The opening screen clearly delineates the scope and content of this index. The compilation of this index began in 1996 and concentrates on articles, and essays in books, as well as book reviews, but not books that are written by individual authors. The time period included covers the years 450 C.E. to 1500 C.E. The index is compiled by a combination of volunteers including librarians, and scholars, and a student assistant. Since the project began only within the past year, they are concentrating on indexing current materials before moving to back issues. The purpose is to provide access for women's studies scholars to the exponentially increasing volume of materials that are becoming available, and as stated by the compilers, locating relevant materials is "complicated by the interdisciplinary nature of much of the scholarship." The reviewed journals come from various disciplines including "Art History, Literature, Music, History of Science and Medicine, and Religion." The geographic area of study is Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. At this point in time, there are approximately 1,000 entries in the index with 100 entries added per month.
The search form is very clear and allows for multiple search combinations: author, title, subject heading, or source as well as by article type and language. Publications in English, French, and German are currently included. It is noted that materials in Spanish and Italian are to be added later. One cannot combine multiple subject terms, nor use word variations. A subject heading list and a broad topics list is available from the search form page. However, if one chooses to not consult the subject list, if the term is not used a button to link to holdings with the correct term will appear in the search results. Some subjects are linked so that for example a subject search for "Mystery Plays" produced only one hit, but a button also appeared linking to see also Literature--Drama, and by selecting the button one was connected to another list of search results. Search results include the full bibliographic information, with a link to a full record from the title. By looking at the full record, one can identify additional or alternative terms to use in the subject heading search. The subject headings also help identify the subject content of the article, as there are no abstracts currently. Although it only happened once or twice in the trial searches, one recommendation would be a button linking back to the subject headings when no records are found as a result of a search.
The main page includes a link to the list of 328 journal titles that are being indexed, as well as a link to the list of essay collections. The journal list includes the dates and volume numbers for issues that have been indexed. One of the search options allows for limiting a search to a specific source, so by comparing the journal list and dates indexed, one can identify if the source has been indexed. Because the index does not include individual works, the compilers point users to selected library catalogs that have significant collections in medieval studies. One suggestion would be to have links to the journal titles and essay collections from the search form page as well as from the main introductory page. An additional feature is the identification of primary sources. If the citation is to an article or essay that focused on primary documents, a description of that document or documents is included in the full record.
Overall, the database is well laid out. Currently, when search results are retrieved, there is no posting for the number of hits retrieved by the search, but this is an enhancement planned for the future. There are no abstracts, although from the notes it appears that is a future addition. One limitation is that book reviews do not include subject fields. If one does a subject search, one must do a separate keyword title search as well to come up with possibly relevant book reviews in addition to the references to articles in the current database. In addition, the full record for a book review contains no significant additional information other than the ISBN number so I found it annoying to click on the title of a book review only to retrieve the same information in a different format. This is probably a trivial issue, for but those individuals with slower connections, its a wasted step. Unless there are plans to add information to the longer forms for book reviews, including subject headings, the links should be removed.
One additional feature of the database is that it does provide links to other Web resources for medieval women. In addition to a connection to the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship, there is a connection to Web Resources on medieval women. These resources are primarily bibliographies and in comparison to the Medieval Feminist Index, are rather less impressive.
In conclusion, Margaret Schaus, coordinator of the Medieval Feminist Index, and her volunteers should be commended for a well developed site. The use of specific subject headings and cross references from one term with buttons directly linking to additional search results using alternative terms so that the patron doesn't have to go back to the search form and type in terms is positive evidence that a librarian has been involved in the development of this index. It is an example of a cooperative Web project that enhances scholarship using the Web. If improvements continue to be made it should become an outstanding resource for feminist scholars and medieval scholars, as well as an example of how a well developed database should be done. Commercial vendors should take note!
Head of Library Services