User Responses to Finding Aids

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My colleague, Jodi Hoover, and I gave this presentation during our first MLS archives course. Our research investigated common reactions to, and perceptions of, archival research, particularly in how various users approach finding aids. In the final portion of our presentation we discussed the problem of "hidden collections" and possible ways to improve patron access to such collections.

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User Responses to Finding Aids

  1. 1. User Responses to Finding Aids Amanda Holgate and Jodi Hoover
  2. 2. “Archivists have long sought to increase the visibility and accessibility of their collections, to make information about their holdings available to those physically distant from a repository, and to ensure that potential researchers are aware of relevant archival resources.” ~ Kathleen Feeney
  3. 3. Traditional Finding Aids The term “finding aid” can describe many types of resources. Traditional finding aids include: - Subject cards in a card catalog - Binder of paper finding aids - Printed guides that survey whole collections
  4. 4. Traditional Finding Aids Distributing Information: - Printed guides of general inventories were helpful and were distributed to libraries and other repositories. They were also expensive to produce and not all archives could afford to make them. - Researchers spent a lot of time “chasing footnotes” to find repositories and specific collections of interest. - In 1962 the Library of Congress printed the first National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC). Huge step forward in providing researchers with a means to find information and discover new sources.
  5. 5. “Archivists have moved finding aids from the bookshelves and filing cabinets to the Internet. The widespread implementation of MARC-AMC and EAD has revolutionized the presentation of archival information, although many archivists have also moved information online without applying these standards.” ~ Christopher Prom
  6. 6. Standardizing Finding Aids  MARC - the first standard for structuring metadata about books  MARC-AMC (Archival and Manuscript Control) - 1983  APPM - created to compensate for AACR2s inapplicability to archival practice “The idea of descriptive standards, controlled vocabularies, and specialized containers to describe archival collections alarmed, dismayed, and infuriated many archivists who believed descriptive practice had to be embodied in finding aids…as unique as archival collections themselves.” ~ Helen Tibbo
  7. 7. Standardizing Finding Aids These adaptations led the archival community toward standardizing finding aids and “sent archivists, some willingly, some kicking and screaming, down the high tech road to national access for descriptive tools.”
  8. 8. Online Finding Aids The rise of the Internet made archivists aware of further possibilities for intellectual access, and in the 1990s archivists began mounting finding aids online: • HTML • Berkeley Finding Aid Project led by Daniel Pitti: - SGML - a flexible option - EAD - becomes the standard - SAA maintains EAD guidelines and a tag library on their Web site.
  9. 9. User interactions with Electronic Finding Aids in a Controlled Setting Christopher Prom, assist. archivist, University of Illinois  Conducted: Summer 2003, University of Illinois Archives  Purpose: Look at the nature of the participants’ navigational strategies through finding aids and the efficiency with which they search alternate designs.  Hypothesis: Experts and novices employ different search strategies and reach different search results.
  10. 10. User interactions with Electronic Finding Aids in a Controlled Setting Participants identified themselves as archival experts, computer search experts, or novices. Some were coded as both computer and archival experts. - 89 individuals completed the study 35- onsite under observation 54- offsite and unobserved - Results of the study were weighted towards the on-site participants.
  11. 11. User interactions with Electronic Finding Aids in a Controlled Setting Breakdown of participants: 68%- graduate students, faculty or staff members 20%- members of the public 12%- undergraduate students No genealogists were included in this study.
  12. 12. User interactions with Electronic Finding Aids in a Controlled Setting  According to Amanda Hill (University of Manchester), 80% of users who filled out an online “new user” form on the A2A website were researching family history.  LEADERS (Linking EAD to Electronically Retrievable Sources) conducted a survey of 617 on-site users. They found that- - 60% of users were leisure users - 84% of leisure users were researching family history.
  13. 13. User interactions with Electronic Finding Aids in a Controlled Setting  Familiarity with Finding Aids - 75% of the participants had used online finding aids prior to this study. - Expert Archives users indicated a preference for printed finding aids and were skeptical that online finding aids would be complete. - Novice Archives users rarely even knew what a finding aid was: “…somebody who’s helping you find something whereas with a search engine you’re finding it yourself.” “…something not everybody has. Probably a java applet that someone put on a website or a paper index of an archive.”
  14. 14. User interactions with Electronic Finding Aids in a Controlled Setting  The first task was a dry run to show how the system worked.  Tasks 2-5 Participants were provided with the title of a known collection of personal papers and asked to find the collection identifier.  Tasks 6-9 Participants were asked to search an individual finding aid for a folder of material relating to a topic.
  15. 15. User interactions with Electronic Finding Aids in a Controlled Setting
  16. 16. User interactions with Electronic Finding Aids in a Controlled Setting
  17. 17. User interactions with Electronic Finding Aids in a Controlled Setting Results: - The expert archives/computer search experts completed their tasks faster than the novice users. - Search boxes tended to confuse and hinder people from efficient searching. - Users (mostly expert) completed the task much faster when a browse feature was available. “I used the search box because it was so prominent. I would assume that Taft’s papers would be the first hit, but they were not. I definitely prefer a browse if I know what I’m looking for.”
  18. 18. User interactions with Electronic Finding Aids in a Controlled Setting  “Many participants specifically noted in their submitted comments of interviews that alphabetical lists are easy to use. If a list could not be found on a given page, some participants would begin to look for one, scrolling to the bottom of the page if necessary.”  “Search/query boxes should be strategically integrated into collection level search systems to satisfy the needs of novice users, but they should not be implemented at the expense of browsing options. Nor should search boxes use overly complex and/or non-standard methods of returning results.”  “Name browsing has been shown to be important to other archival experts, such as history students. Since these behaviors are prominent and effective among archival experts, interfaces for archival finding aids should encourage them.”
  19. 19. User interactions with Electronic Finding Aids in a Controlled Setting  The PDF finding aids were searched more slowly by novice and expert users.  Archival terminology tended to confuse participants. “I mean I’m assuming when it says entire finding aid online that every collection is on here. I mean that’s what I’d assume by looking at that, that all the other finding aids are online....What am I missing would be my question.”  Main Conclusion: While no search interface will satisfy everyone, having a good combination of browse and search functions will help the success of both novice and expert users of finding aids.
  20. 20. User interactions with Electronic Finding Aids in a Controlled Setting Because this test was conducted in 2003 and the sites have probably changed since then, I decided to revisit each site and see if it included the following three things: - Both a search box and a browse function - Definitions of finding aids (or other archival terms) - Percentage of finding aids available online
  21. 21. User interactions with Electronic Finding Aids in a Controlled Setting  Five of the seven sites have a search and a browse feature present, however University of North Carolina only has a browse feature for some of it’s collections and not on it’s main search page. University of Houston has a browse feature that allows you to browse by Collection Title, Subject, Creator, and Archival Record Group and so uses archival terms in way that might be confusing. - Only three of the sites have definitions of Finding Aids. - Only three of them clearly state that not all of their finding aids are available online.
  22. 22. First Entry: Report on a Qualitative Exploratory Study of Novice User Experience with Online Finding Aids Wendy Scheir, 1939 World’s Fair Project archivist, NYPL  Conducted: Remotely, via e-mailed instructions and surveys  Purpose: To study the ways in which online finding aids either inhibit or facilitate use by novice searchers.  Hypothesis: Finding aid terminology, navigation, display and structure influence the success of novice user searches.
  23. 23. First Entry: Report on a Qualitative Exploratory Study of Novice User Experience with Online Finding Aids Problems: - Direct URL access to the finding aids - no use of user-initiated searches in order to investigate how users would navigate an ‘open-ended’ search. - This idea of ‘novice’ seems quite unusual. Even if the users are archival novices, their credentials imply an above average research ability. One individual was dropped from the study due to weak computer skills.
  24. 24. First Entry: Report on a Qualitative Exploratory Study of Novice User Experience with Online Finding Aids
  25. 25. First Entry: Report on a Qualitative Exploratory Study of Novice User Experience with Online Finding Aids  Method: - Scheir chose computer literate users with no personal search interests. - Users were e-mailed a document with six tasks. - Users were given the URL that provided entrance to the “top-most level” of the finding aid. - Users were asked to spend no more than five minutes for each task; their experiences were documented and e-mailed to Scheir.
  26. 26. First Entry: Report on a Qualitative Exploratory Study of Novice User Experience with Online Finding Aids  Study tasks: 1) Identify the collection subject’s birth date. 2) Determine in which box a particular document is housed. 3) Identify the series that contains a particular document. 4) Determine the series and sub-series that contain a particular document. 5) Draw conclusions about content holdings; is this item within the date limits of the finding aid description? 6) Identify the physical repository at which a collection described in an online consortium could be found.
  27. 27. First Entry: Report on a Qualitative Exploratory Study of Novice User Experience with Online Finding Aids  Findings - Terminology - Archival terminology is confusing! - Dates--collection dates, bulk dates, and life-span dates must be clearly stated. Assume nothing. - Users are presupposed to understand archival terms. Assume nothing. “What does scope and content MEAN???!” “What is in this collection?”
  28. 28. First Entry: Report on a Qualitative Exploratory Study of Novice User Experience with Online Finding Aids Findings - Navigation - It is difficult to distinguish between poor finding aid design and poor Web site design. - Long container lists can confuse a person. - Hyperlinks between hierarchical levels also get users lost. - What’s the fix? Column headings, static left- hand frames, others?
  29. 29. First Entry: Report on a Qualitative Exploratory Study of Novice User Experience with Online Finding Aids Findings - Display - Long blocks of text with no line breaks are difficult and “annoying” to read. - “Busy” interfaces pose challenges. Consider the user. Scheir states that, “Seemingly innocuous display decisions such as back- ground color, text placement, and font size and type, made important differences in participants’ experience of these sites.”
  30. 30. First Entry: Report on a Qualitative Exploratory Study of Novice User Experience with Online Finding Aids Findings - Structure - The multi-level, contextual environment of finding aids is NOT self-evident to novice users. - Hierarchical arrangement is confusing--novice users do not often understand the relationships between Arrangement, Series Description, and Container List levels of finding aids.
  31. 31. Hidden Collections: What are they? Materials not entered into an online catalog (or any catalog) Un- or under-processed archival collections - Particularly a problem in Special and Manuscript collections.
  32. 32. Hidden Collections: What are they? Problems of hidden collections: - Hidden collections are at a greater risk for theft. - Confidentially risks - lack of intellectual control. - Difficult for users to find. - Knowledge of hidden collections is often reliant on particular staff members.
  33. 33. Hidden Collections: Improving Access Surveys - Internal: archives can assess the extent to which hidden collections are a problem - External: archives can notify patrons of un- or under-cataloged or processed materials *Hornbake Library has one such report online: Hornbake Library
  34. 34. Hidden Collections: Improving Access ARL (Association of Research Libraries) Task Force on Special Collections - Web site makes hidden collection reports, like the previous Hornbake one, publicly available - Exposing Hidden Collections Conference - ARL Web site
  35. 35. Hidden Collections: Improving Access In-house Collection Assessment - Intellectual Access Rating - Research Value Rating It all boils down to “More Product, Less Process.”
  36. 36. Conclusion ASSUME NOTHING WHEN THE TIME COMES TO CREATE YOUR OWN FINDING AIDS!!!
  37. 37. Citations  Feeney, Kathleen. “Retrieval of Archival Finding Aids Using World- Wide-Web Search Engines.” American Archivist 62 (Fall 1999): 206- 228.  Hill, Amanda. “Serving the Invisible Researcher: Meeting the Needs of Online Users.” Journal of the Society of Archivists 25.2 (2004): 139-148.  Prom, Christopher J. “User Interactions with Electronic Finding Aids in a Controlled Setting.” American Archivist 67 (Fall/Winter 2004): 234-268.  Scheir, Wendy. “First Entry: Report on a Qualitative Exploratory Study of Novice User Experience with Online Finding Aids.” Journal of Archival Organization 3.4 (2005): 49-80.  Tibbo, Helen and Lokman I. Meho. “Finding Finding Aids on the World Wide Web.” American Archivist 64 (Spring/Summer 2001): 61-77.  Yakel, Elizabeth. “Hidden Collections in Archives and Libraries.” OCLC Systems and Services 21.2 (2005): 95-99.

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