 'jac k o'.) But with antiquarian books, this doesn't really work because you drag up hundreds of inconsequential entries too, so the usual maximum keystroke entry is required. In fact, I now start my searches with a date to minimise the junk returns.

Then there's yet another flaw. The search returns pop up nicely in the Worldcat app, but to see extra detail, it loads up each entry into the Blackberry's web browser. So now you're effectively running two apps and swapping from one to the other is a bit of a faff.

Still, I think these are little quirks that can be lived with to get the power of mobile research through the world's largest library resource.

Friday, 8 May 2009

The Dodo's Lost Foot

Welcome to the first Bibliopole posting. Since my life normally revolves around items of varying antiquity, I thought, in a twist on the old axiom of adapt or die, I'd better jump on the technology bandwagon in order to promote the ancient.

What better first posting then, to discuss the Dodo; and moreover, the missing foot of said extinct bird. In Robert Hubert's Catalogue of Many Natural Rarities, 1665, a dodo's foot appears in the inventory as 'legge of a Dodo'.

In 1681, Nehemiah Grew described the same piece of anatomy in his Musaeum Regalis Societatis:

The leg here preserved [at the Royal Society] is covered with a reddish yellow scale. Not much above four inches long; yet above five in thickness, or round about the joints: wherein though it be inferior to that of an Ostrich or Cassoary, yet joined with its shortness, may render of it almost equal strength.

Later, in 1793, George Shaw and Frederick Nodder illustrated this foot in their The Naturalist's Miscellany, an image of which is at the top of this post (plate 143), together with an explanatory text, including Grew's words above. Earlier in the work, they had published an image of the whole bird (plate 123):

By this time, of course, the dodo had been extinct for about a hundred years, and Shaw and Nodder were perplexed whether the bird was in actual fact an albatross:

can it be possible that an Albatross, (Diomeda exulans Lin.) not fully grown, and inaccurately represented by a draughtsman, may have given rise to the supposed existence of the Dodo?

It still seems amazing that so little evidence survives of the bird. Errol Fuller has pulled together all the evidence to show that only 16 written accounts, contemporary of the bird during its brief co-existence with humans, have come down to us; and there are only 15 original illustrations (Shaw & Nodder's is probably derived from the famous Savery picture in the Natural History Museum, London).

The physical remains are extremely scant: there's the Oxford Dodo, the skulls in Copenhagen and Prague, and a rather slight assemblage of bones from the Mare aux Songes. Alas, the British Museum foot, like the species itself, is missing. Shaw & Nodder saw it in the museum, and made the only known illustration of it. The foot entered the British Museum from the Royal Society sometime during the 18th-century. It was then moved from the museum in Bloomsbury to the new Natural History Museum site in South Kensington in the 19th-century, and within living memory was safely kept there. Sometime during the second-half of the 20th century it disappeared. As Fuller says, 'Whether stolen, accidentally destroyed or simply misfiled is not known'.

Shaw & Nodder's Naturalist's Miscellany is coming up for sale in Christie's auction of Valuable Printed Books and Manuscripts on Wednesday 3 June, at 10.30am, lot 87, estimated £12,000-18,000.