Thursday, October 22, 2015

The New Yorker Archive Stinks

That's a bold statement. "The New Yorker Archive Stinks." Sadly, to this researcher, it's true. For ninety years The New Yorker has brought us some of America's best magazine writing, from folks like: Roald Dahl, Roger Angell, James Thurber, Ken Auletta, Rachel Caron, E.B. White, A.J. Liebling, Pauline Kael, J.D. Salinger, Calvin Trillin, and a string of illustrious "Johns" (Updike, Cheever, Hersey, Lahr, McPhee, O'Hara).

So why am I saying the archive stinks? Because its search function is a rudimentary folly of little use to serious researchers. To wit: you can enter only a single search line, like a single name. You cannot use dates. You cannot use additional terms on that line. I'll show you what I mean.

Let's do a search for one of my favorite authors, Roger Angell, whose take on the machinations of baseball are legendary. My mission: to find the first story he ever published in the magazine.

So I type his name into the search bar. The function defaults to This Issue, and you can see that Angell had no pieces in the December 28, 1963 edition.

I have to now click the red Complete Archive box to see all entries for Mr. Angell.

Ah! Even though Results show 0 of 0, if you look in the red Complete Archive box you'll see that there are actually 828 hits. That's a lot. What next? I'll click the red box again and see what happens.

 Yikers! Eighty-three pages of hits. Hi-Yikers. Are they listed by date published? No such luck. Sorted by "Relevance", whatever that is supposed to mean.

Let's try narrowing the search. I enter "Roger Angell, baseball." Not a single hit. "Roger Angell, Yankees." Still nothing. That stinks.

So if I really want to read Roger's first piece I'm going to have to start ploughing through those 69 dozen listings until I reach it. Not fun. All right, here goes.

Gee, on page 9 there is a 1961 article. But I know he started writing in the Forties, so on I plough. Ah. One from 1949 on page 11. Ooh. Page 12, 1946. Ha! On web page 71 there is one from October 1944. Eureka? I'd better keep going, just in case. All done. Scanned all 83 pages of Roger Angell hits and it appears that October 7, 1944 is the winner - the first piece of his published in The New Yorker. This effort took over 20 minutes. And, alas, it turns out to be wrong.

A quick check on Wikipedia tells me that his first New Yorker story actually appeared in March 1944. Huh? It's true. I checked March 1944 in the archive. There, on page 53 of the March 18, 1944 issue is a story called "Three Ladies in the Morning," by Cpl. Roger Angell.

 Once upon a time, before The New Yorker "improved" its Archive a couple of years ago, a researcher could search by title, author, and within a date range. That's the kind of digital archive that we most often encounter. For reasons known but to Harold Ross, the new iteration of access to the past is clunky to the point of being nearly useless (unless you're willing to devote gobs of precious time to conduct searches of The New Yorker).

So what do we want from The New Yorker Archive? Mainly an Advanced Search function that includes title, author, subject, and date range. It cannot be done now, but the ability to search the cartoons (by artist, date, and subject) for which the magazine is famous would be a nice bonus feature.

I've complained to the magazine about the current iteration of search several times. Last week I sent an email to their customer service folks (turns out they're based in Australia) and all they basically did was thank me for contacting them. Maybe if enough people write in asking The New Yorker to rejig its search function to make Finding Stuff a whole lot more useful, they'll actually do it. Give it a shot. Try going here to lodge your appeal:

 Wish us luck.

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Disclaimer: The description of web pages are accurate as of the date of the post. Like everything else in this digital world of ours, they can change in the blink of an eye.