A Comparison of the Iter Bibliography and the International Medieval Bibliography: Tools for Researching the History of the European Middle Ages

Article excerpt

The Iter Bibliography and the International Medieval Bibliography (IMB) are indexes for materials on the European Middle Ages. Librarians and researchers studying medieval history need a sophisticated understanding of the contents of these databases to develop effective research strategies. Such an understanding includes the strengths and usefulness of the individual databases and an appreciation of what materials are unique to each of the databases. A comparison of journal titles indexed by Iter and the IMB does not provide adequate evidence of the databases' coverage, strengths, and weaknesses. We undertook this study to gain an understanding of what a researcher using Iter and the IMB could expect to retrieve from each.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Librarians and other scholars have analyzed Iter and the IMB, but no comparative study of them has been published. In 2003, Dalton and Charnigo investigated the tools historians use for finding secondary information. They asked historians which indexes, abstracting services, and specialized or history-related bibliographies they use most often. The IMB was the sixth most used source in a list of ten bibliographies, accounting for 4 percent of the responses. L'Annee Philologique was tenth on the list with 3 percent of the total. We examined it in this study, but did not find sufficient material to include it in this paper. Searches in L'Annee Philologique retrieved materials on Judaism, Islam, and archaeology not found in the other two databases. Iter did not appear on the list at all; it had only become available to institutions in 1998. Dalton and Charnigo also asked their subjects to name the electronic databases they most frequently used. In a list of fourteen electronic databases, Iter appeared as number twelve. (1) The IMB did not appear at all, probably because it only came online in 2001. With the exception of America: History and Life, Historical Abstracts, and library catalogs, the most frequently used electronic databases do not have a paper antecedent.

The Dalton and Charnigo study indicates that comprehensiveness is the highest priority for historians. When Dalton and Charnigo asked historians whether they preferred depth, described as the "retrieval of the largest number of records which might pertain to my topic and in which I must spend time filtering out irrelevant citations," or relevance, defined as the "retrieval of a few records, all of them relevant to my topic, but with the chance that many other works might fall through the cracks, due to the limiting parameters of this type of search," 70 percent chose depth. (2)

Librarians commonly train students and researchers to use the terminology of specific databases. Dalton and Charnigo note that subject searching by historians in their survey means keyword searching rather than searching by assigned subject headings or descriptors. They further note that the problems historians experienced with electronic sources primarily were due to the scope and indexing of the sources not including needed information, not covering dates needed, not being sufficiently international, or being "too anglo-phone." Respondents also expressed dissatisfaction with the terms used as the subject headings or descriptors. (3)

Jaeger and Victor have written an introduction to medieval studies sites available on the Internet in which they discuss both Iter and the IMB. They comment that Iter contains bibliographic citations of harder-to-find materials such as reviews, conference proceedings, and Festschriften--a volume of essays or articles contributed by many authors in honor of a colleague or as a tribute. (4)

An article by Dillon includes both the IMB and Iter in the category of "Major Publishers and Distributors of Online Humanities Resources," under the subset for "History," giving a sentence-long description of each. (5) Quinn also includes both the IMB and Iter in the category for history in an article on Web-based resources. …