Web Magazine for Information Professionals

My Humbul: Humbul Gets Personal

Randy Metcalfe describes new functionality available for users of the Humbul Humanities Hub.

Humbul helps humanities professionals access relevant online resources. Employing a distributed network of subject specialist cataloguers across the UK, the Humbul Humanities Hub (http://www.humbul.ac.uk/), based at the University of Oxford, is building a catalogue of evaluated online resources that enables teachers, researchers and students to find resources that make a difference. Humbul is a service of the nationally funded Resource Discovery Network (RDN) (http://www.rdn.ac.uk/) which co-ordinates the development of evaluated resource catalogues across the subject spectrum for UK higher and further education. [1]

My Humbul

With the launch of My Humbul, Humbul has made access to relevant online resources even easier. For the first time, Humbul’s users will no longer need to visit Humbul’s website in order to discover whether new records relevant to their research interests have been added – Humbul will come to them. Moreover, this development is a direct response to the needs expressed by users. My Humbul personalises the user’s experience of Humbul. A simple and free registration with My Humbul is all that is required to access the My Humbul environment. [2]

My Humbul Alert!

Humbul’s users will be well aware of the ability to search Humbul’s records for online humanities resources that will be relevant to their research or teaching. Within the My Humbul environment users have the option of saving their searches. Saved searches remain active until the user chooses to delete them. Saved searches also automatically trigger My Humbul Alert! Now, if any new record is added to Humbul’s catalogue that matches the user’s search criteria, an email notification is sent. My Humbul users can save as many searches as they like. A single notification is sent – weekly – of the new records that match the saved searches. An alert includes the title of the newly catalogued online resource and a link to its Full Record View in Humbul. [3]

For example, a search in Humbul for records using all of the following terms poetry American women currently will call up four records. My Humbul users who have logged in will see an additional option along with the records – the option to Save This Search. Select that option and the next time the user returns to their My Humbul Account page, they will find their saved search recorded in My Searches. (There is a link from every page within the My Humbul environment to the My Humbul Account page.) Now the user can go away and forgot about Humbul, with the confidence that should a new record be added to Humbul that contains the terms poetry American women they will be sent an email notification.

It is worth noting that even though Humbul is constantly adding to its catalogue of records it is possible that a search in Humbul will return a null result. No longer is that empty set the end of the story. Simply save the search in My Humbul. As and when records are added to Humbul that do match the criteria in question, a notification will be sent.

My Humbul users may also choose to be notified when any record within one or more of Humbul’s subject areas becomes live. From the My Humbul Account page, select Change Subject under My Subjects. Select from the full range of subjects supported by the Humbul Humanities Hub. Selecting Update, the user is returned to their My Humbul Account page; the subjects selected are listed under My Subjects. Now, the user will receive a weekly email notification of any records added to Humbul in the subject or subjects of their choice. The user can choose as many subjects as they like. They can choose subjects in addition to their saved searches or instead of using saved searches. The way you choose to use Humbul is now in your own hands.

Not surprisingly My Humbul Alert! is merely the first step down the road of making Humbul’s data increasingly accessible and its delivery increasingly customisable. My Humbul users can look for the following developments over the next few months: record selection within a saved search so that users will save only the records they specially want rather than all which match their criteria; data export facilities to enable My Humbul users to export their saved searches in a variety of formats. Ultimately, My Humbul users will be able to select specific records, provide their own annotations (perhaps to make the description course specific), export their preferred selection of metadata from the record, and embed that selection dynamically into their own web pages. Clearly there is a long way to go, but this journey is now well underway. [4]

Humbul’s Aim

Although cataloguing online resources may serve some esoteric purpose in and of itself, for Humbul it is merely a means to an end. Humbul is a service and the service it provides is to make access to relevant online humanities resources as straightforward as possible. To accomplish this end there are clearly two crucial components to Humbul’s work: 1) the development of the catalogue, and 2) the access to the catalogue.

The first component is taken care of by Humbul’s dedicated distributed network of subject specialist cataloguers in partner organisations and institutions across the UK. Partners include the Archaeology Data Service at the University of York, the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London, and the LTSN Centre for Philosophical and Religious Studies at the University of Leeds. But these dedicated cataloguers are also supported by an ever-increasing number of public submissions of online resources to Humbul. Public submissions are vetted and their records completed by the subject specialist cataloguers.

Access to the catalogue, the second crucial component in Humbul’s work, is primarily through the search engine accessible on every page in Humbul’s site. (Access is also available through the Resource Finder search box on the RDN site at http://www.rdn.ac.uk.) Our task is to disentangle the particular process currently in place for accessing Humbul’s data from the data itself. In effect, we want to separate form and content, and put the user directly in touch with the content irrespective of the form we happen to have chosen. This strategy, of course, fits in well with the Arts and Humanities Portal (AHP) being developed by Humbul with the Arts and Humanities Data Service (http://www.ahds.ac.uk). [5]


My Humbul is clearly only a beginning. But it is a positive start, putting the users and their expressed needs to the fore. As Humbul develops and grows it will continue to concentrate on the needs of its users, and the service it provides to humanities professionals in UK higher and further education.


Author Details

Randy Metcalfe
Information and Publications Officer
Humbul Humanities Hub