Reaching users

Friday’s JISC/CNI meeting had a distinct theme of getting content out to the users, wherever they happen to be, rather than expecting users to come and spend time on our carefully-crafted websites. We had a meeting of members of the MIMAS bibliographic team members yesterday, called by Jane to talk about issues surrounding personalisation in online services, in preparation for a meeting about it that she’s going to next week.

Jane showed us Netvibes, which allows you to personalise your own Netvibes page with a range of news feeds, search boxes, images from and so on. It’s pretty easy to develop new modules for this service, and we’ve made an Archives Hub search box available for inclusion, if you’re a user of Netvibes. This is basically the code for the search box that’s already published on the Hub website, with some extra Netvibes-specific code wrapped around it. This is just an experiment really, but presenting services within users’ own environments seems to be an increasingly important way of reaching out to them.

Archives Hub Netvibes search box

Resource Discovery Review

Spent today at the JISC/CNI meeting in York. A very interesting day, with some excellent speakers. Nicky Ferguson gave an overview of the Resource Discovery Review, which is reporting on the Archives Hub and three other services (Copac, Zetoc and SUNCAT). His summary included information about the survey results. This included the fact that the surveys suggested that 50% of users of these services are librarians or archivists.

The trouble with this, is that I think that the data was somewhat skewed by the way the survey was promoted. A message about the surveys was sent to the JISCmail LIS-LINK list on 16 May 2006. This list has over 750 subscribers, mainly librarians. We also circulated the URL for the Hub survey on the Hub contributors’ list (c.100 archivists and librarians). It is much easier to contact these users than to get in touch with our ‘academic’ users: there isn’t a single list you can use to send a message to the academic researchers.

So although the survey feedback might suggest that our users are mainly archivists or librarians, I am fairly sure that this is more a result of the way that the survey was promoted than a reflection of actual use. My gut feeling is also that librarians and archivists have a sense of ownership of these services which makes them more willing to support them by filling in the survey. I’ve got absolutely no evidence for this though!

Both a sp

Had a meeting in Aberystwyth yesterday with some archivists who work for higher education institutions in Wales. Some are interested in using the Spokes software to host their multi-level finding aids. It soon became clear that the attitude of their respective IT departments had a lot of influence on the likelihood of their adopting the software. One institution faced a long wait before the software could be installed, while another’s IT section was willing to set a machine up almost immediately, happy to give their team more practice with setting up a Linux server.

Much of the discussion revolved around the problem of obtaining funding for creating those multi-level descriptions. It is widely felt that getting money for cataloguing projects is increasingly difficult, despite the widespread need for the backlogs to be tackled. Catalog Cymru is a project that has recently started in Wales to assess the significance and extent of uncatalogued materials held in 22 repositories in the country.

Another point of discussion was whether the Archives Network Wales would be able to host full finding aids in the future, as this is a purely collection-level service at present. Again, the answer will depend on the availability of future funding.

I think that the title to this entry reads ‘Hub and Spokes’ in Welsh, but please let me know if that’s wrong!

End of an era

Elizabeth Danbury, responsible for training generations of archivists in the UK, at the University of Liverpool and, more recently, at University College London, announced her retirement during a presentation at the FARMER conference for archival educators in Aberystwyth last week. Elizabeth gave a very entertaining presentation at the conference about the changes in archival education in the UK over the last thirty years, ending with the observation that the future is ‘promising and challenging – Good Luck!’.

Strategic Review of Archives Hub

The Archives Hub is currently undergoing a review as part of a more wide-ranging look at of JISC-funded resource discovery services. If you would like to contribute, please take a few moments to complete the questionnaire which has been drawn up by the team undertaking the review.

This survey has now been closed. Thanks if you contributed – we had some very positive feedback: more on that later.

Training new archivists

View of Aberystwyth from Constitution HillJane and I had a great day yesterday in Aberystwyth, training the proto-archivists there in using XML and EAD. We’ve been given a copy of XMetaL software by Blast Radius for use in these sessions which really helps to give the students a feel for encoding descriptions in EAD.

The trainee archivists were discussing a joke I’d forgotten about:

Where did Noah keep his bees?

In the ark-hives

A Tale of Two Cities

Christ Church Gate, CanterburyThis is as close as you can get to Canterbury Cathedral nowadays without having to pay £6 per person to get within sight of the church. Once inside the cathedral, the first thing you see is a gift shop. There is another one as you leave the cathedral, and you are forced to walk through yet another one as you leave the cathedral’s grounds.

Three days after visiting Canterbury, I was in Paris. There, you can go around Notre Dame for no charge and the cathedral was heaving with visitors. Most museums in the UK reported huge rises in visitor numbers when they stopped charging for entry, so it would be interesting to see how the introduction of charges have affected Canterbury’s footfall. Notre Dame, Paris I’m sure it all comes down to whether the churches receive public funding for their upkeep or not, but it does seem a shame to restrict access to the cathedral’s immediate surroundings.

It reminded me of the issue of access to information about archives. The philosophy in the UK has always been that if descriptions of archives are created using public money (whether in a university or local government repository), then that information should be made freely available to the general public. Listing the collections is our core work and that information should be put into a digital form and made as widely available as possible, so that all potential users can become aware of the existence of our materials. Charging for access to archival finding aids would be like the barrier at the Christ Church Gate in Canterbury: irritating and exclusive.

Philip Pullman on libraries

There was a good promotional article on libraries and librarians in The Times on Saturday. Though I don’t think Philip realises quite how much librarians are involved in bringing information online and improving the quality of online information (not to mention providing online access within libraries).

Still in Washington…

Interior of National Building Museum, Washington
Got a chance to go beyond the hotel and meeting rooms today and paid a visit to the National Building Museum, which is housed in an amazing building, once the Pension Bureau (paying pensions to men who fought in the American Civil War). The museum’s exhibits used a good mixture of archives and artifacts. There was a hands-on part where you could try to build a brick wall using various different brick bonding patterns. Noticed the sign below on my way round the building, which made me think of EAD.
Controlled Access Area