27 April 2015

Why We Point Out Errors

Occasionally I get called to task in private emails for pointing out difficulties with databases and websites.

The responses usually fall into one of two categories:

  • "Indexes are created by humans"
  • "We should be glad to have anything."
And I'm also told that I just "shouldn't worry about it." That comment bothers me on so many levels that I won't discuss it any further. 

I'm well aware that indexes can contain errors. Having created indexes myself many years ago and having transcribed my share of records, I know how easy it is for the most well-intentioned and conscientious of researchers to overlook the occasional error. Index creators are human and as such, they are prone to make mistakes. 

"Being glad to have anything" I understand in theory, but I have difficulty with in practice as sometimes it is used as an excuse to justify shoddy or incomplete work. 

 Those two comments really miss the mark of why we talk about difficulties with indexes and finding aids on this blog: indexes and finding aids are tools.

And tools must be used appropriately.

A hammer should not be used to put in a drywall screw and a screwdriver should not be used to hammer in nail. Sure, in a pinch they would do. But they are not the best tools for the job. 

Indexes and finding aids are tools. Knowing their limitations and their quirks allow researchers to know when to use them, when not to use them, and to use them more effectively.

That's why we point out their pitfalls and limitations. 

And, for the record, I've never had one company tell me to "stop writing." I have had behind the scenes emails from them when things weren't working the way they should.

Writing about the pitfalls of indexes and databases helps users make more effective use of those indexes and databases. And on some level, in addition to new and continued subscribers, that's what database providers want.