Tap Into Bath Takes Off
As Local Studies Librarian for Bath & North East Somerset, UK, I am expected to know the whereabouts of original material and collections relating to the history of the local area. The recently launched Tap Into Bath online database is the ideal format for discovering this.
The background to the project and the technicalities of the database were previously reported in Ariadne 40  in July 2004 by Alison Baud and Ann Chapman. I will therefore concentrate on what it meant to be a major contributor to the project, and how it will be useful to researchers at all levels.
Prior to the implementation of the online database there had been no single gateway to uncover material held by the myriad institutions in Bath. A researcher wanting material on John Wood, creator of England's most famous neo-classical city,
might initially approach the Building of Bath Museum, but might not realise that Bath Central Library and No 1 The Royal Crescent also have important holdings of relevant material. It is the cross-domain searching that gives the database its unique selling point. A researcher no longer has to guess which institution's collections might be useful. Searching for the subject 'sewage purification' will direct you to Wessex Water's Library, while a 'name' search on Sir Isaac Pitman will direct you to the University of Bath Library. The advanced search facility allows many combinations eg Agriculture and Bath, Hats and 20th Century. My only complaint is that I could not delete a criterion once selected - I had to start an advanced search all over again. Once a search has located a match, you can call up 'brief' or 'full' details of the collection, and there is a link to the owner's Web site, although not currently to any online catalogue.
So how did we get involved? Back in early 2004 my colleague, Julia Burton, and I were invited to an exploratory seminar at which the concept of the online collection description database was discussed. It soon became clear that, as I had responsibility for many of the collections held in Bath Central Library, I would be the one to produce our contribution to the database. At that time, I knew that the Library Service had a number of named collections (eg Boodle, Hunt, Irvine) but I did not know how many, nor did I know where the relevant background information on them might be found.
I started by physically looking around our closed access stores, listing the named collections and 'creating' names for holdings that had not previously been considered as separate collections, such as our Theatre Royal archive, or our collections of ephemera. I checked my list with colleagues until finally we ended up with 31 distinct collections that we could describe. The next step was to describe them, using the templates provided, highlighting 'star items', estimating the size of the collections, listing people associated with them and uncovering the custodial history - who had owned them previously, and why they were now in the ownership of Bath & North East Somerset's Library Service. Some of this information was extracted from 'Libraries in Bath, 1618-1964' by V J Kite, a former Chief Librarian of the City. This explained the donations and bequests that made up much of the early stock of the public library movement in Bath.
Other details were extracted from longer-serving members of staff, and even retired members, so it has been an extremely useful knowledge management exercise for us, and we now understand far more about the collections we have in our care. It has also enabled me to produce an annotated list of collections, indicating where in the library they can be found, particularly useful for newer members of staff.
Some of the most difficult details to produce were the date ranges of the collections and the dates when they were collected. The latter could only really be guessed at from the date of donation, and the former by close study of the material, something for which we had no time.
Amassing details of over 30 collections and typing them into the templates took a considerable amount of time, but, purely from an internal viewpoint, was thoroughly worthwhile.
The launch of the Tap Into Bath online database was held on 8 December 2004 in the Guildhall in Bath. Many of the partners who had contributed details of their collections to the database were present, including the archivist of Bath Abbey, the curator of the William Herschel Museum and the librarian of the American Museum in Bath, to name but a few. Howard Nicholson, Librarian at the University of Bath, gave an introduction to the project, describing Bath as a 'City of Treasures' which needed a virtual link to these treasures for both public awareness and access. Alison Baud explained the involvement of UKOLN and the project's aim to promote collaboration, cooperation and networking between institutions in Bath. At the launch many of us renewed old acquaintances and made new ones. There are 26 partner organisations, and it is hoped both to approach more, and that others will approach UKOLN themselves when they see how useful the database is. Alison thanked the members of the team, its funders and contributors.
Future developments include publicising the database, links from partners' Web sites, maintenance and updating of the details, and cloning Tap Into Bath around the UK - and the world! The software is open source and can be freely downloaded from the Web site and customised. Already the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, and Milton Keynes Learning City have expressed interest.
Ann Chapman of UKOLN demonstrated how to search the database on the Tap into Bath Web site  with either brief or full details of the items located. Search criteria are displayed: title, description, subject, star item, name, place, time. The advanced search allows combinations of criteria, together with language, personal and corporate names, and to whom the collection might be of interest. The latter is of particular importance as it indicates whether a collection is suitable for school children (such as that at the Bath Postal Museum) or for researchers (such as the Jenyns Herbarium at the Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution).
Access arrangements are also explained. At Bath Central Library, for example, researchers may only see certain items from the Strong Room on production of ID, and other material is held at a remote store and so is not available on demand. Elsewhere, particularly at institutions that are not normally open to the public, appointments must be made in advance. Particular arrangements may apply for school parties or for disabled access.
Given that Bath is a World Heritage Site, attracting thousands of visitors and researchers every year, this gateway to the collections held by its museums, libraries and archives should be of great benefit to everyone interested in its history.
- Alison Baud and Ann Chapman, "Tap into Bath", Ariadne issue 40, July 2004 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue40/baud-chapman/
- Tap into Bath Web site http://www.bath.ac.uk/library/tapintobath/