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Category Archives: Building ArchiveGrid
We’ve just updated the ArchiveGrid index, and have benefited this time from the hard work of our colleagues Elizabeth and Todd at Arizona Archives Online, who prepared a sitemap to make the consortium’s finding aids available. In an earlier post we mentioned our affection for sitemaps – they are simple to crawl and follow a standard, widely-used protocol. We think archives will benefit in other ways by adopting this approach, as the sitemap can be used to make collections easier for search engines and others to find.
Five of our 11 new finding aid contributors are part of the AAO, thanks to access we gained to a central sitemap of its contributors’ finding aids for harvesting. They are:
Our six other new finding aid contributors are:
Connecticut College – Charles E. Shain Library
Chicago State University – Douglas Library
Carroll University – Todd Wehr Memorial Library
Free Library of Philadelphia – Rare Book Department
Colorado State University Library
SUNY College at Plattsburgh – Special Collections
Welcome new contributors, and keep checking our blog for more news and updates about ArchiveGrid and other stories by the ArchiveGrid team.
We go back a ways with web browsers. My first browser and still a nostalgic favorite was the alpha release of NCSA’s Mosaic browser 20 years ago, in 1993. Similar to the paint color options for Henry Ford’s Model T, you could have any background color you wanted, as long as it was gray. But even in those early days, there were browser skirmishes; sorry, fans of Cello.
Now that OCLC Research’s ArchiveGrid system has been running for a while, we can take a look at the browsers that are being used to reach it, and how that’s changing. A year and a half ago, Internet Explorer was the dominant browser with Firefox a somewhat distant second. This month, Chrome is in the lead, nearly doubling its share of the ArchiveGrid market, with Internet Explorer in second but on a steady decline.
The new world order of browsers being used to visit ArchiveGrid matches other wider views of browser popularity, in sequence if not in volume: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usage_share_of_web_browsers#Summary_table.
Click trail heat maps are visual overlays on a website that can help identify whether important features are being seen and used by visitors.
We recently updated ArchiveGrid with some user interface changes and wanted to see whether that update changed how the system is used.
In the previous system, the heat maps indicated that the only parts of the home page that were getting any significant use were the search box and the map with its list of archive locations. It didn’t surprise us that those were the most popular features, but we were surprised that other features appeared to be almost entirely ignored. Were they not being seen, or just not of interest or use?
The new interface didn’t make any significant changes to the content of the home page, but design and layout changes may have made some of these features a bit easier to recognize and use. In particular, we’re seeing a little more use of the topic browse feature.
The visualization of clicks and views can also help evaluate how this page appears and is used by visitors on mobile devices. In this view it appears that Search is the only thing that matters enough to “click” or “tap,” and mobile visitors tend not to scroll very far down the page.
We’re turning our attention to how the pages for individual archival collection descriptions are viewed and used, as those had more substantial changes and improvements (we hope!) in the most recent system update. We’ll report what we learn here on the ArchiveGrid blog.
Happy American Archives Month. Although there is no connection between the observance each October of archives and the archival profession, and our most recent index update – which this blog post is about – both occurrences are meaningful. For us, two pieces of news distinguish our most recent index update from others: We launched a new design to ArchiveGrid which Bruce wrote about, and our count of finding aids and collection descriptions passed the two million mark.
New contributors are:
State Historical Society of Missouri
African American Museum and Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library
Bibliotheek Universiteit Leiden
California Judicial Center Library
Roger Williams University Library
You will also start seeing more content on this blog, as we are ironing out a more comprehensive and branding-oriented ArchiveGrid communications strategy. American Archives Month is a perfect time to make this happen.
Thank you for all your continued support of ArchiveGrid.
We recently updated the ArchiveGrid interface, applying the popular Bootstrap framework to make the system more responsive on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, and to take advantage of Bootstrap’s built-in features for handling common layout and design problems.
While the basic features of ArchiveGrid did not change in this update, this is more than a fresh coat of paint. We’ve long recognized that, for many visitors to ArchiveGrid, their first experience of the system is on a page other than the system’s official “home page.” About 76% of visitors arrive in ArchiveGrid, typically from a link in a Google, Bing, or Yahoo search result, on a page describing a single collection.
In the previous ArchiveGrid design, this page was fairly static. Other than a search box to continue searching and a link to contact information for the archive, there wasn’t really much you could do from here:
In the redesign, we’ve made more access points available, added a map to help with finding your way to the archive, and changed the layout to move more information “above the fold”:
We’ll be watching ArchiveGrid analytics closely to see how these changes affect the use and utility of the system. If we’re making incremental progress, we could see a reduction in the “bounce rate” (visitors who arrive and leave without doing anything else).
Reader advisory: this posting is pretty heavy on the acronyms!
Although researchers who use ArchiveGrid may be unaware of it, the nearly two million collection descriptions that are under the hood fall into three categories. Roughly 90 percent of the records are in MARC, or MAchine-Readable Cataloging, a standard for the representation and communication of bibliographic and related information in machine-readable form. The remaining 10 percent are split between HTML, the markup language used for creating web pages, and an XML format called EAD, or Encoded Archival Description. EAD is a format that was designed by and for archives in the 1990s, specifically to encode more discursive collection descriptions or finding aids that would not be well accommodated by the MARC format. (A tiny fraction of ArchiveGrid records are in Word or PDF.)
EAD is currently undergoing a major revision, under the auspices of the Society of American Archivists, overseen by a group called the “The Technical Subcommittee for Encoded Archival Description” (the group reports up to SAA’s Standards Committee). As part of the revision work, TS-EAD is developing a conversion tool that will transform finding aids from the current version of EAD (EAD 2002) to the new version (EAD3). The ArchiveGrid team has shared over 125,000 EAD XML files from ArchiveGrid with the team that is developing a testbed for evaluating the EAD3 conversion stylesheet. Although the timeline for the release of the conversion stylesheet is not yet set, the group reports that having such a large corpus of EAD records will be enormously helpful in helping to test and shape the stylesheet.
OCLC Research and the ArchiveGrid team are pleased to be able to contribute to this important effort on behalf of the archival community.
At SAA New Orleans this year, a new report, “Social Media and Archives: A Survey of Archive Users” by the ArchiveGrid team was handed out at the ArchiveGrid exhibit booth (Bruce Washburn and Merrilee Proffitt in our booth this year are shown below).
The paper is the result of a survey we did last year about archives and special collections users and what we learned about the role of social media in archival research. Our booth was also the place for visitors to pick up two other recent OCLC Research reports: “Tiers for Fears: Sensible, Streamlined Sharing of Special Collections” by Dennis Massie, and “You’ve Got to Walk Before You Can Run: First Steps for Managing Born-Digital Content Received on Physical Media” by Ricky Erway.
SAA was also a chance for ArchiveGrid to get promoted in other ways. While on a panel in a session called “Archives Without Walls: The Value of Networks, Consortia, and Aggregations,” Bruce Washburn spoke about the past and future of ArchiveGrid, and present work sustaining it as a valuable OCLC Research aggregation and recognizing its important role for contributors.
Even though SAA 2013 was our third SAA promoting ArchiveGrid, we still returned to our workplaces a week ago today with potential contributors to follow up with and new ideas about ways to improve ArchiveGrid to discuss and brainstorm. More to come about all of that and more. Stay tuned!
(Note: Also in the mix of recent ArchiveGrid-related promotions is our May 23 webinar, “ArchiveGrid and Related Work,” which, is now available online.)
This week the ArchiveGrid index of archival collection descriptions was updated, reflecting additions by new and current contributors and small changes to the interface which we hope will improve user experience.
1. It’s just in time for SAA Annual Meeting, where ArchiveGrid will be on exhibit Thursday afternoon, Aug. 15, and all day Friday, Aug. 16, during the conference. Try out a search, learn about new developments happening in connection with OCLC Research (click here for other OCLC Research staff activity at SAA), and get to know the people who make ArchiveGrid happen.
2. Speaking of SAA: After we were featured last year for the first time on the SAA Description Expo website, we’re featured again this year.
3. Our index grew since our May update to 1.9 million finding aids and collection descriptions. Read more about that and how we build the index on our About ArchiveGrid page.
4. A search for New Orleans retrieved 13,186 records. This one at Tulane University, for the Hermann Bacher Deutsch papers, 1827-1970, has items worth reading for knowledge on what foods to try while in New Orleans, where to go, and what to know about the city’s culture. Deutsch was a Chicago journalist who moved to New Orleans and worked for the Times-Picayune newspaper. According to the finding aid’s scope and content note, “His writing primarily concerned Louisiana topics, particularly New Orleans culture and cuisine.”
Physical location is not the access barrier it once was between researchers and materials they need, but what about access to rare and unique – and delicate – items housed for safekeeping in archives and special collections? To help answer that question, a new OCLC Research report by Program Officer Dennis Massie presents approaches to handling loans of physical items from special collections for research purposes, offers advice on how to determine whether a loan would satisfy a particular research request, and more.
According to the report, titled “Tiers for Fears: Sensible, Streamlined Sharing of Special Collections,” increased visibility of special collections has led to more requests for physical loans. This led me to wonder about the connection between ArchiveGrid and increased visibility of special collections. We index finding aids and collection descriptions and make them free for researchers to cross-search. Our success relies on how well archivists work at the institution level and cooperate at the consortia level to give us their data. ArchiveGrid (and other archival discovery systems) helps propagate visibility of archives and special collections, but we don’t know much about what happens after our users leave ArchiveGrid by following “contact information” links we provide to institutions’ websites. That researchers want to be able to do that is what we know from earlier user studies. But how many users who make a find in ArchiveGrid later request access to items for which a loan is necessary? We congratulate Dennis and those who helped make Tiers for Fears happen and look forward to watching solutions unfold in the archives and special collections community.
A design goal of ArchiveGrid is to give visitors multiple ways to access collection descriptions, and this week we launched an improvement to a topic-oriented feature we use to do that. After being in development most of this year, our new “selected topic” display in the upper left-hand corner of our homepage (screenshot below) replaces the “browse topics” list which before had served as access points to search results for collection descriptions tied to a specific topic.
Bruce, Merrilee, and Ellen last year each picked three topics and chose three collection descriptions from ArchiveGrid to highlight each one. Clicking on any of the nine topics that cycle through the “select topic” display slideshow goes to a page (see example for National Parks) displaying the highlighted collections, Wikipedia data about the topic, and ArchiveGrid index facets for the topic search.
Before this change, a list of topic guides inspired by landing pages from the subscription version of ArchiveGrid served as a browse list for users who didn’t have a keyword query in mind, or who simply needed ideas. From a design perspective, however, we weren’t convinced that users knew what the “browse topics” list was and what it was supposed to do. Now that the “selected topics” feature is live, we are pleased at how clean and engaging it makes ArchiveGrid look and we hope for user feedback about its functionality.