Searching the BUFVC

We are mentioning with increasing frequency the existence of federated databases; that is, databases of databases, which allow you to search across multiple databases through a single search option. Sometimes they get called gateways or portals, but they are essentially all doing the same thing. We have already mentioned Connected Histories, JISC MediaHub, Canadiana and Europeana. There are others of major status in the pipeline which we will be covering at the appropriate time. But today we are looking at the BUFVC federated search environment aka All BUFVC.

The British Universities Film & Video Council is a small organisation that achieves big things. It exists to support the use of moving images and sound in UK higher education, and does so chiefly through a combination of information, online databases and a television and radio off-air recording service for educational users. Snappily known as the BUFVC, it used to employ your scribe not so long ago, so this may not be an entirely dispassionate review, but they do damn fine work with all the right principles – and this is a damn fine resource that they have created.

The federated search environment (a terrible phrase, friends) brings together nine databases and 13 million records. The databases include TRILT (a huge database of programme information on all UK TV and radio since 2001 and further records back to 1995), a database of some 30,000 educational titles aailable on DVD and tape, News on Screen (data on 180,000 British newsreels and cinemagazines from 1910 onwards), Shakespeare on Film, Television and Radio (7,000 records), TVTiP (television listings for the UK’s ITV channel 1955-1985), This Week (records for the ITV documentary series 1956-1982), and three independent local radio databases with associated recordings. As the publicity blurb puts it:

The search environment will transform moving image and sound resource discovery by replacing the need for researchers to locate databases and collections through multiple channels. It will enable creative discovery of content by opening up collections and connecting users with resources they were not previously aware of.

Before you get too excited, not all of this is accessible to everyone. Someone of the resources have been paid for with UK higher education monies and are accessible via password to UK HE institutions only, while TRILT is only available to BUFVC members, apart from the two most recent weeks’ programme data. Other records provide catalogue data, and then link to the film or sound recordings themselves, but you have to be in the UK HE club to access those. But that’s the BUFVC’s business to serve UK universities, and it’s highly commendable that they can still make so much of the catalogue data, and a great many digitised documents, available to all.

So there is a huge amount to discover for everyone. And here it does just about everything right that you would want to see from such a resource. Enter any search term and and result come up with title, short descriptions and some cheery icons which let you know database they come from, what genre type (e.g. radio, newsreel), what medium (e.g. film, sound) and whether any digital content is available online (subject to your particularl status). Individual records provide further information, depending on the nature of the original database. You can used the Advanced Search to refine searches by date, date range, medium, collection, availability, and genre. You can rate records, trace your preious searches, order search results by relevance, date or title, and results can be exported in XML format, as text or in citation format. There is first-rate faceting (i.e. letting you know how many of your search results break down into particular categories, and it even offers serendipitious related searches. What fun.

Search results for ‘charlie chaplin’

So what is there for the silent film researcher? The easiest thing to do is to used the adanced search and narrow search results to 1896-1929. You’ll find some 35,000 newsreel records and 500 Shakespeare records. The former are records of almost every British newsreel and film magazine released over that period, covering a huge variety of social and political stories as well as many items specifically relating to cinema subjects (17 newsreels on Chaplin, 20 for Pickford, 14 for Fairbanks). The BUFVC doesn’t hold the films, but the records will tell you who does (and link you to online copies including the freely-available titles held by British Pathe). The Shakespeare records are (hopefully) every title from the silent era relating to the Bard, a hugely useful resurce in itself, again with information on where extant copies may be found. But take away the date limiters and there is more to be found, among TV and radio programmes and DVD releases. 129 search results for Chaplin overall should give you an idea of the range.

The BUFVC federated search environment (it’s still a dreadful name, but I understand the idea is to have it appear on their front page so that the search facility effectively beomes the BUFVC online) is the result of a collaborative project between the BUFVC and Royal Holloway, University of London, and was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. It was funded as part of something called the Digital Equipment and Database enhancement for Impact programme, and it is designed to create impact. Nine databases are too many to be offering separately – users will know about one or two, but ignore the others. They won’t be able to ignore this. It also establishes a platform onto which other databases could be added in time, enriching discovery all the more.

Go explore.