I have just been re-reading a recent report: The Metadata is the Interface: Better Description for Better Discovery of Archives and Special Collections, Synthesized from User Studies, Jennifer Schaffner, OCLC Research (2009).
Jennifer’s report is well worth reading. It manages that most admirable of goals: a succinct report full of useful and relevant information that summarises others’ findings. Therefore, it is quite difficult to summarise the content. However, I will draw out some of the observations and conclusions that I think are particularly worth highlighting.
- People want to discover information by themselves and at the network level, not the institutional level. Less mediation is a good thing.
- Archivists often focus on what collections consist of, which is at odds with researchers, who want to learn what collections are about.
- Subject access is rated highly by many users, though they may use keyword searching rather than structured terminology
- It is difficult to compare studies because of an inconsistent use of terminology
- Researchers prefer quality content, but above that they want more descriptions, even if they are minimal, in order to open up more archival content
- Some users prefer summary records, some prefer detail – from our user studies we cannot really draw conclusions as to which is preferred
- Successful discovery currently requires too much understanding from the researcher of what they are looking for before they even begin
- Archivists should give more thought to creating descriptions that are network friendly. Most people start their searches with Google.
- Archivists should give more thought to effective relevance ranking of search results
I thought it was also worth drawing out a few of the points made by Cory Nimer and J. Gordon Daines III in their report, What Do You Mean IT Doesn’t Make Sense? Redesigning Finding Aids from the User’s Perspective (Journal of Archival Organization, vol 6/4, Haworth Press 2008). Some of these points are made by others and the article references them in a literature review (apologies for not naming all those referenced). Nimer and Daines also explain their own project for The L. Tom Perry Special Collections
delivery of online finding aids (not yet complete).
- Archivists should re-examine the principles that underpin archival arrangement and description and have more focus on user requirements so that online finding aids are more intuitive and easy to use
- Enabling user annotation would augment finding aids and may make them more intellectually accessible to a wider audience
- There is a significant divergence and a lack of consensus in archival display. The users that Nimer and Daines talked to showed a level of dissatisfaction with the entire approach to EAD display; they wanted more direct access to item-level descriptions
- Users want direct access to items but are unable to understand the descriptions without adequate context, so closer integration of context is important
- Terminology can cause some confusion but generally users are quick to understand words when they are used in context
We are looking to learn from these sorts of reports, case studies and user studies in order to improve the Archives Hub website. We already provide direct access to item-level descriptions, but our new interface will give a better indication of hierarchy and enable users to navigate from the item level up through the context of the collection. We plan to undertake more user requirements analysis over the coming year, to help us to make the Archives Hub a more intuitive and rewarding experience for a broader base of users.
I thought it was worth posting something I’ve just been reading on another blog. The question was posed: If you could contact a librarian via Facebook or MySpace for help with your research, would you? If not, why?
This is something that is interesting to many of us at the moment – the value of Facebook to our work as archivists and in user support. This research refers to librarians, but doubtless the results for archivists would be similar. It was also carried out in the States, although I suspect UK students might have similar ideas.
The survey found that a total of 23% of respondents stated yes or maybe they would be interested in contacting a librarian via these two social networking sites, so there is some scope for this. Undergrads had a slightly higher than average percentage of 34%.
However, nearly half of the total respondents stated they would not be interested. The reasons given were various – the biggest reason being that they feel the current methods (in-person, email, instant messaging) are more than sufficient.
14% said no because they felt it was inappropriate or that Facebook/MySpace is a social tool, not a research tool. This is an opinion that has been expressed on several occassions in talks and articles I have read. I’m interested to see whether this changes as the service develops, although my suspicion is that by this time next year we’ll be talking about a different social networking service anyway!
My feeling as far as the Archives Hub is concerned is that I would still be happy to put up a search widget and to enable people to contact us via Facebook – it may be a minority but that’s fine – it just gives people another option if they want to take it.
Have a look at the survey results at http://onlinesocialnetworks.blogspot.com/2008/01/data-students-facebook-library-outreach.html
Image: No Facebook – Blessington St, St Kilda by avlxyz from Flickr (Creative Commons licence)
At the recent Online Information Conference I attended a very interesting session looking at what usage data can tell us about users of libraries. This session emphasised the importance of maximising library investments through better data gathering. Of course, the same would apply to archives, but we have very little detailed usage data for archives as far as I am aware. However, I think that we can to some extent benefit from analysis of library users, so I thought I would give a summary of the session in this blog.
Dr Carol Tenopir, a Director of Research at the University of Tennessee, spoke about the results of a survey of library users from five American universities. Her team were looking particularly at journal use, both print and e-journals. The survey looked at such things as last article read, value of the reading, purpose of the reading and other details such as age of reading, source, time spent, etc.
The survey team asked how many articles were read in the last month. On average, academics read 23 scholarly articles a month and spend 34 minutes reading (based on the last article read). Students read 15 articles a month and spend 36 minutes. Often they were reading to just get the main points rather than reading in depth. At the same time the time spent finding articles has decreased.
The number of articles read has increased over the last 30 years, but the time taken to read each article has decreased – in 1977 each article took on average 48 minutes to read. This suggests that we are more inclined to skim read than we used to be, maybe partly due to the huge amount of literature available to us?
The results surrounding print versus electronic media were interesting. It made me think about the debates in the archive world surrounding the importance of access to the original archive and the value of digital surrogates. The survey found that around 65% read electronic articles and therefore a third of people still use print journals, so there is clearly still a substantial market for good old fashioned texts. Older articles are judged more valuable and are more likely to be sourced from libraries. The survey found that since 2005 older articles are read more, which may be to do with improved ability to search the systems available and access to back-files. Of the articles published within the last year, 43% are likely to come from the library, but for articles over 5 years old around 70% are from the library. For academics, older articles are more likely to be for research and are considered more valuable.
Respondents to the survey were not necessarily sure where they got articles from when they browsed the Web