- North Carolina Architects & Builders: A Biographical Dictionary
It is easy to sing the praises of the North Carolina Architects & Builders Web site as an exemplary vernacular architecture resource for the digital age. This growing biographical dictionary, which currently profiles more than 240 architectural practitioners contributing to North Carolina’s built environment across three centuries, is straightforward, engaging, clearly written, and easy on the eyes. Reconceived from a dormant project as the companion Web site to Architects and Builders in North Carolina: A History of the Practice of Building (1990), North Carolina Architects & Builders was the 2010 winner of the Vernacular Architecture Forum’s Buchanan Award, just as its predecessor printed volume earned the Cummings Prize in 1991. With a projected five hundred to six hundred biographies when completed, this databasedriven resource offers its visitors process as well as product: the opportunity to make use of ready information now but also to come back for more as the Web site continues to grow and evolve. The site’s inclusive range of biographical subjects, combined with faceted search and browse options across multiple well-chosen categories, provides a depth and flexibility that will be useful not only to architectural specialists but to a broad array of Internet researchers: historians, geographers, genealogists, students, teachers, and engaged North Carolinians alike.
Launched in June 2009, North Carolina Architects & Builders is the first scholarly publishing project of the North Carolina State University Libraries, produced through its Digital Scholarship and Publishing Center. The Web site’s emergence from within a library setting is evident in its information architecture: the sophisticated use of metadata and the range of options for search, sort, and browse engage emerging best practices for content discovery in the digital library environment. Equally evident is the presence of content specialists among the primary members of the site’s design team: multiple search/browse taxonomies (“facets”) are clearly based in a sound understanding of North Carolina’s architectural past. While a printed biographical dictionary might provide its entries in alphabetical order with an index or two at the back, this database-driven Web site provides fully ten distinct facets for selective searching and sorting of biographies. The collaboration between librarians and researchers here is fruitful, establishing a resource whose digital enhancements truly extend its usefulness.
While individual biographies vary in length, a typical entry spans from one to a dozen paragraphs. The length of associated building lists varies even more widely: from none, to one or two known examples, to many dozens that are noted as representative. Each entry is headed with the name of an individual, firm, or practice and an associated date range; a representative building image is provided where available. Other metadata displayed in an entry’s heading includes variant names; locations for birthplace, founding, and headquarters as applicable; trades represented; North Carolina work locations; building types created; and styles and forms used. Shown below this heading is the full text of the entry, with tabs marked “biography,” “building list,” and “bibliography” allowing a reader to switch among the three sections as needed. By clicking on hyperlinks in the heading or the text, a reader can also jump from one biography into another, or to a related list of entries that share a common trait.
Discovery of entries is enabled through search or browse, operations that are linked via the common header that appears on each page of the Web site. On the home page, a quick search box brings up instant results, while “more search options,” like the search link at top, takes the user to a separate page with a longer list of choices. Here the keyword box, listed first, will search across all fields in the database, including the full text of the essays, building lists, and bibliographies. Other search options rely on combining individual facets—that is, a user can search additively within some combination of specified data fields such as name plus work locations, or trade plus building types plus...