Overview & Help

This page is designed introduce you to British Online Archives and give you a brief overview of the structure and icons used in the collections of historical, political and other resources from Microform Academic Publishers. For general help pages, click on the following links:

- Browse and Search Help
- Collection Browser Help
- Series Browser Help
- Document Viewer Help


1. Entire Collections
2. Guides
3. Logging in
4. Structure
5. Search & Browse
6. Duplicates
7. Navigation
8. Colour and style of hyperlinks
9. Symbols used on the site
10. Target sheets
11. Help Screens
12. Favourites
13. Accessibility
14. Licence Requests
15. Uses & Limitations of Optical Character Recognition (OCR)
16. Using Image Tags
17. Using Adobe Reader to search images

Entire Collections

An entirely objective approach to the past is a difficult feat and one made harder when using pre-selected material, which raises questions about why certain documents have been left in and why certain ones have not. With a few exceptions the collections here represent whatever papers have survived in their entirety, and thus the process of selection and interpretation begins with you.

Example of mug-stained minutes from the CPGB's Political Committee materials, 1952

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You may find the guides a useful introduction to the collections. They highlight, and provide links to, documents within the collection that may be of particular interest, as well as providing the context of collection and information about its significance, scope, contents, and provenance. Some guides also provide a bibliographic section, pointing you in the direction of further information and secondary accounts of the topic. Moreover the guides of larger and more diverse collections include an interactive contents list which offers an overview of the contents of each collection and links to aid navigation around the collection.

Guides can be accessed by clicking the guide icon Guide icon in the collection details or, at the image level, in the collection metadata by clicking the collection metadata button Collection Metadata icon.

Screenshot showing guide icon and link in the collection description

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Logging in

To use one or more of the collections, you either need to have registered with Microform Academic Publishers for an individual customer account and password, or else you must be affiliated to an institution that has a licence to access them.

If you are an affiliated user, please ensure that you are logged in from a registered terminal on campus. Alternatively, if you wish to view the collections off-campus or to make use of the favourites features, click the Sign In button in the top-right of your screen to log in. (Affiliated users can request an end-user login and password from their institution's Account Administrator, whose email address appears via the link on the bottom right of the home page.)

Screenshot showing Sign In button

The issues of copyright and what constitutes 'fair dealing' use are as important online resources as for printed materials. Therefore, before accessing any British Online Archives collection, you must accept and agree to abide by the terms and conditions of use. Individual and affiliated users should pay particular attention to clauses 3, 4 and 5 of the appropriate Licence to Access document:
- Institutions
- Institutional trials
- Individuals

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Structure of Collections

Each 'Collection' is divided up into 'Series' containing groups of related 'Documents', which in turn are made up of 'Images', thereby replicating the basic archival structure of the original papers, as shown in the diagram below.

Diagram showing Archive Structure

In most cases the online collections retain the structure assigned by archivists based on each document's content or format and date. In such cases their archival reference dictates the structure of the collection. Thus, for those unfamiliar with archives, the organisation of the online collections may not be immediately clear. In these circumstances, the contents lists in the guides may be of use.

Screenshot showing an example collection where the archive reference dictates the structure

The above example is from the collection The Indian papers of Colonel Clive and Brigadier-General Carnac, 1752-1774.

Screenshot showing an example collection where the archive reference dictates the structure

The above example is from the collection the John Gollan papers.

However, in cases where the numbering of the original items within a collection reflects an arbitrary order based perhaps on size or order of accession, the documents may have been reorganised into more useful groups or 'series', typically according to broad category and subsequently by date. In such cases the original reference can still be found at the end of the description rather than at the beginning, as in the following examples from the Papers of the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies, 1694-1709 and the Jamaican material in the Slebech papers.

Screenshot showing an example collection that has been reorganised (references can be found at the end of the item's description

Screenshot showing an example collection that has been reorganised (references can be found at the end of the item's description

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Search & Browse

Once you are logged in, you can select either the Advanced Search link in the menu, or Start in the black navigation bar to access the Advanced Search page. Enter your search or category criteria here, and select any of the filter options. You can also perform a Quick Search of the archive by entering up to five keywords in the menu search field.

Screenshot showing Browse and Search options

Search results will come up with any collections which contain the keywords searched for in their metadata. To narrow down your search and home in on your desired result, click the collection you would like to see the results for, you can then search within the collection, the results will show only the series that are relevant to your search, within the series a document that is relevant, and within the document individual images that contain the search criteria. If only one document matches, the search will take you straight to it. At the image level Your search 'hits' will be highlighted red in the left hand panel of the document viewer.

Screenshot showing red search hits

It is not always possible in some of the documents, in particular many of the handwritten documents, to do a full text search. Therefore it may be the case that, just because the search has not produced any results, it does not mean that the items you are looking for are not there. In these cases it may be best to search the collections as if they were in a book, using the collection, series, and document descriptions to manually search the collections and then within the documents use any image 'tags' to narrow your search further. 1

In the case of typed documents it is possible to conduct a keyword search using the Adobe Reader Plugin.2

For further Browse and Search help, click here.

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It is the nature of archives that duplicate copies of individual items are occasionally preserved. However, some images may appear to be duplicates of images earlier in the document, although they are in fact slightly different. For example they may have different annotations on them or the image may have been taken at different light intensities and therefore some marks, for example pencil marks, may appear more clearly in one of the two.

In this example two copies of the Sheriff's Charge to Jury have been preserved in the archive

In the example above, taken from the collection the John Gollan papers, two copies of the 'Sheriff's Charge to Jury' have been preserved in the archive.

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You can start your search for collections by conducting a keyword search, by browsing by category, or by selecting a collection from the List All Collections page.

Once within a collection you can easily navigate back through the collection using the black navigation bar at the top of the page.

Navigation bar

Until you get to the image level, the website displays up to 10 items per page. If there are more than 10 items, for example a series with more than 10 documents, you can browse through the pages using the drop down box or the next page and last page buttons.

Screenshot showing page navigation bar

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Colour and style of hyperlinks

Hyperlinks can be found throughout the site and can be used to aid navigation through the collections. For example, hyperlinks appear in the introductory guides and collection, series and document descriptions. Hyperlinks appear in bold and change shade of colour as you hover over them with the mouse pointer. This is what a hyperlink looks like.

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Symbols used on the site

Click to view this item - Click to view this item.

Click for help - Click for help.

You are licensed to view this item - You are licensed to view this item.

Click to view the metadata - Click to view the metadata for the collection/series/document (opens in a new window).

Click to begin your search Click to begin your search.

View Favourites and Preferences View favourites and preferences (You must be signed in on an individual user account to use the favourites feature)

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Target Sheets

In some of the collections previously published on microfilm, the 'target sheets' from the microfilm edition may appear in the online version. These can be a useful tool when browsing through large documents to guide you to the images you wish to view by marking a clear break between items of a very similar appearance.

Screenshot showing a target sheet

The above example is from the collection The Indian papers of Colonel Clive and Brigadier-General Carnac, 1752-1774.

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Help Screens

For more detailed information, click the Help icon Click for help that appears at each level on the right of the grey browse bar. This will provide you with context-sensitive assistance.

Screenshot showing Help icon

For more specific user guides, see the following links:
- Browse and Search Help
- Collection Browser Help
- Series Browser Help
- Document Viewer Help

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If you have logged in with an individual user name and password, the British Online Archives system allows you to designate up to five items as 'favourites' by clicking of the Add to Favourites icon Add to Favourites icon, and then view or modify them by clicking on the Favourites icon Favourites icon on the top right of your browser window.

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British Online Archives from Microfrom Academic Publishers has been coded taking into account guidelines in the Worldwide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative to enable you to alter the font size using the standard features in your preferred browser.

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To request either an institutional licence or an individual customer account from Microform Academic Publishers or, for bona fide academic and research institutions, to enquire about a free trial, please click on the 'Enquires/Prices' link above.

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Uses & Limitations of Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

OCR scans of images enhance the search facility. However it is rarely 100% accurate and in some cases where the original printing was of poor quality or the characters within words are unusual of difficult to identify OCR scans would not be appropriate. Thus, in those cases where OCR is not possible, one cannot expect to be able to perform a full-text search.

Example of the benefits of OCR

In most printed or typescript documents OCR scanning is possible and yields fairly good results. The example below, taken from the collection the South American Missionary Society records, 1844-1919, shows an image and the OCR translation.

Example of a typescript item

OCR result

Example of the limitations of OCR

In most manuscript cases, where documents are sometimes difficult to read even by the human eye, OCR scanning is not possible. Consequently one cannot expect to perform a full text search on such documents. Below are two examples, taken from the Papers of the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies, 1694-1709 and the Jamaican material in the Slebech papers, of this type of document.

Example of a manuscript item

Example of a manuscript item

For further information see 'Measuring Mass Text Digitization Quality and Usefulness: Lessons Learned from Assessing the OCR Accuracy of the British Library's 19th Century Online Newspaper Archive' by Simon Tanner, Trevor Muńoz and Pich Hemy Ros, D-Lib Magazine, July/August 2009, Volume 15 Number 7/8, at http://www.dlib.org/dlib/july09/munoz/07munoz.html [Accessed 13 August 2009].

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Using Image 'Tags'

In the example below, from the John Gollan papers in the Communist Party of Great Britain archive, the 'tags' split the document up into useful sections. Within the document '1931 Sedition Trial' the tags identify three sections; 'Sheriff's Charge to Jury', 'Sheriff's Charge to Jury' (a duplicate), and 'Notes by Sheriff Brown'. Thus if the user was only interested in the notes by Sheriff Brown they could skip directly to that section of the document by clicking on the corresponding image number (in this case img 17).

Screenshot showing document tags

The tags may also give dates, issue numbers, page numbers, or other additional information that aims to aid the user's navigation when browsing through the document.

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Using Adobe Reader to search images

For printed and typed documents, it is possible to use the Adobe Reader plugin within the Document Viewer to search the text of an individual image to highlight a keyword within the text.

In the example below the keyword 'Lancashire' has been searched for and highlighted.

Screenshot showing Adobe Reader search

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