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A Snapshot of Catholic Digital Resources

In 2016-17, the Digital Access Committee and Collections were asked, “Is the Catholic Portal unique?”

The full goal fleshed out the question a little more: “Compare the resources and attributes (freely available, subject or general, functionality) of the Catholic Portal with those of other collaborative digital libraries, repositories and/or Portals.” Pat Lawton and I tackled this question. By the time we finished, we had 11 closed and open questions, that covered type of resource, scope, geographic range, age of items, collaboration, access, and rarity. (Pat and Sharon’s report is here; the spreadsheet of data is here.)

Image: Figure 2 from “Report to Collections Committee and DAC on Resources Similar to the Portal,” Bolger and Lawton

The short answer is no, there is no resource comparable to the Portal.

The most narrowing metric by far was collaboration, followed by age range and geographic range. The closest resource that matches the Portal in terms of collaboration, rarity, and type of resource is the American Converts Database, a project started by Erin Bartram, University of Connecticut and Lincoln Mullen, Brandeis University. Despite being similar to the Portal, and a fascinating resource, one can quickly tell that it in no way fulfills the same purpose as the Portal. While both are collaborative, retrieve records, and have rare content, they diverge dramatically even when one considers quantity of holdings alone. The ACD currently holds 586 items; a keyword search in the Portal for [american and conversion] yields over 700 results - over 400 of which are full text (a new tool brought to you by DAC!).

All sorts of interesting questions arose as Pat and I trekked through the Catholic digital landscape. Not all resources had clear authorship for particular records/pages, like Catholics and Cultures. Some projects did not grow; they fulfilled a particular purpose, and did not appear to be updated, like French and Spanish Missions in North America. Is it clear what exactly users have access to? For a resource like the Digital Vatican Library, can we tell how much of the material directly concerns Catholicism? Many times, like with the Chicago Collections Consortium, the date range was unclear, and we had to experiment with advanced search functions, or comb through “About Us” pages. Speaking of search functions, the Index Thomisticus search function only recognizes Latin.

“Further research is recommended” aside, this year-long project not only verified the uniquely useful nature of the Catholic Portal; we now have a better understanding of where we are among the Catholic digital landscape. CRRA’s Links and Resources pages have already been updated to include some of the resources we assessed, and we hope to conduct outreach to those resource owners to raise awareness of CRRA’s products.

Blog post written by: Sharon Bolger

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