While collections are fundamental...
... the organization of them is just as important.
AND, for our purposes, searching for a collection that contains the stuff you seek is just as important. What's a SearchResearcher to do? For our purposes, a great online collection with a decent search interface is just fantastic!
|Engraving of the Museum Wormianum, How do you know what's in here? Is there a catalog somewhere? How about a finding ai? Anything? 1655 (Wikimedia)|
In some sense, this is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. You have to know a bit about what you're looking and then realize that a collection might exist. Once you know that, then how you find that collection is a bit of nuanced skills.
Of course, as SearchResearchers, we want to have the knowledge about such collections, but realize that we can't know them all. While knowing is good, knowing-how is even better.
Here are the Challenges with my interstitial comments:
1. What's the best / amazing / most-interesting collection of stuff you've found online?
For me, it's the Calflora collection of flowering plants in California, for you it might be something else.
I was curious about what other people might mention: Regular Reader Ramón mentioned the images from the European Space Agency. I did a quick search for [images from ESA] and found truly remarkable things (the tracks of dust devils on the surface of Mars), but I also found their archive collection.
Ramón also likes the list of hummingbirds that appears when you do a query for [list of hummingbirds in Mexico], which causes this horizontal-scrolling list to show up at the top of the SERP. (Such a scrolling list is called a carousel, a kind of sliding row of images.)
Meanwhile, ikijibiki, likes the Digital New Zealand collection (I found it with the search [New Zealand digital collection] -- you'd think that "digital" would be obvious, but people still label their online collections this way sometimes, so adding it digital as a context-term is still sometimes useful.
Remmij found several excellent collections such as the Frick Museum site (with it's intriguingly entitled Datasets of the Dutch Golden Age), the Oxford Academic press Journal of the History of Collections (a journal dedicated to writings about how people form and use collections!), and the Smithsonian Collections (they have many online collections in addition to their physical holdings in Washington DC--they focus on Americana, historical artifacts from the history of the US). I also really like the collections by Atlas Obscura (already a collector of interesting and odd things) they call "Unique Collections" (as pointed out by both Jon and Remmij).
Arthur pointed out a great collection I've mentioned before: the Google Art Project, with a superb assortment of information about other museums and places. (Think of your favorite cultural location--the Louvre, the Prado, the Met, Ankor Wat--and there's probably a subcollection within the Art Project. Well worth exploring.)
2. What's your best search tip for finding these collections?
We've talked before about adding the search term "list of" as in [ list of California lakes ] to find "list of" items. What else works for you? Are there special search terms one should use?
Collections are a way of grouping things that share some specific metadata information. Overtly, it can be as simple as “All things owned by a given museum,” or “all bones from Olduvai Gorge,” or “Edison wax cylinder recording.” Good collections all have a clear common theme that makes some kind of coherent sense. That’s why a museum collection has subcollections. “Everything held by the Natural History museum” isn’t a great piece of metadata—it’s too broad to be useful. Instead, you want something that has some meaning to it, “Oceania artifacts” “Kayaks of British Columbia” or “films of traditional dances of Malaysia.”
So, when I’m looking for collections of things, the obvious searches are one of these:
[ list of things ]
[ collection of things ]
But I would also include places that specialize in collections of things:
[ things museum ]
Example: [ kayak museum ] leads to the amazing Lincoln Street Kayak & Canoe Museum (Portland, OR).
Searching for museums will often lead you to somethings pretty wide-ranging, especially for topics of broad interest.
[ Egyptian hieroglyphics museum ]
leads to a large number of museums, including the British Museum. When it’s very broad, you might want to become a bit more specific with a query of
[ Egyptian hieroglyphics museum catalog ]
A. Search for a specialty (aka a vertical) search engine. For instance, I found the California flower collection, Calflora, by searching for:
[ California flowers search ]
… which works when there’s a collection that’s large enough to have its own search interface. When it does, it’s fabulous.
Of course, if you’re looking for older collections, you might include the context term “archive,” as in:
[ archive Gregorian chants ]
which will find collections of Gregorian chants.
Of course, there are other words for “collection.” A collection of images is often called an album (“photo album”). This suggests that perhaps we should look up synonms for “collection.” When I use a synonym finder like WordHippo, I find several other words that might be useful: anthology, compilation, compendium, florilegium, reader, treasure, omnibus, analects, etc.,
There are even more specialist terms for “album”: folder, index, book, scrapbook, anthology…
And continuing in this vein: art collection, cabinet, exhibition, museum, vernissage (that’s a preview of an art exhibition, which may be private), compilation, corpus, library, archive, compendium. These can all be used to search for specific kinds of collections.
Of course, each of these has a particular subtle spin on the kind of collection you’ll be discovering. A vernissage will find art collections, while a florilegium will find a collection of other writings (it’s not a “collection of flowers,” that would be a garden, a bouquet, or a herbarium).
Jon suggested something very clever: When in doubt, search for other people with the smarts to figure out what it is you're trying to find or identify. This gives you access to an implicit collection, as well as people who can give guidance in your search. (See our previous discussion about Finding Communities of People.)
Jon pointed us to the "Identify my tool" community on Instructables, and the inevitable Reddit group "What is this thing?"
As my friend Leigh once said "Dan.. there's a specialist group for everything... it's the internet..." (He then pointed me to a site that's all about restoring old library card catalogs, just to prove his point.)
3. How can we find collections in other countries and languages?
It's the WORLD Wide Web, so let's use the whole thing! If I want to find collections in other countries (say, collections of Inca artifacts from Peru), how would I do that? What search terms are best in DE, ES, IT, etc?
I was hoping to get a few more specialist terms for collections in other languages, but I found that doing the obvious translation of the search terms seemed to work rather well. For instance, translating "doll museum" into Portuguese gives "museu de bonecas" -- which seems to work rather well in this search that I site: limited to Portugal.
There are many lessons here...
1. Remember to search for collections of things! Often, we people are doing a very targeted search, they forget to check the broader field, which you can see in a collection. It's a neat trick for opening up the scope of what you seek (which is useful when you're trying to learn something).
2. Use context terms to find the collections. I use list of, collection, museum, and archive the most. Usually, those will give me pointers to items that I can use to expand my range of understanding.
3. Searching for a vertical search in your area can be useful. Remember, that's how I found the Calflora collection (but it's useful for more than just flowers)!
4. Don't forget about other languages and cultures. If you're searching for collections of Maori artifacts, you probably want to search in New Zealand--and if you're searching for collections of Inca artifacts, consider searching in Spanish. You'll find worlds of content there!
Search on! (Collectively... and in multiple languages!)