Inventing Entertainment

I know I promised a review of Family Tree Maker 2008 by now, but I have been busy with school.  I promise that it’s coming as long as it doesn’t violate the user agreement, which I need to check.  In the mean time, here’s a review of the data structure of Inventing Entertainment, a sub database of American Memory by the Library of Congress.  There’s some good information in these databases for genealogical contextual reference.

A Short Review of the Description Structure of Inventing Entertainment: The Motion Picture and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies


            Inventing Entertainment is a project of the Library of Congress that describes and makes accessible some of the motion pictures and sound records of the companies of Thomas Alva Edison.  As can be seen, the wealth of data to be obtained by this collection is of high value, but retrieving the information can be a challenge.  Please keep in mind that this collection was created eight years ago when internet technology was still in its early stages of infancy.  From here this project will be referred as Inventing for expediency. 

Mission of the Library of Congress

The mission of the Library of Congress is to make its resources available and useful to Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations. The goal of the Library’s National Digital Library Program is to offer broad public access to a wide range of historical and cultural documents as a contribution to education and lifelong learning. 

(Library of Congress, 

Users of the Collection

The primary users of the collection may include historians, film enthusiasts, students, teachers, and the general public.  Since the general public may be involved, it should not be assumed that any of these individuals know how librarians arrange and describe information.  It should also be assumed that each user has a unique degree of computer skills and knowledge. 


  • The films and sound recordings are put into context.

Inventing is accompanied by a several essays and a chronological timeline of the Edison’s life events.  This allows the user to make an educated analysis of the films based on their time periods and film processes. 

  • Offers a wealth of metadata to accompany files.


Metadata is basically data about data.  For example, the table of contents in a book can be considered metadata for the book.  In this case the metadata in the description of each file may include variant titles, publishing dates, summaries of the contents, copyright dates and names, number of frames per second, recording style, location of filming and recording, and even the sources used to make the description.  The data also gives related names, medium descriptions, a Library of Congress call number, the housing repository, and the digital id for the file.  Unfortunately, none of the files include links to contextual articles the website provides. 

  • Items are can be browsed through various means.

Video and sound recordings can both be browsed by genre and alphabetically by film title.  The genre browsing offers the benefit of allowing users to look for certain subjects when not knowing exactly what users are seeking.  Title searching allows users to do several things.  First, it allows the user to compare and evaluate titles as they relate to the content and to each other.  This feature also allows users find a title they are specifically searching for efficiently.  The films can also be browsed chronological allowing users to see the progression of the film format. 

  • The collection has a keyword search.

Searching was common place even before the emergence of Google.  The keyword search in Inventing is great in that can be limited to certain formats and allows users to search the exact phrase, all the words, and any of the words.  (LOC,  Another advantage of the keyword search is the ability to search plural variants of words.  However, it is not clear what fields the keyword search searches.  Does it search all of the metadata or only the titles and subjects?  It would also be help for the search function to have a built in historical thesaurus to aid users in searching this historical database with modern search terms. 


  • Invention is part of the American Memory Project, but does not act like it!

This database is only a small fraction of the American Memory Project produced by the Library of Congress.  Yet, users may not know this even if you put two of the databases next to each other.  Webpage and navigation structures are not similar, webpage colors do not match, and there is no common branding besides a small logo at the top of each homepage.   The American Memory search box is not even prominently presented next to each individual database search box.  User beware, there is a wealth of historical information available in other databases of the project. 

  • The navigation structure is inconsistent and virtually non-existent.

As stated above, the navigation structure is not consistent across each database in the American Memory project.  It is also not consistent the Invention database.  This is a strategic design flaw that makes finding the wealth of information and articles nearly impossible.  It is easy to find the multimedia files, but it is cumbersome to find the nice articles that accompany the files. 

  • Descriptive terms are sometimes outdated in the subject headings and the descriptions.

The descriptive terms in the metadata are sometimes out of date.  For example, the term “colored people” is used in a title instead of “African American.”  Actually, this is the best possible title for file given the time period the source material was made and the fact that this is actually part of the title for the film.  However, without either a metadata field for related terms or a built in thesaurus in the search engine, many more uncommon historical terms may prevent users from finding the files they seek. 


            Invention and American Memory are excellent databases full of many historical treasures.  However, because of their navigation structure the wealth that they contain is buried with in the many layers of their web pages.  The project could use some updating and some unification between databases.  Once users find the information after hours of exploring they will not be disappointed by what they find. 


Library of Congress, Inventing Entertainment: The Motion and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies.  Retrieved July 13, 2007, from


Library of Congress, American Memory.  Retrieved July 13, 2007, from


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