Digital library search preferences amongst historians and genealogists: British History Online user survey

Adam Crymble

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This paper presents the results of a study of 1,439 users of British History Online (BHO). BHO is a digital library of key printed primary and secondary sources for the history of Britain and Ireland, with a principal focus on the period between 1300 and 1800. The collection currently contains 1,250 volumes, and 120,000 web pages of material. During a website rebuild in 2014, the project team asked its registered users about their preferences for searching and browsing the content in the collection. Respondents were asked about their current search and browsing behaviour, as well as their receptiveness to new navigation options, including fuzzy searching, proximity searching, limiting search to a subset of the collection, searching by publication metadata, and searching entities within the texts such as person names, place names, or footnotes. The study provides insight into the unique and often converging needs of the site’s academic and genealogical users, noting that the former tended to respond in favour of options that gave them greater control over the search process, whereas the latter generally opted for options to improve the efficacy of targeted keyword searching. Results and recommendations are offered for managers of similar digitally-driven repositories interested in understanding and improving user experience.
Original languageEnglish
JournalDigital Humanities Quarterly
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016


  • digital humanities
  • digital history
  • digital library
  • user study
  • history
  • genealogy


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