PARES: Making (Spanish) archival sources available online
The digitisation of archival sources and the possibility to access them freely via Internet is increasingly becoming a reality to which the Spanish state is contributing through PARES “Portal de Archivos Españoles en Red” [Portal of Online Spanish Archives]
The project is still ongoing and notwithstanding that only a very small amount of the -mostly handwritten- documents kept in different Spanish archives has been digitised, the documentation already available is large enough to consider PARES a valuable source of information. The website is only in Spanish, but it is relatively easy to use and, once the user is familiarised with it and knows a little about the way information has been classified, it can well be the case that some new and interesting sources can be found.
Searching in PARES
The search of documentation can be done in two different forms, “búsqueda sencilla” (easy search) and
“búsqueda avanzada” (extended search). The extended search option allows to make a relatively precise search, as it enables to select, besides the basic search term and the range of years, aspect such as a concrete archive or a section within an archive.
This option can be a useful one if the search is about quite broad issues (such as places or countries) or usual family names. Otherwise, it is preferable to begin with the “easy search” to obtain a global panorama and later, if the list of retrieved results is really long, refine the search by using the extended search option. It is in any case fundamental to choose adequate search terms or, in the case of names, write them in all the imaginable ways. The search engine seeks in the descriptions made by the archivists and not in the documentation. In other words, the entire system depends on the archivists’s ability to shortly describe sources and identify names and topics. Hermaphroditism is perhaps one of the best examples of this. A search with the words “hermafrodita/o” or “andrógeno/a” does not retrieve any results, albeit there is at least one case which can be consulted online. [Link to come]
Besides this limitation, another special aspect must be taken into account when using PARES; to click in “atrás” any time one wants to go back to the previous page. PARES does not work correctly if one clicks in the browser’s symbols for back and forth (and this happens regardless the browser used).
Not all are limitations though; it is possible to save searchs by registering in the website by clicking in „Agenda“ and then selecting „Nuevo usuario“ (new user). It enables to create an “Agenda”, where the desired results can be not only saved, but basically classified in different groups the user can create.
Accessing the results
Once a search term has been introduced, the system provides a list of results, identifying the archives and the sections within them where documentation related to the search term can be found.
In order to consult the results, one only needs to click on the desired section and a new list containing the descriptive title of the sources, their archival reference, their date of creation and an indication -with a camera symbol- if the sources are digitised or not opens.
To access a digitised source, it just takes a click on the camera symbol to open it. The new webpage offers a miniature picture of each digitised page and, on the left side, a tool bar to modify the pictures if desired. A click on the pictures opens them in a readable size.
A final limitation has to be noted: The descriptions made by the archivists quite rarely contain a precise reference of the folio where concrete topics or names are addressed, which means no other than the need to consult one image after the other in search of the desired information. In this particular aspect PARES perfectly resembles the work in the archives.