Digitally archived periodicals offer many advantages for someone doing research. While it's usually more comfortable to read a single issue of a printed magazine, it can be tedious and difficult to search through a large collection of back issues. An electronic archive saves physical space and may provide tools to simplify finding information.
This "Review Guide" outlines the essential characteristics of a digital magazine archive. These attributes and capabilities can be used when evaluating products such as the e-Baker Street Journal or e-Sherlock Holmes Journal. The in-depth reviews of e-journals on this website use this guide as the foundation for the reviews.
Content is the essential base of a magazine archive. A complete archive of all published issues provides the most value since a researcher can depend on finding all the desired material from a single source. All the text, drawings, and photographs should be included. Supplementary material, such as an index, membership lists, or special issues should also be present and ideally should be integrated with the other content. Any missing material must be identified.
Reproduction quality is important. Text must be legible and should match the original as much as possible. Drawings and photographs should be clear and recognizable. Maintaining the original layout, text formatting, and color provides additional context for the researcher. Finally, a serious scholar needs to be able to determine an accurate citation for any material, including original page numbers.
There are four primary access models for using a magazine archive. Sometimes a person will already have an article citation and simply need to find the desired issue and page. Occasionally a researcher only knows the title or the author of a specific article. Finally, someone may be starting an investigation and want to find all material on a subject. While a full-text search may eventually locate the desired item for any of these access models, additional tools can make the process much more efficient. These extra tools are especially valuable when the archive is large or when there are errors in the text, which frequently is the case for material generated through scanning and optical character recognition.
For archives using PDF files, a user's viewing software will affect how they search and access files. In general, however, PDF files should have the following four key features:
1) Filenames that include the date, issue, and volume number for their inclusive issues
2) Filenames that sort alphabetically into chronological sequence
3) Complete and accurate searchable text in each file
4) An Acrobat Catalog PDF index file
Some other refinements are good to have but not as essential (in priority order):
a) A Subject Index to the entire set of files
b) Logical Page Numbers or PDF page numbers close to the original page number
c) Document properties (especially title) with key dates, numbers, and terms
d) Navigation pane bookmarks
e) An Author Index to the entire set of files
f) A Title index to the entire set of files
The four key features work together to make access and use of the archive much easier and much more efficient. They are particularly valuable when a person is using Adobe Reader software.
Once material is located it will be viewed on-screen. Viewing options, such as magnification, rotation, or split-screens can greatly enhance the reading experience. Some people will want to highlight or annotate the material directly while others may want to copy it into a word processor. Handling formatted or styled text and multiple columns may require special tools. Copying drawings or photographs adds additional format and resolution issues. Finally, of course, many users may want to print some or all of the material for offline reading or later reference.
Usability includes both being easy to learn and being efficient to use. The "learning" aspect begins with a simple or at least well-explained installation process. Ideally nothing needs to be installed and the user can work with the information directly from a CD, DVD, or USB Flash drive. Users should be given some assistance in "Getting Started." This may come from documentation, tutorials, a help system, or the product's design and usage model. Since people have different learning styles, strong products offer multiple assistance mechanisms. In addition, products that leverage the look and feel of other popular software are especially good since they build on existing user experience.
Efficient operation is especially important for common or repetitive tasks. While it's best if efficiency-enhancing tools are readily apparent, it can be acceptable for more advanced tools to be layered into the archive. However, there should be reasonable documentation or discovery mechanisms available so that the average user can readily become a proficient user.
Finally, the product must perform well. It should work on a wide range of computer systems and require a minimum of resources. In addition, it should operate reliably and predictably. Bugs, crashes and inconsistent behavior can be major usability issues.
Value is based on a combination of price and performance while taking into account competing products and alternatives. "Performance" reflects how well the archive meets the four major criteria above. Alternatives include getting access to and using printed or microfilm copies of the magazine.
Vers. 1.80ax Original work