Reviewed February 2020
Shira Atkinson, Reference Librarian
Centre for Canadian Architecture
The Bloomsbury Architecture Library is a subscription-based digital platform providing information on global architectural history. The resource, which was created in partnership with the Royal Institute of British Architects and integrates Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History of Architecture, includes a large amount of well-organized, easily findable and accessible information, including high-quality images.
A strength of the platform is how well the information is interlinked and navigable. For example, building entries generally are usually linked to the source of the information and clicking on an author’s name will display a link to their other publications. Additionally, the website recommends content to researchers through the related images and related content features. When applicable, internet sources that are not part of the Library are linked directly as well.
The built-in tools are also helpful, though imperfect. For instance, researchers have a direct option to print articles, but in order to download them, researchers must know how to print to PDF. Also, while the option to email the article could be useful, only the link is included in the email and the recipient must be able to log into the database for full access. Additionally, while testing this option for review, some emailed article links were sent to a spam folder. Finally, the timeline and world map features are interesting in concept, but would be improved with additional filters, such as location or architect. Also, while the world map may help researchers perform regional research, in many cases it may be just as easy to type the name of the country into the search engine.
The option to create a personal account to save searches and individual results is one feature that may be hugely beneficial to researchers. Researchers can create personal library with personalized folders, and set alerts to be contacted when new relevant material is added.
The Library dedicates a page to describing the measures they have taken to ensure accessibility, such as being compatible with screen readers and avoiding using color to convey information, and are transparent about the features that they are still working to improve. For all researchers, it is important that the site is compatible with laptops and mobile devices, and that the size and orientation of text and images is responsive to screen size.
Despite the high quality of the content, some issues detract from the usability of Bloomsbury Architecture Library, including basic search functionality. While conveniently and centrally placed on the home page, the default basic keyword search function does not use either boolean logic or truncation and therefore all queries must be precise. The advanced search option is preferable, since it enables researchers to search multiple search terms in multiple fields using Boolean logic, but it also does not accept truncation. The advanced search also allows researchers to limit results by publication date. However, since the content is limited to items published after 2002, sample searches with dates earlier than 2002 revert back to the 2002-2019 date range. Researchers searching for material published earlier may misinterpret the results.
Another potentially confusing search option is the filter for content type. Some of the content categories appear to be non-mutually exclusive, such as book chapter, encyclopedia, and Sir Banister Fletcher chapter, and image and building. While sample searches reveal differences between these categories, the platform would be improved with more clearly demarcated categories. Additionally confusing, encyclopedia and dictionary content types provide zero results, even when searching for generic terms such as “architecture” or “building.” Conversely, one strength of the content filters are the detailed subdivisions within images, enabling very targeted searches.
The content on this platform would be primarily useful for students and scholars of architecture, interior design, and other related fields, though it could also be helpful for professional architects. Unfortunately, while some basic information is visible without a log in, such as author and title, all intellectual content is available only upon logging in to a paid, subscribed account.