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The Best of Sherlock Holmes
By Randall Stock, 2 September 2009
While much has been written about Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle, it's often difficult to find issues of old Sherlockian journals. Now a complete set of Baker Street Miscellanea is available as a high-quality archive on a single CD-ROM at a very affordable price. During its nearly 20-year run, BSM carried many of the best articles on Holmes and Doyle, and as such it's an essential resource for anyone with a serious interest in Sherlockiana
Baker Street Miscellanea came about as part of the resurgent interest in Sherlock Holmes in the mid 1970s. While the other leading Sherlockian journals were associated with specific groups, BSM quickly carved out a spot as an independent journal with an emphasis on in-depth features and reviews. It treated the Holmes stories as a body of literature worthy of legitimate study.
Some BSM issues focused on a major topic with a number of articles by various scholars. A sampling of these subjects includes Sidney Paget, Frederic Dorr Steele, and the centenary of A Study in Scarlet. BSM published the first census of copies of Beeton's Christmas Annual 1887 and often carried articles on bibliographical topics. Book reviews did not just describe an item but frequently offered informed analysis and specific criticism.
While its form and production values were similar to The Baker Street Journal, BSM typically had fewer pages. However, the quality of its material was first-rate and made BSM a match for any issue of the BSJ or SHJ. For a satisfactory review of prior research and writing on almost any topic, you'll find that you will need to consult something from BSM.
Released in early 2009, the Complete BSM is in Portable Document Format (PDF) and comes on a single CD-ROM. It includes a complete run of BSM, from the first issue in 1975 to the final number (76) in 1993. Two BSM author/title indexes covering the first 60 issues also come on the disc.
Each magazine issue is saved as a separate file. Text, drawings, and photographs are all included and pages retain their original layout. The PDFs use an "image over text" approach that provides an exact display of the original page, with computer-searchable text hidden in a layer beneath the image. The BSJ on CD-ROM used a similar approach, but suffered from some technology limitations when it was produced in 2001.
The Complete BSM archive takes advantage of improved Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology to include very accurate hidden text. In several random selections of text I found better than 99% accuracy. However, it's still not perfect. For example, although most words in italics are correctly converted, you are more likely to encounter errors with them than with words in plain text.
A more consistent problem is that the title and author name at the beginning of an article are usually not converted at all. Fortunately the title and author text is converted within the table of contents and in the separate Author/Title indexes. Thus a full-text search across all issues for a specific article title or author should locate the item for you, although it won't take you directly to the article itself. That makes it only a minor inconvenience.
Drawings and photographs appear in their original page layout positions. The reproduction quality of drawings is very good, and the quality of most photos at least matches that of a photocopy from an original magazine. These are not high-resolution graphics but they certainly suffice as a copy for reference purposes.
The CD comes with an Author/Title index for issues #1-50 and another index for issues #51-60. These are mainly useful as a backup search matching source for authors and titles that have OCR errors in an issue's table of contents. Since they don't cover issues #61-76, they are less helpful as a direct access reference aid.
The Complete BSM on CD-ROM provides a complete archive of BSM content. That makes it a great reference source. A researcher knows that they have access to every article in BSM, and that a single full-text search will provide a comprehensive review of all issues. The quality of the articles and of the images/text is excellent.
Rating for Content (Quantity and Quality): Excellent
Strong search and navigation tools can make a digital archive especially useful. For archives using PDF files, a user's viewing software will affect how they search and access files. That said, the Complete BSM includes all five essential features for superior search and navigation with PDF files, and partial availability of two other features. (But see my BSM Review Addendum for caveats).
Each issue is stored in a separate file, and these are grouped into folders by year. The filename includes the magazine's date as well as the issue number. Volume numbers are not applicable since the original BSM did not carry any volume number. Filenames sort into proper chronological sequence, and extras like the Author/Title index files appear appropriately at the beginning of the sequence.
These characteristics make it easy for a user with an article citation to manually find a specific issue. They also improve the efficiency of using Adobe Reader to search across a set of files.
After finding an issue, a user can then jump to a specific page. While the Complete BSM does not use Logical Page Numbers (LPN) like those found in the e-SHJ, the magazine's original page numbering started over in each issue. That makes PDF page numbers nearly match original page numbers, and thus to find page 20 of an original issue, an Adobe Reader user can simply enter "22" and jump directly to that cited page.
The e-SHJ also used navigation pane bookmarks to allow rapid navigation using only your mouse, and to provide a quick overview of the contents. The Complete BSM does not use navigation pane bookmarks, but this is a secondary feature that is also somewhat mitigated by the fact that it's easy to jump to the table of contents since it usually appeared on the back cover.
Occasionally a researcher only knows the title or the author of a specific article. As noted above, the CD includes author and title indexes for the first 60 issues. These are split across two separate files, and have separate author and title sections within each file. Both characteristics reduce access efficiency, but they are still faster than manually going through all the issues. However, it's usually fastest to simply do a full-text search as described on my errata and workarounds page since this also checks the Author/Title indexes.
Since there is no BSM subject index, most researchers will end up performing full-text searches across the entire archive. Though not perfect, the hidden OCR text used for these searches is still quite accurate. The Complete BSM includes an Acrobat PDF catalog index that allows Acrobat and Adobe Reader users to quickly search the entire archive for keywords or phrases. This is a much more efficient and powerful search approach than using the basic "find" function of Adobe Reader. Catalog search also checks the two author/title index files, so it's probably also the fastest way to find a specific title or author. See both my searching tip and the entry below it.
The Complete BSM includes all five essential features for superior search and navigation with PDF files as well as author/title indexes for most issues. It is easy and efficient to search and navigate.
Rating for Search and Navigation: Very Good+
(version 1.1, see my BSM Review Addendum for v1.0)
Once you've located some material you'll want to review it. If the information is useful, you may want to print, copy, or annotate it for future reference. Since the files use standard PDF, your capabilities will depend on your choice of PDF-viewing software.
Adobe Reader is the most widely-used software for reviewing PDF and offers a good range of capabilities. It's viewing options are strong, with excellent support for magnifying and rotating pages on-screen. As of version 8 it doesn't provide a split-screen capability. However, it does offer toolbar buttons and other navigation elements that make it easy to read material on-screen. Printing is also handled well. You can print an entire issue or specific pages, and have a number of options for optimizing the output.
The Complete BSM allows copying of material from the archive into other programs. Text includes its font, size and some styles, but not underlines or centering. While the font and size are somewhat inconsistent, it does a good job of retaining italics. That might seem to be a minor point, but in practice it's quite useful.
Unlike a word processor, each line ends with a break. This simplifies comparing pasted text to the original, but forces a person to remove these breaks when using the text in standard paragraphs. That's simple to do for small selections but rather tedious for larger amounts of text. Since note-taking is the primary reason for copying text, it's generally easier to just leave the breaks with each line. It's also possible to copy drawings and photographs into another document. A graphics selection tool lets you choose some or all of the graphic.
You need other software such as the full Adobe Acrobat in order to annotate or highlight material. Another option is to copy material to a word processing document and use that software's review and markup functionality.
The Complete BSM in conjunction with Adobe Reader software provides a solid set of capabilities for viewing, printing and copying material. Most users will find it meets their needs.
Rating for Review and Note-Taking: Very Good+
Almost all users already have PDF-viewing software on their computer. That makes the archive fast and easy to use, with no new software installation or learning curve. Although it can be used directly from the CD, you can improve performance by copying the files to your hard drive. See my Tips for Using the BSM for details.
Good usability includes aspects of both learning and efficiency. Installation and operation needs to be intuitive and discoverable. Once you become familiar with the product, you need to be able to perform repetitive tasks efficiently.
Navigation and search are critical for a magazine archive, and as described above, the Complete BSM includes all of the essential elements needed for superior usability. It also has some subtle refinements that contribute to good usability.
For example, each issue opens to the default zoom magnification level and page layout selected in the Adobe Reader preferences, allowing users to choose the size that best fits their screen resolution and reading comfort. I chose "Single page continuous" and "Fit Page," which on my large 1280x1024 display provides a full page at a legible size with easy scrolling. People with smaller monitors might prefer to keep the Adobe Reader default preferences for Page Display at automatic.
If an item is pertinent, you can easily copy and paste the text into a Word file. You can quickly add the issue date and number since they appear in the document name shown in the title bar of the Reader window. It's a minor but helpful point when doing extensive research.
When doing a full-text catalog search, the results pane shows the name or title of each matching document. Since the Complete BSM did not include a title property, Reader uses the filename which starts with "BSM." This is another important refinement since it allows a user to search across many different archives at one time and yet immediately identify results from BSM.
I found it useful to copy the Complete BSM files to my hard disk. That's a nice extra, but it isn't essential since all the files are on a single CD. However, having the option to use either a single CD or copy the files onto your hard disk provides outstanding flexibility for the user.
The Complete BSM does not include any hardcopy documentation. It does have a brief introduction document which provides some useful background on BSM. While it would have been nice to include a brief "Getting Started" document for using the product, this is not a serious shortcoming because of the intuitive file organization and the fact that most readers are already familiar with using PDF files.
Indeed, most people already have the Adobe Reader software on their computer so no installation or setup is required. This is an extremely valuable benefit. Adding software always increases the potential for bugs and conflicts. With no new software, your computer is more stable, you save disk space, and you leverage existing knowledge about using the Adobe Reader. Because this software is so widely used you are also less likely to encounter bugs and to have more tech support resources than if it were a custom application.
The Complete BSM has all the key elements needed to make it highly usable and efficient for both novices and power users.
Rating for Usability: Very Good+
(version 1.1, see my BSM Review Addendum for v1.0)
Although the Complete BSM has no significant problems, I did find some minor issues. I've listed these on an errata and limitations page along with some workarounds.
While it's always possible to make a product better, the Complete BSM already contains a full run of this journal, the existing dedicated indexes, and the key features needed for search and navigation. Additional refinements would be only marginal improvements. There is no benefit to waiting—you should get this version and expect it to remain useful for many, many years. (But see my BSM Review Addendum for caveats).
The Complete Baker Street Miscellanea on CD-ROM provides a complete run of this outstanding Sherlockian and Doylean journal. It includes all 76 issues from 1975 to 1993 as well as the two BSM author/title indexes. With its industry-standard PDF files, a reader on almost any computer should be able to view and print pages without installing or learning any new software. Users of Adobe Reader can take advantage of the included PDF catalog index to rapidly search and review matches across the entire set of issues.
You will find many fine articles in this archive. In fact, readers who are not familiar with BSM may be surprised at the quality of the material. This was not a secondary publication. It's certainly the peer of The Baker Street Journal or The Sherlock Holmes Journal, and it often carried research and criticism with even greater depth than its longer-lived counterparts.
Back issues of BSM, which can be very difficult to locate, often sell for $10 to $15. At about 50 cents per issue on the CD, the Complete BSM is a real bargain for only $40. It's also a fantastic time-saver both in identifying relevant articles and then in locating their full text.
Anyone with a serious interest in Sherlock Holmes or Conan Doyle should get this CD. The Complete BSM is an essential Sherlockian resource and this CD makes it simple and inexpensive to add a complete run to your collection.
Ratings for Version 1.1 (ratings explained)
Search and Navigation: Very Good+
Review and Note-Taking: Very Good+
Usability: Very Good+
(for version 1.0 see my BSM Review Addendum)
You can buy the Complete BSM direct from Donald Pollock, the publisher.
The Complete Baker Street Miscellanea
Privately published and available from Donald Pollock
1 CD-ROM; no printed documentation.
Version: First Edition (version 1.1) [February 2009] (But see my BSM Review Addendum for caveats).
Price: US$40, includes postage
File Format: Portable Document Format (PDF; version 1.6)
Requires: Adobe Reader version 7+ or other PDF viewing software, CD-ROM Drive
Reviewed/Tested on: Windows XP SP3 with 2.93GHz Celeron, 512MB, 1280x1024 display, Adobe Acrobat Reader v8.1.6
You can buy the Complete BSM direct from Donald Pollock, the publisher.