Reviewed April 2021
Shira Atkinson, Reference Librarian, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal
The Dictionary of Scottish Architects is a free, online database of mostly biographical information and job lists for Scottish architects who worked between 1660-1980. While it is largely based on research by Professor David M Walker, the project has grown to include research and programming contributions from multiple sources, including University of St Andrews, the Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies, Edinburgh College of Art, and Historic Scotland. This dictionary is incomplete, and the compilation team is working on creating and filling out more recent records.
The landing page is simple and easy to navigate, with a brief description of the Scottish Dictionary and lists of the most searched for architects and buildings. Unfortunately, these lists are not hyperlinked, so they are less useful than they could be. Along the top bar, there are also links to further information about the project, essays by Walker, and separate links to architect and building searches for easy navigation among the website’s different components.
While the searches each involve the ability to search by different fields, such as architect name and location, they are nevertheless limited. For instance, if a researcher were interested in the biographical information for an architect who designed a particular building, they must first look up the building in the building search to find the name of the architect. This is a minor quibble, as the architects of the buildings are hyperlinked and may be accessed from the buildings search.
The searches are also fairly simple. They do not include advanced programming that suggests information based on existing input values. That is, once a researcher has decided to put in a street name, the programming does not recognize the possible counties in which these streets could be located. Additionally, the search function does not understand approximate spelling or minor typos. It can be mentioned, however, that the search is able to find results based on incomplete spellings.
Search results are clearly laid out in a grid format. This layout is simple, organized, and consistent. At the same time, item records are quite text heavy and have few visual distinctions that would help the eye scan to different sections easily. As mentioned, while the searches for architects and their buildings are separate, the results are connected by hyperlink, and it is easy to travel between the records for architects, the buildings on which they have worked, and vice versa.
One wonderful aspect of the search results is how clearly they indicate the source of the information in the records. In the results pages, bibliographic and archival references are given the same visual weight as the other information in the record and include all the necessary fields for researchers to retrace the original research. This feature both transparently establishes the source of the information and provides an indication for the authority of the work, but it is also friendly to researchers who may well wish to consult these works to further their own research.
The Dictionary of Scottish Architects is, admittedly, still a work in progress and does not have complete or definite records for each of the buildings or architects in the database. Even so, this freely accessible website could be an incredible resource for researchers who are looking into Scottish architects and architecture, both because it synthesizes information from multiple sources into an indexed and searchable database, but also because it provides a clear path for researchers to do more in-depth research by highlighting their references.