Between March and June 2014 I conducted a piece of social media-oriented research on behalf of the Archives Hub, the primary purpose of which was to measure the impact of adding links from specific Wikipedia articles featuring Hub content on the traffic that comes into the Hub website. As well as providing the Hub administrators – and, indeed, the profession as a whole – with a gauge as to whether the amount of time invested in creating links is worthwhile when compared to the benefits of impact, this research benefitted me personally in that it allowed me the opportunity to potentially earn credits on the Archives & Records Association’s Registration Scheme, under the ‘Contributions to the profession’ category.
The first phase of the study involved me identifying twenty archival collections listed in the Hub, with no existing links to related Wikipedia pages, which I could treat as measurable research subjects. This was done simply by entering specific Hub collection level descriptions into the Wikipedia search engine. (If a link to the Hub had already been created, I eliminated that particular collection from the study.) In order to achieve a fair and balanced piece of research, I selected collections of a relatively similar size and status, and avoided those relating to any significant public events running concurrent to, or immediately prior to, the commencement of the research, i.e. local elections in England, the World Cup. My feeling was that such collections could have been subject to closer scrutiny from researchers while the study was underway, which, in turn, would have resulted in an unexpected increase in Hub-searching activity. This, in essence, would have undermined the credibility of the study. I also made sure that the Wikipedia pages I utilised didn’t already include links to the collection-holding repositories, as this could potentially sway researchers away from clicking the newly-created links to the Hub descriptions, thereby affecting the accuracy of research.
The twenty collections selected, along with their corresponding Wikipedia links, are shown in the table below.
Once the Hub collections and related Wikipedia pages had been identified, I then added new links to the individual pages using Wikipedia’s built-in editing tool. In the interests of consistency, I embedded each new link in the ‘External Links’ section on each of the pages I modified. I then used Google Analytics, in conjunction with an Excel spreadsheet, to collate and record Hub traffic data for each individual collection for the twelve-week period prior to the start of the study, specifically from the 22nd December, 2013 to the 15th March, 2014. This was done in order to enable me to generate a measurement of the overall impact of the newly-created links on incoming Hub traffic. The cumulative results for each collection, for the twelve-week period prior to the commencement of the study, are shown below.
Over the course of the next twelve weeks, from the 17th March, 2014 to the 7th June, 2014, I used Google Analytics once again to monitor incoming Hub traffic, with a reading being taken at the end of every fourth week in order to identify any significant traffic fluctuations or changes. The four-week hit statistics for each of the twenty collections are shown in the table below.
At the end of the twelve-week research period it was evident from the accumulated data that fourteen of the twenty collections had each experienced an increase in traffic compared to the previous twelve-week period. Indeed, of the fourteen, two collections, namely the Ramsay MacDonald Papers and the London South Bank University Archives, had each received well in excess of 100 additional hits compared to the pre-link period. Of the remaining six collections, only the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Archive had decreased in hits significantly, down 109 from the previous period. Although it isn’t possible to say definitively why this decrease occurred, it may have been due to the fact that at some point during the research, a new link had been added to the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Archive Wikipedia page giving researchers the option to examine ‘Archival material relating to Sadler’s Wells Theatre listed at the UK National Archives.’ Taking this modification into account, it seems fair to suggest that any researchers interested in the Sadler’s Wells Theatre material may have been drawn to this link description rather than the newly-added link to the Hub description essentially because it makes mention of the country’s principal archival repository, TNA.
The cumulative number of hits for each of the twenty collections during the research period are presented in the table below. This table also shows the positive and negative numerical differences in hits for each of the collections compared to the twelve-week period prior to the start of the research.
This piece of research has demonstrated that the simple task of linking online archival descriptions to a popular social media reference tool such as Wikipedia can yield extremely positive results. It has shown, moreover, that there are clear benefits, both for the archival repository/aggregator and the individual researcher, when catalogue data is linked and shared. Not only that, it has proven that a successful outcome can be achieved in a relatively short space of time, and, truth be told, with only a small amount of physical effort. The process of checking whether links from specific Hub collections already existed in Wikipedia and then adding them to the website if they didn’t, took little more than three hours to complete, and, for the most part, basically involved me copying data from one website and pasting it onto another. Ultimately, the sheer simplicity of this exercise, coupled with the knowledge that interest in the vast majority of the Hub collections increased as a result of the Wikipedia editing, confirms, to my mind at least, that archive services the world over – especially those blessed with a healthy number of volunteers – would benefit from embarking on linked data projects of this nature. After all, it’s like Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
Kettle’s Yard is a unique and special place. It is so much more than a house, a museum or a gallery, and it invariably leaves a lasting impression with those who visit.
Between 1958 and 1973, Kettle’s Yard was the home of Jim and Helen Ede. In the 1920s and 30s, Jim had been a curator at the Tate Gallery in London. It was during this time that he formed friendships with artists and other like-minded people, which allowed him to gather a remarkable collection of works by artists such as Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Christopher Wood, David Jones and Joan Miro, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. Ede also shared with many of his artist friends a fascination for beautiful natural objects such as pebbles, weathered wood, shells or feathers, which he also collected.
Jim carefully positioned artworks alongside furniture, glass, ceramics and natural objects, with the aim of creating a perfectly balanced whole. His vision was of a place that should not be
“an art gallery or museum, nor … simply a collection of works of art reflecting my taste or the taste of a given period. It is, rather, a continuing way of life from these last fifty years, in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, in light and in space, have been used to make manifest the underlying stability.”
Jim originally envisaged making a home for his collection in quite a grand house, but unable to find a suitable property, he opted instead to remodel four derelict 19th century cottages and convert them into a single house.
Kettle’s Yard was conceived with students in mind, as ‘a living place where works of art could be enjoyed . . . where young people could be at home unhampered by the greater austerity of the museum or public art gallery.’ Jim Ede kept ‘open house’ every afternoon of term, personally guiding his visitors around his home. This experience is still faithfully recreated as visitors ring the bell at the front door, and are welcomed into the house.
In 1966 Jim gave the house and its contents to the University of Cambridge, though he continued to occupy and run it until 1973. In 1970, the house was extended, and an exhibition gallery added to ensure that there would always be a dynamic element to Kettle’s Yard, with space for contemporary exhibitions, music recitals and other public events.
If Kettle’s Yard is the ultimate expression of a way of life developed over 50 years and more, the archive adds an extra dimension by documenting the rich story of how that philosophy evolved. At its core are Jim Ede’s personal papers, which chart a wide range of influences throughout his life, from his experience of World War I, through the ‘open house’ the Ede’s kept in Hampstead through the late 1920s and early 1930s and the vibrant set who attended their parties; the weekend retreats for servicemen on leave from Gibraltar at the Ede’s house in Tangier at the end of World War II; the ‘lecturer in search of an audience’ who travelled to the US in the early 1940s; the prolific correspondence not just with artist friends, but figures such as T E Lawrence; and the development of Kettle’s Yard and its collections.
Thanks to the support of the Newton Trust, we are now half way through a 2-year project to improve access to the archive and support research by producing a digital catalogue of the collections, putting in place proper preservation strategies, and establishing procedures for public access. This work builds on the foundations laid by the dedicated archive volunteers, who continue to work with us.
We have started out by publishing a high-level description of the Ede papers on the Archives Hub [http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1759-ky/ede?page=1#id1308050], to which we will add more detail over the coming year. The catalogue already includes detailed descriptions of c.120 letters Jim Ede received from the artist and writer David Jones between 1927 and 1971, and c. 200 from the collector and patron Helen Sutherland, from 1926 to 1964. We will soon be adding correspondence with the artists Ian Hamilton Finlay and Richard Pousette-Dart, and the museum director Perry Rathbone; papers relating to Jim Ede’s lifelong mission to promote the work of Henri Gaudier Brzeska, and the establishment and running of Kettle’s Yard; and other small collections such as Helen Sutherland’s letters to the poet Kathleen Raine.
In another exciting development, Kettle’s Yard has now received backing from the Arts Council England Capital Investment Programme Fund to create a new Education Wing and carry out major improvements to the exhibition galleries. The plans [http://www.kettlesyard.co.uk/development/index.php] include a purpose-built archive store and dedicated space for consulting and exhibiting archive material.
One recent addition to the archive is a letter that Jim Ede wrote in 1964, in response to a thank you note from an undergraduate who had visited Kettle’s Yard. In typical style, Jim expresses concern about whether he really is providing pleasure to others through his endeavours at Kettle’s Yard, and draws strength from the expression of gratitude. He ends the letter ‘Do come in as often as you like – the place is only alive when used’.
This is very true of the house, but equally true of the archive – and hopefully everything we are doing to improve physical and intellectual access to the archives, and integrate it into all aspects of the Kettle’s Yard programme, will ensure that it is well used.
Frieda Midgley, Archivist
Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge
All images copyright Ketttle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.
The Archives Hub contains a range of material linked with dance – dancers, choreographers and teachers, schools and companies, ballet, contemporary and other styles of dance. This feature highlights some of these collections.
Dancers and Choreographers
Jack Cole Scrapbook Collection, 1910s-1970s, dancer and choreographer. He was known for his unpredictability and originality, grafting on elements from Indian, Oriental, Carribean, Latin American, Spanish, and African-American dance. He worked on Broadway and in Hollywood as both dancer and choreographer, being popularly remembered for his choreography for Marilyn Monroe. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/106
Ram Gopal Collection, 1930s-2004, dancer, choreographer and teacher. Gopal was trained in classical Indian dance forms of Kathakali, Bharatra Natya and Manipuri. He wanted Eastern and Western dance forms to work together and taught Indian folk dance at the Harlequin Ballet Company. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1975-ram
Papers of Diana Gould, 1926-1996, dancer. Diana Rosamund Constance Grace Irene Gould was a British ballerina. Early in her career Sergei Diaghilev spotted her and invited her to join his Ballets Russes but he died before this could be arranged, events said to have been fictionalized in the film ‘The Red Shoes’. Diana married Sir Yehudi Menuhin in 1947. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb2228-dpdg
Papers relating to the career of Bruce McClure, 1925-1989, dancer and choreographer. Bruce McClure trained as a dancer and worked as a dancer at the Citizens’ Theatre among other places. In the 1960s he moved on to choreography including for television. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb247-stabmc
Collection of material relating to Margaret Morris, 1891-1980, ballet dancer and choreographer. She established the first national ballet company for Scotland, developed a modern dance technique and a system of movement therapy. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb247-stabq1
Harry Relph (Little Tich) volumes, 1881-1974, dancer. Known on stage as Little Tich (he was 4 foot 6 inches tall), Harry Relph became one of Britain’s most popular music-hall and variety acts. One of his best known routines was called ‘Big Boots’, which had him dancing in boots that were 28 inches long. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/326
Dance schools, companies and educational organisations
Papers relating to the Pushpalata Dance Company, 1991-2005. The company focuses on Odissi and Kathak dance practices, but also performs in a number of collaborations with Western dance forms, most notably investigating the point at which Flamenco and Kathak dance meet. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1975-pu
Philip Richardson Archive Collection, Royal Academy of Dance, c1900-1963; c1760-1780; c1800-1900. Richardson’s interest in the history of dancing led him to become an avid collector of rare books on the subject. His personal library collection was bequeathed to the RAD after his death in 1963. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb3370-rad/pjsr
The Mimi Legat Collection, The Royal Ballet School, White Lodge Museum, 1900-1970. Papers relating to the Russian ballet dancers Sergei Legat, Nicolas Legat, and Nadine Nicolaeva-Legat. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb3208-rbs/mim
Marie Rambert collection, Rambert Dance Company, 1890s-1980s. Collection of films, costumes, photographs, correspondence, diaries, programmes, press cuttings, personal papers, autobiographical notes, awards and medals owned and collected by Dame Marie Rambert throughout her life as well as papers relating to her death and memorials. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb2228-mr
Laban Collection, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, 1918-2001. Papers and other material relating to Rudolf Laban: teacher, philosopher, dancer, choreographer, author, experimentor and the father of modern dance. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-lc
Dance scrapbooks (ballet), c1951-1978. Containing newspaper cuttings of national and international ballet companies and dancers including Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-lz
Ekstrom Collection: Diaghilev and Stravinsky Foundation, 1902-1984. Letters, financial records, and telegrams, which give a unique insight into the day-to-day running of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/7
Russian Ballet Collection, 1911-1914. Programmes of the Russian Ballet’s seasons at the Theatre du Chatelet, Paris, held by the University of Exeter. Included are many colour illustrations of costume designs, as well as photographs and illustrations of various dancers and text about various ballet productions. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb29-eulms158
Valentine Gross Archive, 1700-1960s. Valentine Gross, a.k.a. Valentine Hugo (1887-1968), was a French art ballet enthusiast, illustrator, researcher and painter and still a student at the time of 1909 Saison Russe in Paris. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/165
Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund Archive, 1981-2001. The Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund was established in 1984 to support and promote innovative choreographers and dance writers in Britain, Europe and America. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-d25
Contemporary Dance Trust Archive, 1957-1998. Consists of papers relating to the running of the Contemporary Dance Trust which incorporated the London Contemporary Dance Theatre and the London Contemporary Dance School. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/22
Independent Dance at the Holborn Centre for Performing Arts Archive, 1989-1999. Independent Dance is an artist-led organisation which provides specialist training to contemporary dance artists. It was established in 1990 and has the longest running daily training programme in the UK. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-d17
Bob Lockyer Collection, 1970-1995. Photographs and scripts from various dance programmes produced for the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) by Bob Lockyer. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-d8
Dorothy Madden Collection, 1912-2002. Dr Dorothy Gifford Madden, former Professor Emerita of the University of Maryland, United States of America who was responsible for bringing American modern dance practice to the United Kingdom. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-d23
Transitions Dance Company Archive, c1985-2009. Established in 1983, Transitions Dance Company was among the first graduate performance companies in the United Kingdom. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-d24
Clubs, societies and other dance-related collections
Dance theatre programmes collection, c1950-1999. A collection of over 3,000 dance theatre programmes from over 500 national and international dancers and dance companies. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-ld
Papers of the Foundation for Community Dance and predecessors, 1984-2011. Papers of the Foundation for Community Dance and its predecessors the Community Dance and Mime Foundation and the National Association of Dance and Mime Animateurs. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb3071-d/036
Henry Rolf Gardiner: Letters to Margaret Gardiner, 1921-1960. 34 letters from Gardiner (businessman and author) to his sister Margaret Gardiner, on his time at Cambridge. Topics include folk-dancing, morris-dancing and work on a dance-book. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb012-ms.add.8932
Sadler’s Wells Theatre Archive, c1712-2012. The Sadler’s Wells site has been occupied by six different theatres since 1683. The current theatre, which opened in 1998, is dedicated to international dance. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1032-s/swt
Peter Williams Collection, c1950-1980. Williams was the editor of the journal Dance and Dancers. The collection includes c40,000 black and white photographs of dancers and dance companies from all over the world. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1701-d11
We’re delighted to announce that we now have more than 250 UK institutions and organisations contributing to the Archives Hub! That amounts to:
* over 26,000 collection-level descriptions
* over 350,000 lower-level descriptions
Our contributors include universities, businesses, local authorities, museums, cathedrals, charities and other organisations. The wide range of archives covered by the Hub is demonstrated by the latest descriptions, received from:
Barclays Group Archives is one of the principal financial and business archives in the UK. The parent company, Barclays PLC, has been providing banking services continuously since 1690, with records dating mainly from the early 1700s onwards. Collections include: Barclays Bank, Lombard Street (London): board, management and head office records (1896-1985) and Goslings and Sharpe: private bankers, Fleet Street (London): branch records including customer ledgers (1717-1972). http://archiveshub.ac.uk/contributors/barclays.html
Doncaster Archives, Local Studies and Family History
The Archives and Local Studies services collect, preserve and provide access to a comprehensive collection of historical and contemporary information relating to the town of Doncaster, its metropolitan district and some adjacent areas. Collections include records of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society: Doncaster Group (1948-1986). http://archiveshub.ac.uk/contributors/doncaster.html
Feminist Webs Archive
Set up in 2008 by a group of young women, their female youth workers and allies, the Feminist Webs Archive is held at Manchester Metropolitan University. It is both a physical resource and an online resource. The collection is ever-growing with contributions from older feminist youth workers and consists of photographs, banners, leaflets, magazines, oral “her-stories” with older feminist youth workers carried out by young women, and various other documents that are related to feminist youth work with girls and young women. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/contributors/feministwebsarchive.html
Marks and Spencer
Marks & Spencer began in 1884 when Michael Marks set up a market stall in Leeds. In 1894 he went into partnership with Tom Spencer and a famous high street name was born. Based in Leeds, the M&S Company Archive collects, preserves and utilises material relating to all aspects of the history and development of the company. The Company Archive contains a range of materials from 1884 onwards, including written records, staff publications, photographs and films, garments and household products, design and advertising material. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/contributors/marksandspencer.html
National Jazz Archive
Founded in 1988, the National Jazz Archive is the specialist repository for the history of Jazz in the UK, in addition to the USA and Europe. The collection, comprising mainly 20th century material, includes 2,500 books from 1914 onwards, over 600 periodicals and journals dating from 1927 photographs personal papers, ephemera and a small number of objects. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/contributors/nationaljazzarchive.html
National Railway Museum
The library and archive collections at the National Railway Museum form one of the largest resources of railway and transport history in the world. Collections include technical archives containing drawings of locomotives, carriages and wagons; business records of large companies such as the North British Locomotive company, the Pullman Car Company and The General Electric Company; personal and business papers of prominent railway individuals such as George and Robert Stephenson and their families; railway ephemera and semi-published material including advertising, publicity and design records. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/contributors/nationalrailwaymuseum.html
Queen Square Archive
The Queen Square Archives are housed in and managed by the Queen Square Library. They comprise the archives belonging to the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (named The National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic during the period covered by the Archive) and those of UCL Institute of Neurology. Collections include: 1500 bound volumes of case notes, including many examples of early medical photography (1863-1946); administrative records for the Hospital (1859-1946); employment records (1860-1946); patient admission registers and other health records; approximately 3000 photographs. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/contributors/queensquarearchive.html
Rambert Dance Company
The Rambert Archive holds significant collections documenting the evolution of British dance via the development of Britain’s oldest dance company as we moved from pure classical ballet, through embracing modern American influences, into the future of dance. Collections include: Arts Theatre Ballet (1930s-1941), Company History (1900s-2000s), Marie Rambert Collection (1890s-1980s) and Rambert Dance Company Archive: Productions (1920s-2010s). http://archiveshub.ac.uk/contributors/rambert.html
Royal Ballet School
The Royal Ballet School Collections trace the activities of the institution from its founding in 1926 as the Academy of Choreographic Art to the present day. The Collections include School records; collections relaing more broadly to the development of British Ballet, with substantial collections of lithographs, periodicals, programmes, press cuttings and books; personal collections of international significance, such as Ninette de Valois, the Founder of The Royal Ballet School and Companies, and the class notes of the great teacher, Vera Volkova, among whose students were Margot Fonteyn, Erik Bruhn and Rudolf Nureyev. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/contributors/royalballetschool.html
Royal College of Nursing
Founded in 1916 the Royal College of Nursing has evolved into a successful professional UK-membership body and union. The Royal College of Nursing Archives’ collects across all fields of nursing in the UK and some overseas. The largest and most significant archive is that of the College itself. Other archives include: 30 deposited nursing archives dating back to the 1880s; over 700 personal archives dating from 1815; photographic and postcard collections from the 1880s onwards and 28 handwritten letters written by or addressed to Florence Nightingale (1830-1862). http://archiveshub.ac.uk/contributors/royalcollegeofnursing.html
The Salvation Army is a worldwide Christian church and registered charity. Founded by William Booth in East London in 1865, The Salvation Army now works in 126 countries. In the United Kingdom, The Salvation Army is one of the largest providers of social services. The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre is the repository for the official records of the organisation’s International and Territorial Headquarters. Collections include: William Booth College (1883-2012), The Salvation Army International Headquarters (1875-2013), papers relating to Catherine Booth (c1847-1995) and The Musical Instrument Factory (1893-1972). http://archiveshub.ac.uk/contributors/salvationarmy.html
In January 2013 the Archives Hub became the UK ‘Country Manager’ for the Archives Portal Europe.
The Archives Portal Europe (APE) is a European aggregator for archives. The website provides more information about the APE vision:
Borders between European countries have changed often during the course of history. States have merged and separated and it is these changing patterns that form the basis for a common ground as well as for differences in their development. It is this tension between their shared history and diversity that makes their respective histories even more interesting. By collating archival material that has been created during these historical and political evolutions, the Archives Portal Europe aims to provide the opportunity to compare national and regional developments and to understand their uniqueness while simultaneously placing them within the larger European context.
The portal will help visitors not only to dig deeper into their own fields of interest, but also to discover new sources by giving an overview of the jigsaw puzzle of archival holdings across Europe in all their diversity.
For many countries, the Country Manager role is taken on by the national archives. However, for the UK the Archives Hub was in a good position to work with APE. The Archives Hub is an aggregation of archival descriptions held across the UK. We work with and store content in Encoded Archival Description (EAD), which provides us with a head start in terms of contributing content.
Jane Stevenson, the Archives Hub Manager, attended an APE workshop in Pisa in January 2013, to learn more about the tools that the project provides to help Country Managers and contributors to provide their data. Since then, Jane has also attended a conference in Dublin, Building Infrastructures for Archives in a Digital World, where she talked about A Licence to Thrill: the benefits of open data. APE has provided a great opportunity to work with European colleagues; it not just about creating a pan-European portal, it is also about sharing and learning together. At present, APE has a project called APEx, which is an initiative for “expanding, enriching, enhancing and sustaining” the portal.
How Content is Provided to APE
The way that APE normally works is through a Country Manager providing support to institutions wishing to contribute descriptions. However, for the UK, the Archives Hub takes on the role of providing the content directly, as it comes via the Hub and into APE. This is not to say that institutions cannot undertake to do this work themselves. The British Library, for example, will be working with their own data and submitting it to APE. But for many archives, the task of creating EAD and checking for validity would be beyond their resources. In addition, this model of working shows the benefits of using interoperable standards; the Archives Hub already processes and validates EAD, so we have a good understanding of what is required for the Archives Portal Europe.
All that Archives Hub institutions need to do to become part of APE is to create their own directory entry. These entries are created using Encoded Archival Guide (EAG), but the archivist does not need to be familiar with EAG, as they are simply presented with a form to fill in. The directory entry can be quite brief, or very detailed, including information on opening hours, accessibility, reprographic services, search room places, internet access and the history of the archive.
Once the entry is created, we can upload the data. If the data is valid, this takes very little time to do, and immediately the archive is part of a national aggregation and a European aggregation.
APE Data Preparation Tool
The Data Preparation Tool allows us to upload EAD content and validate it. You can see on the screen shot below a list of EAD files from the Mills Archive that have been uploaded to the Tool, and the Tool will allow us to ‘convert and validate’ them. There are various options for checking against different flavours of EAD and there is also the option to upload EAC-CPF (which is not something the Hub is working with as yet) and EAG.
If all goes according to plan, the validation results in a whole batch of valid files, and you are ready to upload the data. Sometimes there will be an invalid file and you need to take a look at the validation message and figure out what you need to do (the error message in this screenshot relates to ‘example 2’ below).
The Dashboard is an interface provided to an APE Country Manger to enable them to administer their landscape. The first job is to create the archival landscape. For the UK we decided to group the archives into type:
The landscape can be modified as we go, but it is good to keep the basic categories, so its worth thinking about this from the outset. We found that many other European countries divide their archives differently, reflecting their own landscape, particularly in terms of how local government is organised. We did have a discussion about the advantages of all using the same categories, but it seemed better for the end-user to be presented with categories suitable for the way UK archives are organised.
Within the Dashboard, the Country Manager creates logins for all of the archive repositories contributing to APE. The repositories can potentially use these logins to upload EAD to the dashboard, validate and correct if necessary and then publish. But at present, the Archives Hub is taking on this role for almost all repositories. One advantage of doing this is that we can identify issues that surface across the data, and work out how best to address these issues for all repositories, rather than each one having to take time to investigate their own data.
Working with the Data
When the Archives Hub started to work with APE, we began by undertaking a comparison of Hub EAD and APE EAD. Jane created a document setting out the similarities and differences between the two flavours of EAD. Whilst the Hub and APE both use EAD, this does not mean that the two will be totally compatible. EAD is quite permissive and so for services like aggregators choices have to be made about which fields to use and how to style the content using XSLT stylesheets. To try to cover all possible permutations of EAD use would be a huge task!
There have been two main scenarios when dealing with data issues for APE:
(1) the data is not valid EAD or it is in some way incorrect
(2) the data is valid EAD but the APE stylesheet cannot yet deal with it
We found that there were a combination of these types of scenarios. For the first, the onus is on the Archives Hub to deal with the data issues at source. This enables us to improve the data at the same time as ensuring that it can be ingested into APE. For the second, we explain the issue to the APE developer, so that the stylesheet can be modified.
Here are just a few examples of some of the issues we worked through.
Example 1: Digital Archival Objects
APE was omitting the <daodesc> content:
<dao href=”http://www.tate.org.uk/art/images/work/P/P78/P78315_8.jpg” show=”embed”><daodesc><p>’Gary Popstar’ by Julian Opie</p></daodesc></dao>
Content of <daodesc><p> should be transferred to <dao@xlink:title>. It would then be displayed as mouse-over text to the icons used in the APE for highlighting digital content. Would that solution be ok?
In this instance the problem was due to the Hub using the DTD and APE using the schema, and a small transformation done by APE when they ingested the data sufficed to provide a solution.
Example 2: EAD Level Attribute
Archivists are all familiar with the levels within archival descriptions. Unfortunately, ISAD(G), the standard for archival description, is not very helpful with enforcing controlled vocabulary here, simply suggesting terms like Fonds, Sub-fonds, Series, Sub-series. EAD has a more definite list of values:
Inevitably this means that the Archives Hub has ended up with variations in these values. In addition, some descriptions use an attribute value called ‘otherlevel’ for values that are not, in fact, other levels, but are recognised levels.
We had to deal with quite a few variations: Subfonds, SubFonds, sub-fonds, Sub-fonds, sub fonds, for example. I needed to discuss these values with the APE developer and we decided that the Hub data should be modified to only use the EAD specified values.
<c level=”otherlevel” otherlevel=”sub-fonds”>
needed to be changed to:
At the same time the APE stylesheet also needed to be modified to deal with all recognised level values. Where the level was not a recognised EAD value, e.g. ‘piece’, then ‘otherlevel’ is valid, and the APE stylesheet was modified to recognise this.
Example 3: Data within <title> tag
We discovered that for certain fields, such as biographical history, any content within a <title> tag was being omitted from the APE display. This simply required a minor adjustment to the stylesheet.
Where are we Now?
The APE developers are constantly working to improve the stylesheets to work with EAD from across Europe. Most of the issues that we have had have now been dealt with. We will continue to check the UK data as we upload it, and go through the process described above, correcting data issues at source and reporting validation problems to the APE team.
The UK Archival Landscape in Europe
By being part of the Archives Portal Europe, UK archives benefit from more exposure, and researchers benefit from being able to connect archives in new and different ways. UK archives are now being featured on the APE homepage.
In the ArchivesGrid analysis, the <unitdate> field use is around 72% within the high-level (usually collection level) description. The Archives Hub does significantly better here, with an almost universal inclusion of dates at this level of description. Therefore, a date search is not likely to exclude any potentially relevant descriptions. This is important, as researchers are likely to want to restrict their searches by date. Our new system also allows sorting retrieved results by date. The only issue we have is where the dates are non-standard and cause the ordering to break down in some way. But we do have both displayed dates and normalised dates, to enable better machine processing of the data.
“for sorting and browsing…utility depends on the content of the element.”
Titles are always provided, but they are very varied. Setting aside lower-level descriptions, which are particularly problematic, titles may be more or less informative. We may introduce sorting by title, but the utility of this will be limited. It is unlikely that titles will ever be controlled to the extent that they have a level of consistency, but it would be fascinating to analyse titles within the context of the ways people search on the Web, and see if we can gauge the value of different approaches to creating titles. In other words, what is the best type of title in terms of attracting researchers’ attention, search engine optimisation, display within search engine results, etc?
Lower-level descriptions tend to have titles such as ‘Accounts’, ‘Diary’ or something more difficult to understand out of context such as ‘Pigs and boars’ or ‘The Moon Dragon’. It is clearly vital to maintain the relationship of these lower-level descriptions to their parent level entries, otherwise they often become largely meaningless. But this should be perfectly possible when working on the Web.
It is important to ensure that a researcher finding a lower-level description through a general search engine gets a meaningful result.
The above result is from a search for ‘garrick theatre archives joanna lumley’ – the sort of search a researcher might carry out. Whilst the link is directly to a lower -level entry for a play at the Garrick Theatre, the heading is for the archive collection. This entry is still not ideal, as the lower-level heading should be present as well. But it gives a reasonable sense of what the researcher will get if they click on this link. It includes the <unitid> from the parent entry and the URL for the lower-level, with the first part of the <scopecontent> for the entry. It also includes the Archives Hub tag line, which could be considered superfluous to a search for Garrick Theatre archives! However, it does help to embed the idea of a service in the mind of the researcher – something they can use for their research.
“It would be useful to be able to sort by size of collection, however, this would require some level of confidence that the <extent> tag is both widely used and that the content of the tag would lends itself to sorting.”
This was an idea we had when working on our Linked Data output. We wanted to think about visualizations that would help researchers get a sense of the collections that are out there, where they are, how relevant they are, and so on. In theory the ‘extent’ could help with a weighting system, where we could think about a map-based visualization showing concentrations of archives about a person or subject. We could also potentially order results by size – from the largest archive to the smallest archive that matches a researchers’ search term. However, archivists do not have any kind of controlled vocabulary for ‘extent’. So, within the Archives Hub this field can contain anything from numbers of boxes and folders to length in linear metres, dimensions in cubic metres and items in terms of numbers of photographs, pamphlets and other formats. ISAD(G) doesn’t really help with this; the examples they give simply serve to show how varied the description of extent can be.
“Other examples of desired functionality include providing a means in the interface to limit a search to include only items that are in a certain genre (for example, photographs)”.
This is something that could potentially be useful to researchers, but archivists don’t tend to provide the necessary data. We would need descriptions to include the genre, using controlled vocabulary. If we had this we could potentially enable researchers to select types of materials they are interested in, or simply include a flag to show, e.g. where a collection includes photographs.
The problem with introducing a genre search is that you run the risk of excluding key descriptions, because the search will only include results where the description includes that data in the appropriate location. If the word ‘photograph’ is in the general description only then a specific genre search won’t find it. This means a large collection of photographs may be excluded from a search for photographs.
In the Bron/Proffitt/Washburn article <controlaccess> is present around 72% of the time. I was surprised that they did not choose to analyse tags within <controlaccess> as I think these ‘access points’ can play a very important role in archival descrpition. They use the presence of <controlaccess> as an indication of the presence of subjects, and make the point that “given differences in library and archival practices, we would expect control of form and genre terms to be relatively high, and control of names and subjects to be relatively low.”
On the Archives Hub, use of subjects is relatively high (as well as personal and corporate names) and use of form and genre is very low. However, it is true to say that we have strongly encouraged adding subject terms, and archivists don’t generally see this as integral to cataloguing (although some certainly do!), so we like to think that we are partly responsible for such a high use of subject terms.
Subject terms are needed because they (1) help to pull out significant subjects, often from collections that are very diverse, (2) enable identification of words such as ‘church’ and ‘carpenter’ (ie. they are subjects, not surnames), (3) allow researchers to continue searching across the Archives Hub by subject (subjects are all linked to the browse list) and therefore pull collections together by theme (4) enable advanced searching (which is substantially used on the Hub).
Names (personal and corporate)
In Bron/Proffitt/Washburn the <origination> tag is present 87% of the time. The analysis did not include the use of <persname> and <corpname> within <origination> to identify the type of originator. In the Archives Hub the originator is a required field, and is present 99%+ of the time. However, we made what I think is a mistake in not providing for the addition of personal or corporate name identification within <origination> via our EAD Editor (for creating descriptions) or by simply recommending it as best practice. This means that most of our originators cannot be distinguished as people or corporate bodies. In addition, we have a number where several names are within one <origination> tag and where terms such as ‘and others’, ‘unknown’ or ‘various’ are used. This type of practice is disadvantageous to machine processing. We are looking to rectify it now, but addressing something like this in retrospect is never easy to do. The ideal is that all names within origination are separately entered and identified as people or organisations.
We do also have names within <controlaccess>, and this brings the same advantages as for <subjects>, ensuring the names are properly structured, can be used for searching and for bringing together archives relating to any one individual or organisation.
“Use of this element falls into the promising complete category (99.46%: see Table 7). However, a variety of practice is in play, with the name of the repository being embellished with <subarea> and <address> tags nested within <repository>.”
On the Archives Hub repository is mandatory, but as yet we do not have a checking system whereby a description is rejected if it does not contain this field. We are working towards something like this, using scripts to check for key information to help ensure validity and consistency at least to a minimum standard. On one occasion we did take in a substantial number of descriptions from a repository that omitted the name of repository, which is not very useful for an aggregation service! However, one thing about <repository> is that it is easy to add because it is always the same entry. Or at least it should be….we did recently discovery that a number of repositories had entered their name in various ways over the years and this is something we needed to correct.
Scope and content, biographical history and abstract
It is notable that in the US <abstract> is widely used, whereas we don’t use it at all. It is intended as a very brief summary, whereas <scopecontent> can be of any length.
“For search, its worth noting that the semantics of these elements are different, and may result in unexpected and false “relevance””
One of the advantages of including <controlaccess> terms is to mitigate against this kind of false relevance, as a search for ‘mason’ as a person and ‘mason’ as a subject is possible through restricted field searching.
The Bron/Proffitt /Washburn analysis shows <bioghist> used 70% of the time. This is lower than the Archives Hub, where it is rare for this field not to be included. Archivists seem to have a natural inclination to provide a reasonably detailed biographical history, especially for a large collection focussed on one individual or organisation.
Digital Archival Objects
It is a shame that the analysis did not include instances of <dao>, but it is likely to be fairly low (in line with previous analysis by Wisser and Dean, which puts it lower than 10%). The Archives Hub currently includes around 1,200 instances of images or links to digital content. But what would be interesting is to see how this is growing over time and whether the trajectory indicates that in 5 years or so we will be able to provide researchers with routes into much of the Archives Hub content. However, it is worth bearing in mind that many archives are not digitised and are not likely to be digitised, so it is important for us not to raise expectations that links to digital content will become a matter of course.
The Future of Discovery
“In order to make EAD-encoded finding aids more well suited for use in discovery systems, the population of key elements will need to be moved closer to high or (ideally) complete.”
This is undoubtedly true, but I wonder whether the priority over and above completeness is consistency and controlled vocabulary where appropriate. There is an argument in favour of a shorter description, that may exclude certain information about a collection, but is well structured and easier to machine process. (Of course, completeness and consistency is the ideal!).
The article highlights geo-location as something that is emerging within discovery services. The Archives Hub is planning on promoting this as an option once we move to the revised EAD schema (which will allow for this to be included), but it is a question of whether archivists choose to include geographical co-ordinates in their catalogues. We may need to find ways to make this as easy as possible and to show the potential benefits of doing so.
In terms of the future, we need a different perspective on what EAD can and should be:
“In the early days of EAD the focus was largely on moving finding aids from typescript to SGML and XML. Even with much attention given over to the development of institutional and consortial best practice guidelines and requirements, much work was done by brute force and often with little attention given to (or funds allocated for) making the data fit to the purpose of discovery.”
However, I would argue that one of the problems is that archivists sometimes still think in terms of typescript finding aids; of a printed finding aid that is available within the search room, and then made available online….as if they are essentially the same thing and we can use the same approach with both. I think more needs to be done to promote, explain and discuss ‘next generation finding aids’. By working with Linked Data, I have gained a very different perspective on what is possible, challenging the traditional approach to hierarchical finding aids.
Maybe we need some ‘next generation discovery’ workshops and discussions – but in order to really broaden our horizons we will need to take heed of what is going on outside of our own domain. We can no longer consider archival practice in isolation from discovery in the most general sense because the complexity and scale of online discovery requires us to learn from others with expertise and understanding of digital technologies.
Explore Your Archive, http://www.exploreyourarchive.org, developed by The Archives and Records Association (UK and Ireland) and The National Archives, is the biggest ever public awareness campaign by the archives sector of the UK and Ireland.
From 16 November there will be hundreds of events and activities taking place in all kinds of archives. Those who work in archives will also be sharing some of their wonderful stories and amazing treasures. The public are being encouraged not just to visit an archive or explore archival collections online, but to understand more of the vital role which archives play in education, business, transparency and identity.
How the Hub fits in
The Archives Hub is a gateway to archives held at over 220 institutions and organisations across the UK.
A rich variety of content: The breadth of content on the Hub highlights how archives are integral to historical and cultural awareness. Our contributors include Universities, business archives, charities, local government, libraries, museums and cathedrals.
Here are just a few of the collections you can find:
The collection of records of Canterbury Cathedral includes material dating from the early Middle Ages right up to the present day. The material relates to the Cathedral’s estates and reflects the activities of the Dean and Chapter and its staff.
Launched in February 2006 and billing itself as a ‘theatre without walls’, the National Theatre of Scotland has no building of its own and operates within the existing infrastructure of Scottish theatre. Material is held at Glasgow University Library and includes programmes, press-cuttings, reviews and scripts.
With around one kilometre of material, the records consist of all the surviving historical paper records of the Royal Observatory. Collections include: papers of the Astronomers Royal and telescope construction projects, management and observations, including the William Herschel Telescope and Radcliffe Observatory.
One reel of microfilm comprising images of 23 original Gaelic manuscripts, relating to Ireland and to the activities of Irishmen at home and abroad, held at Queen’s University Belfast. It consists largely of fragments of both religious and secular verse, topographical poems and other tracts and tales dating mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Children’s Society Archive comprises the records created and managed by The Children’s Society (titled The Waifs and Strays Society from 1881 to 1946). The majority of the collections date from the organisation’s founding in 1881. This includes a large quantity of visual material in the form of photographs and publicity material, as well as some audio-visual material.
This collection comprises six scrapbooks, containing newspaper cuttings on the Barking and Dagenham Branch of Age Concern, relating to events, as well as issues affecting elderly people in the borough.
Thomas S Muir (1802-1888) worked for most of his life as a book-keeper in Edinburgh. All his spare time was devoted to his passion for early Scottish churches, visiting all the locations where ruins were to be found, including even the most inaccessible islands. The volume, ‘Ecclesiological notes on some of the islands of Scotland’, comprises detailed architectural descriptions, with line drawings, of features of churches and other ecclesiastical remains.
The States of Jersey collection includes the minutes, correspondence, reports and acts of the States of Jersey. Also, the minutes of the different Committee’s of the States including Agriculture, Education, Defence, Housing, Social Security, Finance, Harbours and Airports, Health and Social Services, Tourism, Home Affairs, Planning and Environment, Economic Development and Policy and Resources.
Africa 95 was founded in 1992 to initiate and organise a nationwide season of the arts of Africa to be held in the UK in the last quarter of 1995. Printed material, photographs, and slides of the work of artists from Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda,Tanzania, Tunisia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and the USA.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) was founded in 1918 as the Firemen’s Trade Union. The union began its life as a body very much based around the London area but soon expanded to include provincial brigades. The collection includes: Executive Council minutes, annual accounts, subject files (including Sizewell Public Inquiry, 1980s) and the national strike, 1977.
The collection comprises a full series of indexed bound minute books (1899-1974) containing annual statements of accounts, and other specific reports. Also, maps and plans relate to specific elements of intended works such as the building of Ladybower Reservoir in Derbyshire.
Diaries of Daniel Dougal, which detail his service as an army doctor on the Western Front during the First World War. Dougal rose to become Deputy Assistant Director of Medical Services, 34th Division of the British Army, and his diaries provide important information on the operation of Army medical services.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is a non party-political British organisation advocating the abolition of nuclear weapons worldwide. Includes papers relating to the CND’s constitution, minutes of National Council, National Executive Committee annual conference papers and papers relating to Aldermaston marches and other demonstrations.
These are selected descriptions: there’s much more to discover by exploring the Hub! And we’re adding more descriptions every week. If you’d like to add your descriptions to the Hub, now’s a great time! See Be part of something bigger for information on how we can help you expose your collections to a worldwide audience.
Also of interest:
Work in an archive and want to be involved in the Explore Your Archive campaign?
At ELAG 2013 I gave a presentation with a colleague from The University of Amsterdam, Lukas Koster. We wanted to do something entertaining, but with a worthwhile message that we both feel strongly about. We believe that more needs to be done to integrate resources and provide them to researchers in a way that suits end-user needs. We gave a presentation where we urged our colleagues to ‘mind the gap’ between the perspective of the information professional – their jargon and their complicated systems, which often fail to link resources adequately – and the researcher, who wants an integrated approach, language that is not a barrier to use and expects the power of the Web to be used within a library context, just as they might when looking for music online.
Our presentation included two sketches: one in a music shop, where a punter (the ‘seeker’) expects the shop owner (the ‘pusher’) to know who else bought this music and what they thought of if; and one in a library, where the seeker wants an overview of everything available, and they want to look at research data and other resources without struggling with different catalogue systems and terminology.
In our presentation we referred to the ‘seeker’ wanting a discipline-focussed approach (not format based), and access regardless of location. I highlighted one of the problems with searching by showing examples of search terms used on the Archives Hub where the researchers were confused by the results. The terms researchers use don’t always fit into our approach, using controlled vocabularies. We talked about the importance of connections between information. Our profession is making headway here, but there is a long way to go before researchers can really pull things together across different systems.
I spoke about the danger of making assumptions about our users and showed some examples of the Archives Hub survey results. Researchers don’t always come to our websites knowing what they are or what they want; they don’t necessarily have the same understanding of ‘archives’ as we do. Lukas expanded more on our musical theme. We can learn from some of the initiatives in this area – such as the ability people have to explore the musical world in so many different ways though things like MusicBrainz. Lukas also showed examples of researcher interfaces, looking to pull things together for the end user. Isn’t the idea of giving the researcher the ability to manage all of their research in this way something libraries should be spearheading?
We concluded that the vision of integrated, interconnected data is not easy. As information professionals we may have to move out of our comfort zones. But we don’t have any choice unless we want to be sidelined. This means that we need to change our mindsets (we talked about a ‘librarian lobe’!) and we need to actually think about whether it is us that needs to learn information literacy because we need to learn to think more like the end user!
This post picks out some highlights from a report from Ithaka S+R, “Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians” by Roger C Schonfeld and Jennifer Rutner (December 2012). It concentrates on findings that are of particular relevance for archivists and for discovery. The report is recommended reading. It is a US study, but clearly there are strong similarities with other countries.
The report finds that underlying research methods are still broadly as they were but practices have changed considerably: “Based on interviews with dozens of historians, librarians, archivists, and other support services providers, this project has found that the underlying research methods of many historians remain fairly recognizable even with the introduction of new tools and technologies, but the day to day research practices of all historians have changed fundamentally.”
It goes on to summarise the improvements that archives might make to meet changing needs, none of which are unexpected: “For archives, we recommend ongoing improvements to access through improved finding aids, digitization, and discovery tool integration, as well as expanded opportunities for archivists to help historians interpret collections, to build connections among users, and to instruct PhD students in the use of archives.”
It is very encouraging to see the positive comments about researchers’ interactions with archivists: “Having a meeting with the archivist and librarian is really fantastic, because they help you understand what is in the archive, and what you might be able to use.” It is clear from the study that archivists have a vital role to play as key collaborators and colleagues of historians, and their value is clear: “Archivists are often able to hone and direct an inquiry, bringing to light items and collections that the researcher may have been unaware of.”
The study does highlight the changing nature of interactions with archival material, as a result of the use of digital cameras in particular, which enables the analytical work to take place elsewhere. It is generally felt to be a convenient and time-saving option, enabling long-term interaction with resources outside of the reading room. This development is actually described as “the single most significant shift in research practices among historians.” It raises questions about whether the role of the archivist changes when the analytical work is displaced from the archive, as archivists may have less opportunity for intellectual engagement with researchers. The study does highlight a possible issue with digital copies, namely the separation of metadata from content, where the researcher has hundreds of images and needs to organise them constructively, and it also found that scholars are struggling to work with digitised non-textual content effectively.
The ability to find time for research trips was a primary challenge for many researchers. “Interviewees repeatedly emphasized that the amount of time they are able to spend in the archives shapes the nature of the interaction with the sources significantly.” Because most struggle to find time for research trips, digitised sources are hugely beneficial.
The study found that digitised finding aids help researchers to “travel more strategically”. It suggests that high-quality finding aids may become more important as researchers move more towards photographic visits to archives, rather than serendipitous visits. This connection is something I have not thought about before, and I would be very interested to hear what archivists think about this idea.
Of major relevance for a service like the Archives Hub is the conclusion about finding aids:
“The use of online finding aids greatly facilitates, and sometimes displaces, these visits. If a “good” finding aid is readily available online, this might make a scouting visit unnecessary, depending on the importance of the archive to the research project. In some cases, researchers were able to rule out a visit to an archive based on the online finding aids, and re-purpose funds and effort to tracking down other sources for the project.”
This study is a clear endorsement for our belief (which, I should say, is also backed up by our own researcher surveys) that finding aids play a role not only in identifying and prioritising sources, but also in providing enough information in themselves to make a visit unnecessary. As well as this, they may have a kind of positive negative effect: the researcher knows that materials can be ruled out. The study strongly emphasised the need for “searchable databases” and “centralized searching” and participants talked about the problem with locating each collection independently, especially across the diverse types of archive repository: “The process of identifying archives – in some cases small, local archives or international archives – can present an amazing challenge to researchers.” Clearly comprehensive cross-searching search tools are a huge boon to researchers.
In terms of discovery, Google is clearly a major tool and there was a feeling that it was the most comprehensive discovery tool, as well as being convenient and easy to use. It is often used at the start of a searching process.: “Generally, historians discover finding aids through Google searches and archive websites.” There is a clear demand for more descriptions online: “The general consensus among interviewees was that more online finding aids would greatly benefit their research, and that archives should continue to make efforts to make these accessible online. Continued and expanded efforts to develop finding aids more efficiently and to make them available digitally would seem to support the needs of historians for improved access.”
In terms of PhD students (and maybe others who are inexperienced researchers), the study found issues with the use of archives and other sources:
“Interviews with PhD candidates indicated that there is often little support for them in learning about new research methods or practices, either in their department or elsewhere at their institution, of which they are aware. While the subject matter treated by historians continues to diversify dramatically, new methodologies develop, and research practices change rapidly, it is clearly critically important that students have a grounding in the methods and practices of the field.” The Archives Hub has recently produced a brief Guide to Using Archives for the Inexperienced, and discussions on the archives email list showed just how much this is an important topic for archivists and how there was a general consensus that PhD students need more training on research methodologies.
Summing up, the report makes six recommendations specifically for Archives:
1. More online finding aids
2. More digitisation
3. Discovery tools that promote cross-searching, crossing institutional boundaries and encompassing small and local record offices
4. Adequate resources for ensuring the expertise of the archivist continues to be available, enabling archivists to be active interpreters of the collections
5. Adapting to and facilitating the use of digital cameras and scanners in reading rooms
6. Training PhD students in the use of archives
There is a great deal more of interest and relevance in the report around searching, Google Scholar, the use of the academic library, organising and managing research, citation management and digital research methods. It is very well worth reading.
It is tempting to forge ahead with ambitious plans for Web interfaces that grab the attention, that look impressive and do new and whizzy things. But I largely agree with Lloyd Rutledge that we want “less emphasis on grand new interfaces” (Lloyd Rutledge, The Semantic Web – ISWC 2010, Selected Papers). I think it is important to experiment with exciting, innovative interfaces, but the priority needs to be creating interfaces that are effective for users, and that usually means a level of familiarity and supporting the idea that “users of the Web feel it acts they way they always knew it should (even though they actually couldn’t imagine it beforehand).” Maybe the key is to make new things feel familiar, so that we aren’t asking users to learn a whole new literacy, but a new literacy will gradually emerge and evolve.
For the Archives Hub, we face similar challenges to many websites that promote and provide access to archives, although our challenges are compounded by being an aggregator and not being in control of the content of the descriptions. We are seeking to gradually modify and improve our interfaces, in the hope that we help to make the users’ discovery experiences more effective, and encourage people to engage with archives.
One of our aims is to introduce options for users that allow them to navigate around in a fairly flexible manner, meeting different levels of experience and need, but without cluttering the screen or making the navigation look complicated and off-putting. Interviews with researchers have indicated how people have a tendency to ‘click and see’, learning as they go, but expecting useful results fairly quickly, so we want to work with this principle, to use hyperlinks effectively, on the understanding that the terminology used and the general layout of the page will have an effect on user expectations.
A Separation of Parts
One of the issues when presenting an archival description is how to separate out the ‘further actions’ or ‘find out more’ from the basic content. The challenge here is compounded by the fact that researchers often believe the description is the actual content, and not just metadata, or alternatively they assume that they can always access a digital resource.
We have tried to simplify the display by introducing a Utility Bar. It is intended to bring together the further options available to the end user. The idea is to make the presentation neater, show the additional options more clearly, and also keep the main description clear and self-contained.
The user can click to find out how to access the materials, to find out where the repository is located in the UK or contact the repository by email. We are planning to make the email contact link more direct, opening an email and populating it with the email address of the repository in order to cut down on the number of stages the user has to go through (currently we link to the Archon directory of Archive services). We can also modify other aspects of the Utility Bar over time, adding functionality as required, so it is a way to make the display more extensible.
We have included links to social networking sites, although in truth we have no real evidence that these are required or used. This really was a case of ‘suck it and see’ and it will be interesting to investigate whether this functionality really is of value. We certainly have a lively following on Twitter, and indications are that our Twitter presence is valued, so we do believe that social networking sites play an important part in what we do.
We have also included the ability to view different formats. This will not be of value to most researchers, but it is intended to be part of our mission to open up the data and give a sense of transparency – anyone can see the encoding behind the description and see that it is freely available. Some of our contributors may find it useful, as well as developers interested in the XML behind the scenes.
The Biggest Challenge: how to present an archive description
Until recently we presented users with an initial hit list of results, which enabled them to see the title of a description and choose between a ‘summary’ presentation and a ‘full’ presentation. However, feedback indicates that users don’t know what we mean by this. Firstly, they haven’t yet seen the description, so there is nothing on which to base the choice of link to click, and secondly, what is the definition of ‘summary’ and ‘full’ anyway? Our intention was to give the user the choice of a fairly brief, one page summary description, with the key descriptive data about the archive collection, or the full, complete description, which may run to many pages. A further consideration was that we could only provide highlighting of terms on a single page, so if we only had the full description, highlighting would not be possible.
There are a number of issues here. (a) Descriptions may be exactly the same for summary and full because sometimes they are short, only including key fields, and they do not provide multi-level content; the full description will only provide more information if the cataloguer has filled in additional fields, or created a multi-level display. (b) ‘Summary’ usually means a cut-down version of something, taking key elements, but we do not do this; we simply select what we believe to be the key fields. For example, Scope and Content may actually be very long and detailed, but it would always be part of the ‘summary’ description. (c) Fields that are excluded from the summary view may be particularly important in some cases – for example, the collection may be closed for a period of time, and this would really be key information for a researcher.
With the new Utility Bar we changed ‘summary’ and ‘full’ to become ‘brief’ and ‘detailed’. We felt that this more accurately reflects what these options represent. At present we have continued with the same principle of displaying selected fields in the ‘brief’ description, but we feel that this approach should be revised. After much discussion, we have (almost) decided that we will change our approach here. The brief description will become simply the collection-level description in its entirety; the detailed description will be the multi-level description. This gives the advantage of a certain level of consistency, but there are still potential pitfalls. Two of the key issues are (a) that ‘brief’ may actually be quite long (a collection description can still be very long) and (b) that many descriptions are not multi-level, so there would be no difference between the two descriptions. Therefore, we will look at creating a scenario where the user only gets the ‘Detailed Description’ link when the description is multi-level. If we can do this we will may change the terminology; but in the end there is no real user-friendly way to succinctly describe a collection-level as opposed to a multi-level description, simply because many people are not aware of what archival hierarchy really means.
As well as introducing the Utility Bar we changed the hit list of results to link the title of the description to the brief view. We simply show the title and the date(s) of the archive, as we feel that these are the key pieces of information that the researcher needs in order to select relevant collections to view.
For some of the more complex changes we want to make, we need to first of all centralise the Archives Hub, so that the descriptions are all held by us. For some time we thought that this seemed like a retrograde step: to move from a federated system to a centralised system. But a federated system adds a whole layer of complexity because not only do you not have control over the data you are presenting; you do not have control over some of the data at all, to view it, and examine any issues with it, and also to potentially improve the consistency (of the markup in particular). In addition, there is a dependency between the centralised system and the local systems that form the federated model. Centralising the data will actually allow us to make it more openly available as well, and to continue to innovate more easily.
Multiple Gateways: Multiple Interfaces
We will continue to work to improve the Archives Hub interface and navigation, but we are well aware that increasingly people use alternative interfaces, or search techniques. As Lorcan Dempsey states: “options have multiplied and the breadth of interest of the local gateway is diminished: it provides access only to a part of what I am potentially interested in.” We need to be thinking more broadly: “The challenge is not now only to improve local systems, it is to make library resources discoverable in other venues and systems, in the places where their users are having their discovery experiences.” (Lorcan Dempsey’s Webblog). This is partly why we believe that we need to concentrate on presenting the descriptions themselves more effectively – users increasingly come directly to descriptions from search engines like Google, rather than coming to the Archives Hub homepage and entering a search from there. We need to think about any page within our site as a landing page, and how best to help users from there, to discovery more about what we have to offer them.